Today's launch of Angry Birds Space isn't just the rollout of the fourth game in the wildly popular pig-smashing series. It's a multimedia event.
NASA is celebrating alongside Angry Birds creator Rovio. Wal-Mart is selling a bazillion bits of Angry Birds merchandise. MTV is using the game to help fight online bullying. And in Seattle, they're turning the Space Needle into a 300-foot tall slingshot. Seriously.
But all that sizzle means nothing without the steak. Is Angry Birds Space worth buying? Or is it just more of the same from a franchise that has, at this point, been emulated (or downright copied) by dozens of other app makers?
Judging by early reviews, it's -- brace yourselves -- another addictive hit.
While it might look like past games, Angry Birds Space is a different beast. Rather than relying on just the trajectory of your shot, you now have to take the gravitational effect of planets into account as you fire your birds at the pigs. If the bird misses the first time around, that gravitational pull keeps it in orbit, giving it a second chance to take out the egg-stealing oinker. You can even make trick shots.
That sort of new gameplay is exactly what the series needed, notes Kotaku, who praise the refreshing change to the formula.
"Thankfully, "this 'Space' thing is the literal game-changer," they say. "If Angry Birds … made you feel smart or lucky before, Angry Birds Space will make you feel like a physics genius and a lotto winner."
148 Apps calls the game "a great new release from the Angry Birds stable," awarding it four out of five stars. And PocketGamer says it's "a worthy addition to Rovio's ever-expanding empire. It's not revolutionary … but it manages to recapture the destructive thrill that made the original so essential, while neatly avoiding the trap of repetition."
The real key, says USA Today, is the often overlooked genius of Angry Birds: its impeccable physics model.
"Once again, the physics in Angry Birds Space is phenomenal, giving players a great sense of control," they say. "Why take on a group of pigs head on when a well-placed trick shot can send a bird orbiting around a planet to strike a weak point?"
Critics also agree that the game is a lot more challenging than the original -- and it doesn't take long to ratchet up the difficulty. "Within the first half of the second set of levels is a handful of ridiculously challenging and frustrating puzzles," says Appolicious, though they also call the difficulty curve "near perfect."
Android users can download the game for free today, while iPhone users will have to pay 99 cents. Want the iPad version? That'll run you $2.99. Windows users will pay as much as $5. iOS users who want to play the super difficult levels in the game's "Danger Zone" will have to shell out another dollar.
Hey, space travel isn't cheap -- but it's definitely fun.