REVIEW: Rovio, the maker of the incredibly popular Angry Birds, has finally released a sort of sequel to the series, after it earlier this year released physics puzzler Amazing Alex.
Following on the success of Angry Birds, Angry Birds Seasons and Angry Birds Space, Bad Piggies tells the pigs' side of the story. They've lost the map to the eggs, thanks to an accident that tore it into tiny pieces, and now the pigs need to track down the parts of the map so that they can recapture the eggs.
Each level takes a physics puzzler approach, rather than the shooter-style game of Angry Birds. Your pig has a selection of boxes, wheels, balloons and soft drink bottles, and from these needs to construct a vehicle that can get him to the location of the map. It explains why the piggies we meet in Angry Birds are always in around and on boxes...
The maps are divided into three types - 'Groundhog Day', 'When Pigs Fly' and 'Sandbox'. A fourth section says "coming soon" and is presumably for expansion maps. Rovio has consistently added extra maps to its other games.
In the Groundhog Day set of levels, all the physics revolves around wheeled contraptions. There's something incredibly endearing about the way the pig watches you move parts around in the contraption that you build around it. It sounds like a tiny detail, but it adds immeasurably to the engaging nature of the game.
Unlike in Angry Birds, where your score determines how many stars you get, Bad Piggies has objectives, which are revealed using a magnifying glass at the top right of the screen. You can have a perfect run, but if you used wheels when the objective is to complete it with no wheels ... no three-stars for you!
For every four levels you complete, there's a special blue level devoted to retrieving a blue hat. You have to score eight stars across the four levels to unlock the blue level, so it pays to check objectives on each level before you start to avoid missing out on unlocking the blue levels. One thing about the blue levels is that you may have more than one pig to deal with in your contraption - hello, King Pig.
In total, there are 45 levels for Groundhog Day, which corresponds to 135 stars that you can collect.
There are similarly 45 levels for When Pigs Fly. Here, the contraptions involve balloons, fans, and bottle-rockets made of fizzy cola or lemonade. You can use the bottle rockets to propel your contraption forward or upwards (or downwards, if needed), applying the burst of cola-power when you need them.
I loved the way that the pig's face would light up with a grin when the bottle rockets are set off, or it's lifted into the air by balloons. Also amusing is the way that landing from a great height results in a set of little stars encircling the piggies head.
The five Sandbox levels are unlocked by achievements in the other maps. Each one has a huge number of stars to collect and a mind-boggling array of parts to devise your piggy-carrying-contraption. See below - you can fill all those squares with parts if you desire!
Assistance for all the levels comes in the form of a diagrammatic instruction book, which gains pages as you go up levels. You can easily flip back through the pages to check how any part you've used previously works and what kinds of things it can achieve, as well as checking out details of your new toys.
You can also get assistance from Piggie Mechanics for money - 10 solutions for $1.99, 35 for $5.99 or 65 for $9.99. If you connect via Facebook, you get three clues free.
As physics puzzlers go, it has some things going for it, and other things that annoyed me.
Let's start with the awesome. The graphics are, as with other Rovio games, impressive and delightfully cartoony. The cut scenes are illustrative and entertaining, and the overall story arc, such as it is, builds nicely through the blue special levels. I love the little toadstools, the crystal-studded caves and the entire look. The instruction book is gorgeous and instructive. The pig animations are cute and amusing.
It's also incredibly innovative as physics puzzlers go - I've never seen quite this style of contraption-building app, and it's actually pretty nifty.
So what didn't I find so great?
For one thing, you can't easily see the entire map/level at a glance. In Angry Birds, my usual mode was to zoom out as far as possible before launching my penguins or bluebirds. In Bad Piggies, it requires a good memory or lots of zooming out and zooming back in. You have to zoom fully in before any of the contraction parts are visible or usable.
This makes it different from games such as Amazing Alex or Cut the Rope and more akin to Tiny Wings in the way you have to approach the game. Without the in-level flexibility that comes from being able to leap whenever you want in Tiny Wings, though, it meant I was more frustrated than awed.
It's also annoying that fully zooming in is the only way to see the option to quit the level and go back to the menus, and then only via the pause button - not immediately obvious.
Then, too, there's the fact that it's not Angry Birds. I don't want to harp on this too much, but it is a sequel. Yet building a contraption is fundamentally a more difficult and time consuming task than just flinging a bird from a catapult. Half the joy of Angry Birds is in its simplicity - it's fun even when you don't succeed, and very simple to pick up. You can drop into it when you have a spare moment, fire off some bird-cannons, and stop. It's designed for a very different audience, but I think that putting it into the Angry Birds universe is possibly a misstep - many may download it and find it frustratingly dissimilar. Given that so much else within the game is similar, from design and characters to the mode of storytelling and presentation, this is bound to result in disappointment for some.
I've already talked about the objectives - for the first twelve levels, I only found out what my objectives were by finishing the level and not scoring three stars. Given the number of people who aim for across the board three-star levels on games like this, and given number of stars you need for the special blue-levels, I think not presenting this objective clearly at the start of the level is going to cause some frustration. Sure, there's an easy solution, via the magnifying glass, but I bet I won't be only one who doesn't figure that out until they are well-and-truly annoyed.
Finally, there's the fact that for a physics-based puzzler, the forces behind the physics aren't very predictable. In Angry Birds, you could precisely aim. In Amazing Alex, everything obeys very clear physical rules. Here, though, it seems as though nothing is entirely predictable, whether it be the amount of lift from the balloons, the distance things will travel, or the way things will interact with the terrain. This would be fine if you had more control of things once you push the "go" button, but you don't.
Overall, I found Bad Piggies disappointing. It didn't capture me in the same way as my current top puzzler, Cut the Rope, or even as much as Amazing Alex. It's not really comparable to Angry Birds, but I think it's safe to say that it won't find an audience anywhere near so large or broad.
I'd give it a try, but it won't surprise me if you put it down after a dozen levels.
AT A GLANCE
Build contraptions that transport a pig to collect map parts
Over 90 levels
Story arc develops across special levels
RRP incl GST: $4.19 (iPad) $1.29 (iPhone), free (Android)