08/05/2013

PIG OUT: DINE LIKE A SWINE (ARCADE)

Do you like to eat? No, I mean, do you really like to eat? Do you look at an all-you-can-eat buffet with the same maniacal gleam in your eyes that Michael Buble gets when he sees a classic song he hasn't done a sub-par cover of yet? Do you make Homer Simpson look like Kate Moss and make Kate Moss look like an actual twig? I hope not, that's not healthy for you and I wouldn't want you to suffer a massive coronary before you've sampled the delights of today's game - Leland Corporation's 1990 arcade glutton-em-up Pig Out: Dine Like a Swine!


That title font is swiped directly from the 1982 cult classic Porky's. I somehow knew that the instant I saw it. Dear God, I hope that's not my superpower, recognising typefaces from Eighties sex comedies.
Unlike Porky's, Pig Out is actually about pigs doing what pigs do best: rolling in filth. No, wait, what they do second best - being delicious. Okay, so it's a game about the third most developed skill of the porcine race, which is eating things. Three heroic hogs have escaped from the clutches of Big Al the butcher, and to celebrate they're going to gorge themselves at the endless trough of life.


These are the instructions. Eat food, avoid butchers and fairytale wolves, throw things around. Sounds like a usual Friday night in [insert northern English town here].


Here's Big Al the butcher. He might be related to Dr. Wily some how - that moustache, those twin spires of untameable hair, his name being "Al"bert Wily... it's a universe where Wily chose Meat Preparation over Robotics as his university degree. I'm sure of it. Not so sure on how the sentient, bipedal pigs tie into all this. Probably that bastard Dr. Light's doing.
You get to chose a pig, although as far as I could tell they all play the same. There's a pig with a hat, a girl pig and a pig with shades. The pig with the sunglasses is, naturally, the only option worth even contemplating. His name's Oscar, and he'll be my pig throughout this orgy of sinful gluttony.


Run, Oscar, run, get away from the butcher's shop as fast as you can because Big Al doesn't give two shits that you walk on two legs and wear shades and can talk and think and feel, and if he catches you he will murder you and sell your flesh.


Oh, isn't that nice? I think more games should give you your mission objectives in the form of a poem. It'd make the Call of Duty games more interesting, at least.
You are a soldier
And you have a gun.
Shoot at a foreigner,
Now wasn't that fun?
See? Much better.


Pig Out begins here, and the best way I can describe it is as a hybrid of City Connection and Pac-Man, slathered with a thick coating of Western cartoon aesthetics. You have three main goals: to collect as much of the food scattered around each single-screen stage as you can, to avoid the patrolling wolves and Big Al, and to escape each stage by collecting the five numbered jars of jam that appear in random locations on the playing field.
You know, now that I've written that last one out it strikes me as being a bit odd. Collect jam to clear the stage? Why jam, of all things? Apples sauce would have at least made some culinary sense, but whatever kind of jam is in those jars is clearly red, which pretty much narrows it down to strawberry or raspberry. Summer fruits, at a stretch. I'm sorry, I just don't have an explanation for this one. Jam is the key, but I can't tell you why.


The gameplay is - as any single-screen platformer bloody well should be - simple and self-explanatory. A quick glance at a screenshot will tell you that you can jump between platforms and use the ladders and stairs to travel upwards. As well as the jump button there's also a button to attack, which you do by throwing objects at the patrolling enemies, stunning them momentarily. You usually throw tin cans, of which you have a limited supply because darn it Oscar is a pig, not a recycling centre, but you can also collect boomerangs and bowling balls.
It's all very straightforward, Videogame 101 stuff, and you'll be stuffing your fat piggy face with ease until you're ready to collect the Arbitrary Jam Jars of Progress and move on to the next stage.


From left to right: cartoon pig, cartoon pig, cartoon pig with just enough lipstick and mascara to edge into creepy territory. Imagine pushing open the door of a barn on a run-down farm somewhere deep in the backwoods and seeing that "lady" pig standing there, staring at you with the faintest come-hither smile. A banjo riff plays, the barn door swings closed behind you, fade to black. Don't worry, folks - VGJunk doesn't charge extra for the nightmares. Those are free.
Also note that in the first stage alone Oscar managed to consume 17,175 calories. The recommended daily calorie intake for an adult male is around 2,500-3,000 calories. Oscar isn't so much as swinish eater as he is a vacuum for all the nutrients in the universe.


Here's stage two, and in many ways I could just end the article here. I'm not going to, because there are still some things to show you, but if I had stopped a paragraph ago you wouldn't be missing out on much. The gameplay stays the same throughout, the rules never changing and the complexity of the stages being the only real variable. Pig Out is an old-fashioned score-em-up, the only goal being the acquisition of points and as such it feel much more similar to games like Pac-Man and Flicky than anything more modern.
It's a decently fun way to pass some time, at least. Your pig's movements feel a little jerky, maybe, but never to the point of being uncontrollable and you almost always got a chance to escape your pursuers and thus frustrating, trapped-in-a-corner deaths are kept to a minimum. Everything zips along at a decent pace. Stages don't take long to complete, and there's a nice variety to them. It's... okay. Average, the kind of average that'll make you play a few stages but will leave you unable to recall what those stages looked like after forty minutes or so. If it was a movie, it'd be Star Trek IV.


Undoubtedly Pig Out's best feature is that it tries to add something a little different to each stage, even if it's just a minor touch. For instance, stage three is set in a circus big top, complete with a high-wire. If you rush across the high-wire too quickly you'll fall, but it you take it slow you can walk across it. It's a little thing that never appears in the game again, giving this stage it's own unique property, and it's nice that the developers bothered.


Even the clowns - normally the bane of any circus-themed videogame area - aren't too bad here, because the one on the left is much more Joker-ish than usual and the other one looks like someone dug up Shakespeare's corpse and gave it a clown makeover.


And so it goes on, our porcine hero searching for food wherever he can, including this... bookshop? That may seem an odd place to look for food, but it just shows how forward-thinking the developers were. They obviously knew that every bookshop in the developed world would be getting a coffee shop bolted onto it eventually, so Oscar is just ahead of the curve.
Another thing that Pig Out puts a little more effort into than most of it's contemporaries are the power-ups you can collect. There are the usual things, like speed-ups, score multipliers and a Superman logo that makes you invulnerable for a while, but there are also a couple that are a bit less predictable. The main one in this bookshop stage are the coins. If you collect some coins and stand in front of that vending machine at the bottom-right of the screen, the coins will be swapped for cans that you can hurl at the relentless pack of wolves, thus proving that the wolves are immune to bribery but not a well-aimed food container.


Every four stages you'll get a chance to play the bonus game, the wild and thrilling combination of trampolining and doughnuts that the world has been yearning for. Bounce on the trampolines, collect doughnuts, gain more calories until your body contains an amount of potential energy equivalent to a thousands suns (but with more whipped cream). Oscar must have worked out that the calories lost through the exercise of trampolining are more than offset by eating a doughnut bigger than his entire body.
There are policemen in the doughnut shop, naturally. They pay no mind to the bouncing pig, something which seems to be a recurring theme amongst the emergency services in this game.


The fire brigade affect the same world-weary, seen-it-all-before attitude, seemingly unconcerned that the trampolines they've brought out to rescue the people in this burning building are being used by an insatiable pig and the wolves that want him dead.


Their expressions are particularly wonderful. The patient smiles of a put-upon father / someone on a good mushroom trip.
There's another one of those extra gameplay flourishes here, too: if you collect a fire extinguisher, when you touch the fire you'll put it out instead of suffering the agonising yet mouth-watering fate of being burned alive. You can even throw cans at the firemen to get them to drop extra extinguishers. Do they bear these ignominies with a relaxed smile? You bet your ass they do, these guys are real pros.


And look, it only took eight stages but Oscar's relentless hunger finally led him to a place that might be expected to have some food kicking about - the Linguini Brothers Cafe, complete with world famous meatballs. The chef, who is presumably one of the famous Linguini Brothers, sends a constant stream of meatballs bouncing through his restaurant. This is excellent for the greedy pigs, although one assumes it puts something of a dampener on the romantic meal that couple in the middle of the screen are trying to have. It's difficult to remain amorous when boulder-sized wads of beef are flying through the air. Mr. Linguini needs to think about his core customers, the pig with the bottomless stomach might seem like a godsend but he's probably only going to be here once.


Many of the stages in the latter half of the game have a more urban or industrial feel, such as the areas set on a construction site, atop an office block or, as pictured here, inside a fish processing plant. Two things of note here: one is that the "ACME Fish Bonker" made me smile, because it does indeed shoot out a weight that bonks fish and we all know that's an important part of fish processing. The other is that this screenshot has captured Oscar in mid-fart. Yes, sometimes he farts. I'm not sure what triggers it, but if you really want to play a videogame where a pig in a t-shirt but no trousers suddenly becomes flatulent while you're playing then Pig Out is the game for you. You're out there somewhere, you freak. I've spent enough time on the internet to know that much.


The twentieth and final unique stage takes place here, in Chilly Billy's frozen food factory. It's staffed entirely by penguins, which seems like a bad idea. Aren't they going to eat all the merchandise? How can they operate the complex machinery used to create these massive blocks of ice with their flippers? None of them are wearing hairnets, and they're forever throwing snowballs around. This place is a Health and Safety nightmare. I guess I'l just have to eat all their merchandise, putting them out of business but sparing the owners the embarrassment of a industrial tribunal where they must explain their "aquatic birds only" hiring policies.
Once you've collected all the jam here, the game rolls back around to the first stage. You can keep going as long as you're willing to put credits in the machine, because the appetites of these pigs are bottomless and all-consuming. As jolly as as Pig Out has been, I didn't feel a burning desire to carry on and so I literally threw myself to the wolves.


There's no "ending" as such, but if you've amassed enough calories to give the entire Russian army a lifetime of medical issue you're rewarded with this little scene. Your pig is awarded first place at the county fair "Big Pig" competition. Big pig? That doesn't really cut it, Oscar should be the size of a dumptruck by now. His metabolism's not fast, it's Usain goddamn Bolt.
Also, all the other pigs are naked. Make of that what you will.


I warmed to Pig Out: Dine Like a Swine much more than I expected to, you know. It's nothing spectacular, with graphics and music that are best described as workmanlike and simple gameplay, but the developers can't be faulted for their desire to give the player something a little different. The range of power-ups are a welcome addition, and the unique stage elements are refreshing both in their frequency and in the ease with which they're recognisable - you'll figure out how each one works very quickly, often by seeing the enemies do them, like when they climb the girders on the building site stages.


It's a passable timewaster, a game just on the charming side of forgettable and one that would be better played with two other people. That way it becomes a race to see who can eat the most, which is slightly more palatable than watching one pig strip the Earth bare of all sustenance. That one seems a bit too close to being a dark parable on human nature. Or it's just a cartoony game about a greedy pig. I get things like that mixed up sometimes.

9 comments:

  1. This is quite possibly the most quirky game on 8-bit arcade hardware that I've ever seen.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, it's certainly got it's own style...

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  2. There is something about these wonky/quirky games that I can't help but love. I'd love to be a fly on the wall when these game designers are coming up with their ideas!

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  3. I'm pretty sure the design process went like this - "it's a game about collecting things, which is like eating things, and pigs like to eat things so make it about pigs".

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  4. That sounds about right. I envision it went much like the way Mitch Hedberg explains how they named the Double Tree hotel.......

    "Let's name it Tree"
    "Nah, man....."
    "Okay....Double Tree"
    "Hell yeah! Meeting adjourned!"

    ReplyDelete
  5. O.K. now you can do a follow-up article about Muchi Muchi Pork ;b

    ReplyDelete
  6. Oh lord, that Call of Duty poem is a thing of beauty. Let me give it a shot!

    Tired of games in World War II?
    Too bad, here's another.
    This time Hitler's not your goal,
    now you blast his mother.

    ReplyDelete
  7. actually played this once at an arcade in the early 90s

    ReplyDelete

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