With four major releases under their feathers, and a Star Wars-themed iteration just released, it’s safe to say that the Angry Birds franchise has cemented itself in the App Store. Sporting millions of downloads and a cushy top 50 spot in the App Store, it’s easy to think that Angry Birds caters to all the necessary gamers out there. But as one of those who are apathetic of the (now aging) avian-slingshot gameplay, I can tell you that not everyone loves the Birds. That being said, I was quite interested to hear that developer Rovio had made the welcome decision to change up the gameplay and release a whole new app (whether this move is to cater to those who aren’t fans of Angry Birds’ gameplay, or just to start a new line of plushes remains to be seen). Cynicism aside, I took the leap into Bad Piggies.

Instead of focusing on Rovio’s crown jewel Birds, you take control of those green pigs that served as the Birds’ enemies. The story is simple: The King Pig wants the Birds’ eggs, so his little pig servants draw up a map with the eggs’ locations. The map gets shredded, and it’s up to the pigs to find the scattered pieces of the map throughout several levels across several “worlds”. How?

Without a slingshot, thankfully. Instead of shooting the green swine towards a structure (and controlling them directly), you have to build rideable contraptions to help the pigs reach the finish line in each stage. You get a limited space and limited materials to build said contraptions, and the option to try for two extra objectives per level in a shot to get three stars. Early on, you just get a few wheels and a box for your pig to ride in, but then other bits and bobs come into play, allowing for faster and more versatile travel. Those parts (the wing and tail of a plane, soda bottles you tap to “ignite”, engines to power mechanical parts, and more) are fun to stick on and test out, and the entertainment of speedy travel is not easily lost. Don’t be deceived though, the game isn’t based around player choice. It’s still a linear puzzler, and that’s where things start to go wrong.

As the space you can build in opens up, and more parts come into play, it becomes more irritating that the game wants you to build a contraption that works with the linear level, instead of building a contraption YOU like. Because you now have much more space to build, and the game doesn’t often spell out exactly what you need to build (or how you need to maneuver to reach the finish line), many levels devolve into trial-and-error-fests. I often would try repeatedly with one contraption combination to have it fail. Then, I would tweak it slightly, and try the revised contraption a few times, and repeat the tweaking until success. But because I had so much space to work with on some of those levels, the amount of hypothetical combinations I could work with were pretty overwhelming, and trying to find the right combination of stuff to beat the level would become frustrating. Especially when my ride would make it just a few feet away from the finish.

Those moments were the most irritating: having your ride stop just short of the goal, but that’s what comes with a physics puzzler like this. You’ll never get the same run twice. That means you may get lucky with a ridiculous craft, or you may fail with one that should work. That “luck factor” in the gameplay is not beneficial in a puzzle game.

The option to get the three stars is ignorable, starting with the fact that some of the extra objectives can be more frustrating than actually reaching the finish line (You may have a time limit, you may not be allowed to use certain items, like a fan, or you may even have to make sure a level-specific King Pig reaches the finish with your pig). And for those unconcerned with unlocking the extra worlds or Sandbox parts (see below), the stars are completely unnecessary.

Rovio obviously recognized that players need a chance to create whatever they want in a game like this, so they tried to oblige with the Sandbox: a few levels set aside for player creativity. You get a large amount of building space, a bunch of objects, and just a series of Star Boxes to collect. It’s an ok attempt to capture the “create whatever you feel like” feeling that the story mode doesn’t get, although it doesn’t work amazingly well. Even though you get a bunch of different types of parts, you only get a few of each, and those few you get rely on you unlocking them in Story mode. You also are still working within the game’s walls, since you’re “tasked” with something (retrieving the star boxes). I can understand the dev’s attempt to give focus to a sandbox mode, but in doing so, it stops being a sandbox mode and becomes a glorified mission. You’re still thinking “in the box”, but the inside of the box looks nicer.

The graphics are the usual “cartoony” style Angry Birds knows well, and they look just fine on the new iPod, although they offer nothing spectacular. The sound has its roots in the Birds as well, with a peppy soundtrack and lots of squeals from the pigs and collision noises. I am almost ashamed to admit, but the screech of the pigs as I would rocket them through a level made me chuckle more than once. The music was less well-received, though, since I can see its relentlessly happy repetition becoming irritating over time.

In Conclusion

It’s fun to shoot the pigs off of cliffs, it’s fun to watch the spectacular crashes, and it’s fun to careen to the finish line. It’s not fun to have to go through boring trial-and-error to get there, and it’s not fun to be able to create crazy vehicles, just to be “forced” into using the ones the game wants you to. Although Bad Piggies does succeed in being different from Angry Birds, it fails to be a great game. It has its moments, but it also has its flaws, and I still can’t shake the feeling that Rovio is just trying to expand Angry Birds instead of taking the leap with a new IP (if you don’t believe me, pause the game. Most of the pause screen is ads for Angry Birds apps). If you are looking for a diverting change from the Birds, you could play this, since it is unquestionably a different game. But there are better diversions out there, past the red feathers of the furious avians, and the green skin of the Bad Piggies.