Bad Piggies

For whatever reasons, I’ve refused to sit down in front of the TV and sink more time into the console games I’ve been amassing lately.  The action in The Last Story has plateaued and it’s been far easier to sit around and just watch Blackadder instead.  Games like Angry Birds Space and Bad Piggies only reinforce that tendency.  It’s a compulsive experience playing Rovio’s games.  I don’t necessarily feel accomplished when I complete them, but momentarily relieved.  Angry Birds induces a sort of gaming Tourette syndrome.  Flinging birds around with a slingshot isn’t something particularly noteworthy or interesting, but you will find yourself doing it constantly and repeatedly, even after you’ve told yourself you should probably be doing something else.  Bad Piggies follows in the footsteps of Angry Birds to make sure that gamers continue to fixate on their verbs.  Let’s take a closer look.

Bad Piggies distinguishes itself most visibly from Angry Birds in it’s verb set.  There will be no flinging, no birds, and no structures to demolish.  Instead, players must build contraptions around a pig which will transport them through a level.  Pigs will not “pop” as they do in Angry Birds, but contraptions are built from the same rickety materials you’ll be used to see falling apart.  Each level is completed in two phases: build and transport.  Players are given a selection of parts that can be used and a grid to arrange them on.  The game uses the Box2D library to handle physics, and each of these parts have different physical attributes which provide certain advantages and trade-offs depending on how they are used.  Once you can seat a pig in the contraption, you’re ready to try and transport it across the level.  Building the right contraption isn’t enough to complete the level though.  The player must pull the right levers and press the right buttons at the right times on their contraptions to safely navigate the terrain.  Some parts can only be used once and some times it makes sense to strategically break the contraption (TNT is one of the parts you can use.)  This is where the game can feel most similar to Angry Birds.  Even though you’re trying to preserve the pigs, interacting with this physics sandbox is very familiar.

Bad Piggies felt weakest in its level design.  They are broken up into two categories: ground based, and air based.  Earlier levels are very effective at demonstrating how you can use the different parts used in building contraptions.  The size of the grid implicitly puts key restraints on how you can build.  For instance, if a grid is only two blocks high, then players will have to choose between using balloons or wheels.  There are creative ways around some of these restraints, but rather than designing puzzles around them, I felt that later levels were just more complex.  There isn’t a difficulty curve to the game as much as a greater time commitment required to complete later levels.  It’s still fun to plow through them, but there isn’t a sense of satisfaction completing them either.

The game establishes it’s staying power through the use of the three star rating system.  While in Angry Birds it is used to represent how high your score is, in Bad Piggies it represents a check list of objectives that are assigned for each level.  By simply finishing one, you’ll receive one star.  However, other objectives can include collecting stars from optional areas of the level, traversing the level without sustaining any damage, traversing the level in a given amount of time, or transporting a king pig (which occupies 6 squares on the grid.)  It’s easy enough to get one star on most of the levels, and many times players will incidentally complete other objectives along the way.  So when you go back and look over your level progress, completing the other objectives encourages you to become a perfectionist.  It’s not a matter of mastering the game’s mechanics, but the compulsion to obtain all the stars for all the levels.  It’s not as aesthetically interesting as mastering a game, but it’s still a motivating reason to play.

Perhaps it’s games like this that are distracting me from playing full-fledged console or PC titles, or at least they are occupying a larger mind share of the gaming community. Bad Piggies and other titles like it definitely fill a niche and help broaden the impact of gaming in our culture.  If you’ve already been invested in Angry Birds, then Bad Piggies won’t disappoint you.  If you’ve never played anything like it before, then it’s as good a game as any to throw $0.99 at.

Note: For more information on the context that I use the terms “verbs”, “spaces”, and “impressions”, please see the post titled I’m going to take the fun out of games.

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