Why Rovio nailed Bad Piggies

Since when the spin-off outdoes the original?

Some say it's the luck of the winner, I'd say it isn't a coincidence that the latest title of Finish developer Rovio is already a hit. The green pigs have their appeal and a brand extension of the multimillion Angry Birds was just a matter of time. We've heard the rumours for ages and I'm so glad it took this long.

Until its release two weeks ago the Rovio you know as an iOS developer had only iterated on the winning formula of the catapult physics. Call it Seasons, Rio or Space, these all built on the winning formula. After the reboot of Casey’s Contraptions as Amazing Alex, it looks like the company is definitely moving away from the super-casual market it knows best to more intricate puzzlers based on contraptions.

I can only assume Bad Piggies was well in development after the purchase of the Casey's IP, but the influence here is evident. There is more than motivation in capturing a different gaming audience, the people more dedicated and prone to play with Rube Goldberg machines.

So why is Bad Piggies different? If in the events of Angry Birds the pigs built fortresses to protect the eggs, Bad Piggies gives the green hogs an active role. They also become — finally — the protagonists of the story. Instead of the bird's slingshot, the pigs will use the scarce scraps at their disposal to create some mean of transport to fly across the level. Literally.

This is the first mechanic of the game, creating the contraption with some limitation such as the dimensions of the vehicle and the parts available. In earlier levels figuring out a layout is very straightforward. You'll quickly identify what the game wants you to build: a box with some balloons, a vehicle with two wheels propelled by a fan,… you get the idea. The most interesting bit here is experimenting in a way that wasn't really possible in Amazing Alex. Here you can simply hit replay and make some tweaks on your prototype until you get what you want.

This could easily be a game on its own. This mechanic reaches a sweet balance only when you get to use your contraption. On this second mechanic you need to navigate through the level and reach a finishing line (the place where the eggs are). The trip is short and usually requires you to save a number of obstacles, be it pits, caverns or maybe just a green hill. At the beginning you learnt to use gravitational forces rolling your contraption down a hill hoping the impulse will be enough to reach its destination.

An extra layer of interaction

The real fun begins when engines and other propellers such as pop bottles and fireworks are introduced. Instead of simply watching the pig ride down a slope you take control and need to use timing and driving skills to get to the end. Timing here is critical, adding a skill facet we didn’t really see in the Angry Birds series, where you could just through the birds randomly and pass the level without much thought. The frustration of knowing the level can be completed with the limited amount of scraps provided will keep you trying different contraption combinations, timing your moves down to the second trying to replicate your last good run. I suspect this element moves Bag Piggies away from the extreme-casual market as there's enough reflexes required to keep your grandma away from it.

The tweaking element of the vehicle is so fulfilling because you can move parts and test it straightaway. This makes Bad Piggies an absolute winner.

If this wasn’t enough argument to keep you retrying levels, the signature three star score system is more transparent this time around.. If you’re familiar with mission-led objectives in games like Jetpack Joyride, the game is based on objectives rather than points. On top of completing the level getting the pig to the finishing line (one star), you are presented with two extra challenges to earn the remaining two. These range from not breaking your vehicle, collecting crates, completing a run without one of the key parts (say a wheel or an engine) or time limits.

Exploring your options

The multiple scoring system is easily my favourite part as I don't need to focus on getting three stars in one run and tend to experiment without any rush to build a machine tailored to every goal: by removing parts you can make contraptions lighter, thus faster; exploring the level to collect crates is only manageable if you equip propellers, for instance, to get you out of a deep cave. You get the idea.

The levels are normally very short and reminiscent of Angry Birds. The navigation system is the same, where you are given a quick overview of your target when you start the level and are left on your own at the "crafting area" to see what you come up with. On an iPhone the swipe controls are slightly tricky but on the iPad you can navigate around it rather easily. The bigger display doesn't give any advantage though, as this is only a scaled up version to meet the higher screen real state. In Angry Birds the HD versions of the levels looked zoomed out.

Future updates

One of the trademarks of Rovio is the constant updates for free. No wonder there are legions of fans celebrating stuff like the Angry Birds Day. The level selection menu shows a promising "Coming Soon" section, so its reasonable to think there will be some timely updates for the piggies.

Once you're done with the 270 levels included in this first version you can unlock the sandbox. This is yet another twist on the contraption slash testing area idea that more experienced players will love. Upon completion of every level you are awarded with a part that you can use in this game mode. The sandbox allows you to build huge contraptions giving you a bigger grid and all the scrap parts you've collected in the standard levels. The sandbox scenarios are also much longer, making them a perfect testing field for new concepts and some ridiculous experiments you'll definitely come up with.

Bad Piggies should be great news for the new generation of mobile gamers that have enjoyed the slingshot and the birds in the last years. It's time to grow up. There's a lot to drag a lot of us there. The cute expressions show the level of graphic refinement Rovio has reached. The catchy music tune tells you this is a well rounded product where every aspect has been discussed dozens of times to avoid disappointing fans.

Inevitably, Bad Piggies will crowd the store shelved this holiday season capitalising on the charm of the green pigs. What I'm taking from Bad Piggies is the childhood joy of building something and playing with it, like Lego, or in the video game world, like the Sims. I'm certain Bad Piggies can do as well as these brands.