At first blush, the charmingly named U. F. Oinkers looks like a mash-up of popular genres that could only have been spawned in the darkest boardroom of a mega-publisher’s designed-by-committee ‘idea’ factory. Mix two parts block-dropping puzzle game with two parts physics puzzler. Stir in one part bridge builder and frost with characters the mobile crowd are unable to resist: Pigs and zombies, . Half-bake for 30 days and POOF! Instant app store success! Imagine my surprise when I discovered UFO was not only created by Serendipitous Bits, presumably not a division of Capcom or EA, but also packed with a ton of wonderful gameplay mechanics. It’s a shame it wasn’t done being playtested. And that U. F. Oinkers ultimately sends you to a pink piggy purgatory where death would be a sweet release.
Your goal in UFO is to make pigs fly. A chain bridge runs across the bottom on the screen and all manner of stuff, including pigs, drops from the top. Your job is to assemble flying contraptions by tapping and dragging the physics enabled items around in order to make 10 pigs fly off the top of the screen without putting so much weight or stress on the bridge that it snaps. This is easy going in the early levels with simple combinations. Attach wings to a pig and it flies off, netting you points. Each segment of the game ups the ante in terms of the number of items that need to be combined to turn your ground hogs into porcine paragliders . You’ll go from dressing piggies up as witches to assembling multi-part aircraft and rocket ships as the game progresses.
This might have made for an entertaining game in itself, but Serendipitous Bits goes delightfully overboard by layering on cause-and-effect mechanics. Pigs will eat food for extra points and to free up space on your delicate bridge. However, each piece of food eaten by a specific pig returns fewer and fewer points. Now, if a piece of food sits for too long, it will go rotten. A pig that eats rotten food gets sick, can no longer eat or fly, and must be cured by a medicine pill. Moreover, pigs can drink water for points, which doesn’t go bad, but is needed to mix with concrete to make cinderblocks you can affix to the background, making platforms to hold stuff and take weight off the bridge. Then there’s zombie pigs which can’t eat but can fly except that they fly crazy and break stuff so you have the zombie cure kit to administer before- BWAAAA! It’s all a spectacularly mad maze of cause and effect as you shove around dozens of these physics enabled items trying to build a jetpack for your pig who just got sick because your pile of junk rolled him onto a rotten ice cream cone. Wait… Ice cream goes rotten. Must be the eyeballs in it. ;)
U. F. Oinkers’ real downfall is the level design. More appropriately, the lack thereof. Your fragile bridge is inundated with objects at the whims of a random number generator. This is particularly frustrating at the beginning of a level when your ability to manage pigs versus water versus bridge saving concrete is at a premium. This issue only gets worse as the game goes on thanks to larger and heavier flying contraption pieces. Additionally, at a certain level the zombie contagion spreads. A zombie pig dropped at the beginning of a game can spell total disaster before you even get rolling. Another unfortunate problem is that UFO won’t tell you when to quit. The only fail state is the bottom bridge breaking, a problem that can be permanently remedied by three or four cinderblocks or thumbtacks. Pile up a screen full of stuff and UFO will just keep piling the items on, even stacking above the gameplay area. Stubborn gamers will be left forever drowning in an infinite, buggy tide of junk far past the point where UFO should have pulled their plug.
Production quality falls squarely in the ‘meh’ camp. Pigs oink and cheer adorably, zombie pigs growl menacingly, and coins go clink… er, clinkally. There’s no background music during gameplay save for a couple of sour notes when you loose. Graphics are clean and crisp, excepting the extremely bland backgrounds. Aside from blinking eyes on everything from pigs, to ice cream cones, to medicine tablets, animation is non-existent. There’s nothing here to woo or wow about, but nothing that negatively affects the gameplay either.
What does negatively affect gameplay is the number of technical issues with the iOS version. One (fluke) app crash occurred when the bridge snapped at the same instant as curing a zombie. More dire and repeatable bugs occur If the screen fills up. The top items become a twitching mess as they constantly overwrite each other. A pig laden flying machine that happens to touch another completed contraption will cause a view blocking ghost image to stay on the game screen. Worse, we noticed an alarming amount of heat and battery use when playing on our iPad 2. The iOS version (at least) also features banner ads across the bottom. It’s unobtrusive, as ad banners go, but uncomfortable to see in a paid app.
True skinflints can rest easy that UFO does not support any in-app purchases. This title technically has Game Center support for online leaderboards (no achievements), however there is no way to access them from within the game. Score will need to be checked via Apple’s Game Center app.
The value proposition is a bit questionable. U F Oinkers packs in a scant 27 levels. Of these 27, the first twenty can be bested in a little over an hour and the final levels border on unplayable. While we were able to complete all levels, finishing the final ones was far more of a chore than fun as screen filling deadlocks became the norm. While there is a good bit of replayability due to the random nature of what items drop when, it doesn’t always make for a good time due to UFO’s complex item interactions. There are only a handful of levels in the middle of game’s progression where the formula really shines.
U. F. Oinkers bakes together the seemingly disparate elements of mobile gaming most popular genres and adds a thick glaze of risk-versus-reward to keep gamers engaged. There is a truly great action-puzzle game here, but lazy level design sinks it. With a suite of hand-crafted puzzles, UFO might very well have been the best barbeque on the block. As it stands now, you should eat sparingly to avoid trichinosis.
U F Oinkers is available as a unified app for the iPhone 3GS, iPod touch 3rd gen, and iPad 1 or newer devices running iOS 4.2 or later via iTunes for $0.99 (Free at time of posting). Also Available for Windows Phone 7.5 or higher from WindowsPhone.com for $0.99. Reviewed on iOS 5.1.1 iPad 2.
Reviewer Rating 2/5 – Got the Chops, but Undercooked