Bad Piggies, great gameplay

As a society, it seems safe to say that we’re collectively averse to prequels.  I suppose we have George Lucas to thank for that.  But looking back, some prequels have been fantastic.   The Godfather Part II, Prometheus, X-Men First Class – all fantastic stories that take place before the start of the properties we’ve come to know and love.  But what about Bad Piggies?  Is it a prequel as worthy as those I’ve mentioned?  Or is it more like The Phantom Menace?

After spending a few hours with the game, I assure you – Bad Piggies is most definitely not The Phantom Menace.

Piggies tells the tale of how the pigs from Angry Birds managed to steal their eggs in the first place – or at the very least, it tells the tale of some pigs plotting to steal the eggs of some birds.  I imagine their conflict as something of a never-ending cycle, like Elmer chasing Bugs.  That said, to maintain the integrity of my opening paragraph I’m pretty much going to have to insist that these are the same birds and pigs, and that this is what kicked the whole kerfuffle off before the start of the first Angry Birds.

Are we all settled in with the narrative now?  Good – because it doesn’t really matter all that much anyways.

Like Rovio’s past efforts, the thin story really just serves as a framework for some truly excellent gameplay (and an excuse to make billions upon billions of dollars in merchandising).  But unlike every other game in the Angry Birds family, the gameplay in Bad Piggies‘ is actually something quite different.  Gone are the catapults, wooden castles, and even the birds that try to stand in your way.  In its place, Bad Piggies is a game that’s all about construction – specifically, constructing awesome vehicles out of some crazy fun items.

You’ll start off with the basics – boxes that your pig can (try) to rest safely in, wheels to attach to the box to get it to move, etc… But before you know it you’ll be sailing through the skies in your shaken soda-pop powered rocket, and carrying yourself safely back to the ground with an umbrella once it runs out of fizz.  Or you’ll be trying to figure out just how best to place the balloons and the TNT if you want to reach that exit quickly enough to earn that extra star.

Bad Piggies

It sounds complicated, but Rovio has made building stuff as easy as possible – simply drag and drop the pieces you want to use and they’ll snap right into place.  And like Angry Birds before it, Bad Piggies is great at teaching you new mechanics through play.  Early in the game, for example, you’re given one box and four wheels to work with.  My initial reaction was “that doesn’t make any sense – there’s only one box for you to put a wheel on the bottom of.”  Then it quickly dawned on me – “wheels don’t just have to go on the bottom of the box!” New elements like this are introduced all the time – whether it’s motors that provide added oomph to existing components or a spring to put a little bounce in your step – giving you a toy box full of goodies to play with and plenty of knowledge on how to play with them is what Piggies do best.

Just because the mechanics of Bad Piggies are easy to grasp doesn’t mean the game isn’t without a degree of challenge, though.  Completing stages means getting your homemade jalopy across a finish line to collect a piece of map that… you know what?  The story really doesn’t matter.  But getting your vehicle to get where it needs to can sometimes be a real noodle-scratcher – and that’s exactly what you want from a game like this.

But while a solid challenge is always welcome, Bad Piggies makes some bad choices in terms of limiting progress.  The only way to open up a new stage is to complete the one before it, and if you can’t figure out the contraption the game wants you to build, you’re stuck …unless you decide to spend a little money. 

Bad Piggies

You can “hire” a mechanic, who’ll be more than happy to show you the right configuration.  Rovio wisely gives players three mechanics for free (so long as you like Bad Piggies on Facebook) to give players a taste of what they can do for you.  But once you’ve blown through those three?  You’ll need to shell out real world money to buy more via in-app purchases.  Even worse – sometimes you’ll have built something right but think “this has to be wrong!” due to the difficulty in completing the level, only to waste a mechanic and find out you had it right all along.

To be fair, though, the game gives you two complete chapters to play through that you can play in any order – so if you get stuck in “Ground Hog Day,” you can always jump over to “When Pigs Fly” to test your skills for a bit.

And the game also gives you a great sandbox mode, ingeniously titled “Sandbox,” that lets you build just about anything you can imagine with the items you’ve unlocked so far.  In what might be the most ingenious replay mechanic we’ve seen in a while, players will gain new items to use in Sandbox by completing stages in the regular modes.  If you like playing in Sandbox (and we really, really do), it’s that perfect carrot-on-a-stick to keep you working through some of the campaign mode’s tougher challenges.

Bad Piggies is just about everything you could want in a new game from Rovio.  It maintains that same level of “I can almost figure this out!” challenge that Angry Birds offered, plenty of personality, and basics so easy that a kid could master them.  And while the gameplay might be a pretty drastic departure from their Angry Birds work, it’s also a welcome one.  In fact, Bad Piggies might just be their best game to date.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to strap some wheels and balloons to a pig in a box.