Simple pleasures have their charms, and in game terms there's nothing quite as simple as dice. However, even the classics have to move with the times, and it was such an evolution that gave rise to Pass the Pigs way back in 1984. It was a pretty odd tide of innovation that brought it about though, because Pass the Pigs is essentially just a game of dice-throwing, except that you're chucking pigs
The way the pigs are designed means that they can land on their sides, backs, feet, snouts and even ears. More unlikely combinations of landing positions get you more points, right up to the 60-pointer 'Double Leaning Jowler', where both the pigs are balancing between their snouts and ears. Impressive stuff.
Shoehorning these sorts of simple pastimes into a video game is never the easiest of endeavours, and Pass the Pigs recreates this dynamic in fairly simple fashion. At the beginning of each turn, the pigs are displayed, turning slowly. To the left, there's a power bar of sorts, rising and falling. Hitting '5' starts the throw. Doing so when the power bar is full increases the chance of higher-scoring combinations, but also makes point-sapping, turn-ending combos like the Pig Out (where the pigs fall on their sides, feet facing each other) and the Oinker (pigs touching, a big taboo in Pass the Pigs). Conversely, throw when the bar is low and there's less chance of a bad combo, but you're unlikely to win big either. You can choose to carry on throwing until you get a dud combo, but these take out your collected points too.
Pass the Pigs suffers by the simplicity of this central mechanic. The power bar doesn't really add much strategy to the gameplay, as everything still feels very much in the hands of the pig gods. The bar may offend Pass the Pigs purists too, those odd types who studiously pore over the odds of each combo on incredibly niche internet forums.
There has been a sterling effort made to hide the core insufficiencies of the game, though. The basic Classic mode just sees you playing the game against an AI opponent, where the winner is the first one to reach 100 points. However, there's also a story-based mode called Pig's Life. Although utterly bizarre, it's quite charming, using the standard Pass the Pigs gameplay to tell the story of a pig, from childhood to old age.
As each juncture in the pig's life you have to choose whether to go for love or money, with each choice contextualised within a quirky text scenario. After making your choice, you're taken to the standard Pass the Pigs gameboard where you play to win 'love' or 'money' points. The choices you make can also win you 'wisdom' points. Once your little porcine friend reaches the end of his life, you're given a rating. Our first pig was declared a scientist, unlocking a crazy-haired 'Einstein pig' avatar for later games.
Whether or not the actual pig-throwing gameplay sits particularly well with the narrative of the Pig's Life mode is up for debate, but the cute on-screen rendition of the pig through the stages of his life, along with the quirky situations, carries it through. There are a generous 23 different pig avatars to be unlocked, plus different scoring methods and different odds, to change the game dynamics slightly.
In spite of all these pleasant add-ons, Pass the Pigs never manages to get away from the feeling that the gameplay is critically limited by the source material. It's all crackling and no meat. Pass the Pigs charms and will raise a smile more than once, but after sampling all the novelties it has to offer, you'll still be left hungry for a more substantial game.