Sep. 28, 2012 at 1:24 PM ET
You really can't go wrong spending the pocket change or the time it'll cost you to buy and play the newest game from the creators of "Angry Birds." When it comes to puzzle gaming for your mobile device, "Bad Piggies" really is the whole hog.
The "Angry Birds" spinoff from Finnish game company Rovio (which launched in Apple's App store Thursday) has everything you'd want from a great mobile game — the bright art, oddly lovable characters, ear-worm music and, most importantly, the highly-polished, infectious and thought-provoking puzzle gameplay you can jump into and out of at (almost) a moment's notice.
But let's get something straight: Though this game is clearly a sister/spin-off/sequel to the phenomenally successful Angry Birds games, there is nary a slingshot or irate avian to be found in "Bad Piggies." As the name implies, this game is all about the birds' egg-thieving nemesis. And, more importantly, "Bag Piggies" has a gameplay mechanic all its own.
In this game, those endlessly hungry porkers are trying to reach the birds' eggs, but the map that leads to their delicious location has been torn to shreds. And so, it is your job to help your porcine buddies collect the pieces of the map, which are spread across more than 60 different levels.
But since the pigs are, well, nothing but snouty, leggless orbs and thus entirely unable to move on their own, you're tasked with constructing contraptions to carry them from starting point A, across, over and around various landscapes and obstacles, to end point B, where the map piece is.
Plenty of other contraption-building games have come before, but with "Bad Piggies" Rovio has distilled this kind of physics puzzle gameplay down to its sleek, accessible and addictive essence.
The first two worlds — "Ground Hog Day" and "When Pigs Fly" — are each made up of 45 levels full of landscapes that must be rolled across or flown through. At the start of each level, you'll be given various items with which to make your pig-carrying jallopy — boxes, wheels, balloons, fans, explosive soda pop bottles, umbrellas, engines, propellers, rockets, etc.
Once you've put your contraption together, you set it in motion and see how far you get. But even when your pig is on the move, your work is not yet done. For example, if you've attached a fan and a couple of soda pop bottles to the box with your pig in it, you'll have to smartly set the fan blowing or set the pop bottles exploding at just the right time to get your porcine friend where he needs to go.
And often, he will not get where he needs to go. This is a game in which, if at first you don't succeed, you must find joy in try, trying again. You are certain to send your pig careening into walls and plummeting to the ground whereupon your contraption will bust to pieces. But that's OK. The fun here comes in not only learning from your mistakes but watching your mistakes happen.
As with "Angry Birds" (and plenty of other puzzle games), you'll be challenged to earn three stars in each of the levels in the first two worlds. But this time around, Rovio lets you know exactly what you need to do to get those three stars. And these goals vary from level to level.
You can earn a star by, well, running into a star placed in a hard-to-reach locale, or by getting your pig from the starting point to the map in a certain amount of time, or by making it through the level without damaging your contraption at all.
Sometimes you earn a star by creating a contraption that gets you from point A to point B without using a specific part that would make that journey easier. And sometimes you'll be rewarded with a star for getting the Pig King through the course too.
But the star collecting ramps up to entirely new and epic proportions once you unlock the Sandbox levels in the game. These sprawling levels toss 20 stars across vast landscapes and then give you a large supply of parts with which to build your contraption. The goal here is to see how many stars you can get to. And snagging more than a few stars is no easy task. But it is an absolute blast to create and then tinker with the most madcap pig-rig you can think up as you try to inch your way to each star.
Of course, the question that will always follow Rovio is: Will this game be as wildly successful as "Angry Birds?" We can't help but wonder: Have they, once again, captured that mysterious something that will earn "Bad Piggies" the billion downloads their feathered friends have earned?
If I was a betting person, I'd say no. Not because "Bad Piggies" is a bad game in any way, but because "Bad Piggies" will require more of you — and your brain — than the Angry Birds games do. While you can kind of mindlessly send your birds slingshotting through the air in "Angry Birds," you can't just mindlessly send your piggy rolling down a hill ... at least not if you want to be remotely successful.
You need to think about what you're building, you need to refine your work and you'll need to stay focused as your pig is in motion. It will certainly take you more time to get into the groove of this game — and that could be offputting to some casual players. But ultimately this is a good thing. "Bad Piggies" is, in many ways, more challenging than its angry brethren and, I think, because of that it is more rewarding. It really is an absolute joy to see your pig fly ... and reach his destination in one piece.
"Bad Piggies" is 99 cents for the iPhone here and $2.99 for the iPad here. It's $4.99 in the Mac App store here. And you'll find it for free on Google Play here. Rovio says it is coming to PCs and Windows Phones "soon."
Winda Benedetti writes about video games for NBC News. You can follow her tweets about games and other things on Twitter here @WindaBenedetti, and you can follow her on Google+. Meanwhile, be sure to check out the IN-GAME FACEBOOK PAGE to discuss the day's gaming news and reviews.