Guilty Gaming Pleasures: an occasional series looking at games which you know you probably shouldn’t really like, but which, for some reason, you have a soft spot for.
If you remember Psycho Pigs UXB at all, it’s probably because of its provocative magazine advert. This featured two young lads standing in front of a billboard. Most of the billboard was taken up with a scantily clad young lady holding a copy of the game. One of the youths was saying “I know which one I’d rather play with”, to which the other replied “Yes, but have you seen the reviews for Psycho Pigs UXB”.
In fact, the reviews for the C64 version were somewhat mixed, ranging from 48% (Games Machine) to a rather generous 88% (Commodore User); the average score was around the mid-60s. Despite this mostly luke-warm reception, I found the game oddly enjoyable, making it one of my guilty pleasure games.
The best way to describe Psycho Pigs UXB is to say that it’s Bomberman, but without the maze walls and with pigs (obviously.)
Essentially, you are thrown into an open arena strewn with bombs and other pigs. Each bomb has a timer counting down to when it will explode and if you are holding or near a bomb when it goes off, then you become next Sunday’s roast dinner. Bombs can be picked up and hurled across the screen at other pigs to try and kill them, whilst other useful items can be picked up to give you temporary special powers (such as increased speed or improved throwing distance). It’s a case of last pig standing wins the round before moving onto the next one for more of the same, but with tougher pigs and shorter fuses.
All of which sounds very… odd. And it is. But somehow, it manages to rise above this absurd concept into a fun little game. Don’t get me wrong; it’s only diverting in minor doses and becomes repetitive quite quickly, but I found the frantic, silly action was the perfect antidote when I’d had a rotten day at school and just wanted to unwind with some mindless violence.
Graphically, it wasn’t that much to look at. Some cartoon drawings of pigs (different colours to mark out how tough they were) and round, cartoon-style bombs. Add in an expanse of green grass on which the battle was fought and you’d pretty much exhausted the game’s graphical possibilities. In the sound stakes, a jolly little tune (which I still remember to this day) accompanied the levels, but beyond that was fairly forgettable.
It was in the gameplay stakes that a fun (if shallow) game emerged. It was pretty decent in one player mode. The other pigs demonstrated some rudimentary intelligence and whilst some were pretty stupid, others were more devious and had to be watched. This introduced an element of basic strategy. With lots of pigs and lots of bombs, it could be all too easy to accidentally get caught in the cross-fire, but what was the best way to approach the levels? Should you seek to take out the easier pigs first, clearing the arena for a one-on-one battle with the tougher pigs, or should you focus on the most dangerous threat and hope the others didn’t gang up on you? On such decisions, the life of your little piggy could hang.
Invite a friend along to play in two-player mode and it became even more fun. The only thing more satisfying than beating your human opponent to a precious power up, was hearing their scream of anguish as you threw a bomb at them a second before it detonated, giving them no time to react. Sure, it was primitive, but it was also immensely satisfying.
Psycho Pigs was never a game you were going to devote hours of your life to. Arguably, it was the equivalent of today’s casual games – fun for a few goes now and then and worth dusting off if you had some friends round. Releasing it as a full price game was somewhat ambitious, and it might have found a much bigger following had it just been released as a budget title. At £3-5, it offered a decent blast of fun; as a full price release, the gamer was left feeling a little short-changed.
There’s one other reason why I have a soft spot for Psycho Pigs UXB. It turned me into a Gaming God – something no other game has ever done before or since. Once you got the hang of it, the game was ridiculously easy (again limiting its longer term appeal for most gamers). It’s the only game that I could beat every single time whether against the computer or against friends. Of course, that sadly meant we didn’t play it often, and I was forced to play other titles where, undoubtedly, they would beat me.. I dusted the game off again for this review, and the old skills were still there and I breezed through the one player mode on my very first attempt. Of course, that just underlines how stupidly easy the game was, but do you think I cared at the time?
The word quirky could almost have been invented for Psycho Pigs UXB. From its tongue in cheek advertising, to its daft gameplay, it was an oddity that at least offered some level of fun. The shallow, easy gameplay limits its appeal in the long run, but if you accept it for what it is, it could easily become one of your own gaming guilty pleasures!