Angry Birds is iOS gaming's juggernaut; even now, it regularly tops the App Store charts in both money earned and time played. Rovio, the Finnish company who created Angry Birds, put together dozens of mobile games before its first iOS release, and has seemingly hesitated to release anything else after it. The studio doesn't want to cannibalize its own success, so all we've seen from Rovio since Angry Birds' 2009 iOS release is a series of rebrands (including Angry Birds Rio and Angry Birds Space), and one licensed remake of a sandbox contraption game called Amazing Alex.
Bad Piggies, then, is the first original title we've seen from Rovio in years, but even it doesn't go too far off the multibillion-dollar reservation. It's a game set in the Angry Birds universe, that follows the green pigs and their goal of grabbing eggs rather than the frustrated fowl trying to demolish them. But instead of unleashing furious destruction by catapult, Bad Piggies asks the player to create modular vehicles that will cart the pigs across a level, reaching a map piece goal at the end.
The early shots of Bad Piggies earned the game comparisons to Banjo Kazooie's Nuts & Bolts. That comparison is apt, except that Banjo created vehicles in 3D space, and these pigs are only building in a 2D grid. But the mechanic is the same: You're given a set of parts, from simple boxes and wheels all the way up to soda-powered rockets and air-catching umbrellas, and you can then drag those onto the grid to make your vehicles. Those carts then roll, tumble or fly across the level according to the rules of physics, hopefully getting the pig onboard where he needs to go.
While the gameplay is distinctly different from Angry Birds, Rovio hasn't forgotten where its cartoony strengths lie. There are plenty of goofy grunts and colorful touches to the pigs and their creations, and not every level is always about building the strongest conveyance. Sometimes, you're given a TNT block to place next to your porcine hero, and the point of those levels is usually just to catapult the piggy around in the wackiest way possible.
Rovio's also included extra goals in each level for stars (like finishing in a certain time or without the use of a certain part), and it's also placed a few choice TNT boxes around, as if to guarantee that each outing ends in a satisfying "crash bang boom" for those Angry Birds fans who just want to blow something up.
But the vehicle system here is interesting and complex: You can attach two different types of rockets onto your vehicle, for example, and then use onscreen controls to fire them off at exactly the right times for a precise trajectory. Later on, there are even engines to attach to wheels. As you play through the game's 270 star goals across more than 60 levels, you also open a series of sandbox areas with more stars to collect, where you can build crazy pig carriers to your heart's content.
Bad Piggies is a great title for Rovio - it's a game that feels like it fits squarely in the mass market Angry Birds universe, but has a whole spread of new, complex gameplay for iOS players. It's hard to see any game matching the extraordinary success of Angry Birds, especially since that game seems more like a result of the rise of smartphones and casual gameplay than a masterpiece to stand the test of time.
But Bad Piggies definitely lands the tone right, and wraps some really interesting vehicle creation puzzles in a super casual interface. It's not brilliant, but as chart-topping titles go, we could do a lot worse than this.
Bad Piggies is available for $.99 on iOS and Android, and is coming to PC, Mac, Windows phones, and other platforms soon. This writeup is based on the iPad version. We're always looking for new distractions. Want to submit your game for Portabliss consideration? You can reach us at portabliss aat joystiq dawt com.