It is a known fact that pigs are constantly up to no good. They are an ever-present threat to the safety and survival of the human race, which is why we all work hard to keep them in check by eating a lot of bacon. Their natural wickedness has made them a popular target in many games, but in recent times, pig sympathy has resulted in some games where you take the side of the pigs. Confusion and conflict are sure to follow such a jarring shift of perspective, which is why I recommend talking a half-step first with Kamikaze Pigs (Free).
See, in this game, you’re technically on the side of the pigs, but the game is still about the pitiless slaughter of legions of porcine platoons. Ostensibly, there are two sides to this war, but I’m not really clear on which pigs are on which side. Judging by the title, I’d guess the pigs you shoot down are your own, but you get a higher star ranking by killing more of them, which would be pretty strange. This is the hazard of trying to apply human logic to the world of pigs, I suppose. Anyway, enough of that. There’s a game here I’d like to discuss.
Gameplay in Kamikaze Pigs is somewhat remniscent of another game from a while ago called Fireflies (Free). Each stage has a number of pigs in various vehicles following set movement patterns. Additionally, each stage has three stars on the screen in various positions. You can only perform one action: a single shot from a rocket launcher. The goal is to cause a chain reaction that takes out as many of the pigs as possible, as well as all three stars.
Each type of pig has a different reaction to being hit. Planes will fall down in an arc, tanks will fire a rocket, and so on. You need to take out a certain amount of the pigs to move to the next stage. You’ll also be awarded with up to three stars based on how many pigs you blasted past the quota, which are added to the collectible stars to create a six-star ranking for each level.
The stars serve a purpose beyond simple self-satisfaction. First of all, the number of stars in your possession determines which power-ups are available for purchase in the upgrade shop. Secondly, if you want to face off against the true final boss of the game, you’ll need to get a six-star rank on every single stage. It’s actually a bit of a tall order, even with a ton of power-ups in tow, but the game would be a bit on the short side otherwise, so it’s probably for the best.
As you take down pigs, you’ll earn coins that you can use to buy a variety of power-ups. Each type of pig can have extra abilities added to increase its destructive potential, along with other power-ups like cash multipliers and speed-ups for reloading your weapon mid-stage. The curve of earning these power-ups is pretty fair. You’ll usually have enough cash to buy the next power-up as it becomes available, and there’s always something new to buy every level or two, which helps keep things fresh.
All told, there are 44 stages, including several boss stages. The stages use different levels of zoom, different amounts and types of pigs, and different backgrounds, but honestly, apart from a few interesting stages, they all feel pretty similar. Gameplay variety comes not from new twists in the levels, but from the new power-ups you’ve purchased. As I said earlier, it ends pretty quickly, and that’s probably okay, because the concept really doesn’t have a ton of gas in the tank as it is. It certainly feels good to set off a huge chain reaction and watch it play out, but once you’ve powered up, huge chain reactions will happen every time, which sucks out a lot of the thrill.
The requirement of earning six stars on some levels means you have to take out pretty much every pig on-screen at times, and that is an exercise in hoping luck favors you. It can be very frustrating. Adding to the luck factor is that pigs will appear in slightly different places whenever you start the stage again. Furthermore, the power-ups you earn for your pigs also often fire off at a random chance. I think games need a bit of luck and randomness to keep them fresh, but Kamikaze Pigs feels like it’s a step too far. It’s not terrible if you’re just trying to get through the game, but if you want to see that true last boss, you’re going to be cursing the heavens plenty at some bad rolls of the dice. Worst of all, if you fail a stage, it takes a bit too long to get back into the level, which can cause your blood to boil on difficult stages.
Kamikaze Pigs in many ways reminds me of Burrito Bison ($0.99). Born as a Flash game, visually charming, somehow engaging, with a smooth delivery of power-ups that will ultimately ensure your victory and a big dependency on Lady Luck’s smile. It’s not as compelling as that game, but it hits a lot of the same buttons. Don’t go in expecting much more than a non-threatening time waster, and you might have a good enough time with the pigs. Failing that, a bacon sandwich will probably set your sense of justice right once more.