(I first wrote this a few years ago, though I don't think I posted it here. This version's a good bit longer and a lot better, though.)
Title: Power Piggs of the Dark Age
Developer: Radical Entertainment
Publisher: Titus Software
Released: May 1996
Platform: Super Nintendo
I got Power Piggs of the Dark Age in summer 2007, complete with box and manual, from a movie rental store that was in a town we happened to be at vacation in, along with a couple dozen other SNES and N64 games, all for a few dollars each. All of the games came with boxes, but not all had manuals. Anyway, I'd played Power Piggs a bit, but had only gotten to the second level or so... too many games to play, didn't make time for this one too.
However, I eventually decided to play the game more seriously. I'd been going through my SNES games and sorting them into piles by genre and maximum number of players, and this of course made me want to play some SNES, which I hadn't in a few weeks... so I picked this one, and started. I got through the first four levels -- half of the game, as it turns out -- that night. The next day I continued playing and got through levels 5-7 without too much trouble, though there were some tricky spots. Level 8, however... level 8 was harder, fortunately. I got through it in the end, though, and enjoyed my time with the game. The game feels unfinished and lacking, but has some original ideas and is fun enough that I like it despite the incomplete feel.
Power Piggs of the Dark Age's story is told in the manual in comic book form. Indeed, I'd recommend getting a copy of this one with the manual, because apart from three pages telling you how to play, the rest of the manual is entirely taken up with a silly and entertaining backstory comic book that introduces some of the plot elements and characters, too. It also sets the stage for the incomplete feel of the game as a whole, however. Still, on its own, it's decent. The story tells of a Medieval-style fantasy land where three Piggs own a donut shop. That's just their cover, though; in reality, they're heroes, fighting for justice against the evil Wolff wizard trying to enslave the land. Or one of them is, anyway. The other two appear in the comic and on the title screen, but not at any point in the actual game. Presumably they were supposed to, but got cut at some point. Even so though, the game has a strong humorous tone, and is amusing. I mean, "Medieval hero pigs with a donut shop versus the evil wolf wizard"? Yeah, that's a silly fun plot. And they really do love donuts -- in the game, donuts are everywhere. Whoever came up for the concept for this game must have been someone who was really, really hungry for donuts... your special weapons are all donuts, the pickups you collect (100-for-an-extra-life) are donut holes, your character's an overweight pig who owns a donut shop, and more.
So, the gameplay. In Power Piggs, you play as Bruno the Pigg. As I said above, those other two characters from the cover and comic don't exist in the game. His actions were clearly inspired by Aladdin of the Genesis version of Aladdin, as he has a sword as his main attack, and takes damage if he touches enemies -- so don't jump on their heads! His secondary attack is, like Aladdin, a throwing item; in this case donuts, not apples, to fit the humorous theme of the game. In this game, however, there are several different types of donut weapons, from the basic throwing donut to the homing donut to the one that sticks around on the screen for a while, killing every enemy it hits in one hit. He also has a slam attack (hold down when you jump), for breaking open crates to get at the contents inside. When floating in a blowhole's vent (note: blowholes are air vents that blow you into the air, and they're everywhere in this game.), you can do a spin attack by pressing right or left and attack simultaneously. There are a variety of enemies that you quickly become familiar with as you progress, from the archers hiding in windows to the other archers that chase you down to wolves (er, Wolffs, sorry... ) shooting fire to a wide variety of others. Each type of enemy takes predictable types of motions you can get used to as you face them more, and the game keeps introducing new enemy types until the last level to keep things interesting. The game's most unique gameplay element is in level design however, not character or enemy design.
Indeed, Power Piggs' level designs come straight out of the "huge and complex" field. The levels are quite large, with a main path you have to follow that often involves having to find a hidden path. The hidden paths are often marked with some kind of clue to get you to go there, but are hidden. They're full of hard-to-access secret areas full of items to collect, often with alternate routes or large areas you can explore before you move on to the next part of the level, and often seemingly as many screens of height as length. You do not just run right in this game, you go in every direction. There are also no instant-death pits, which is great; there are some spike beds, but they only do damage, they don't instantly kill you. There are some pit traps and many jumps, but falling only sends you back or to an area you will then have to work your way out of, it doesn't kill you. This design decision works well, and the levels are interesting and fun to explore. Level designs are pretty good. The most unique element, however, are the aforementioned blowholes. Blowholes are air vents that push you upwards into the air, which may not seem like an utterly unique concept, but I don't know of any other game with anywhere near this many of them. Every level is filled with blowholes. You float up to higher platforms in them, fight in them, use them to get out of pits, fight bosses in them, and more. You can float a bit higher and lower by pressing up and down in the air as well, so try that out too. Bosses come about every other level, so you'll fight four bosses in the game. Whether or not you like the game will likely depend in large part how much you enjoy the way the blowholes work. I found the concept fun, myself. It's somewhat original as implemented here, and floating around in the air is fun.
Floating on a blowhole
There is one frustrating element to the level designs, however: Checkpoints are often hidden just like items are. This makes you really want to spend your time searching, because you really, really want to hit those checkpoints, and even in the first level, it's easy to miss them if you're not paying attention and watching for them. Always pay attention to the paths made by the donut hole pickups, and follow those arcs with your jumps as much as you can! I didn't really mind this, however. Making you work for your progress instead of just giving it to you, and having some more non-linear aspects to the game, are things that can work well, and they do here. I think it works great overall, even if it causes a bit of frustration along the way; there are more than enough games out there that hold your hand the whole way along. This one actually makes you think a bit to get to your goal, while not being TOO frustrating or obtuse.
Oh, and the last level may have been tough, but I wouldn't have wanted it easier... it was hard, but quite doable once you've learned the level through a lot of trial and error. Be careful, memorize what to do at each challenge, search for the more powerful donuts and use them strategically at the right points, and win! The level is quite a bit more challenging than the previous levels in the game, though. You'd hope the last level would be tough, particularly in a game with only eight levels, and it was. Enemies are all over, every kind of enemy in the game is present in force, there are a lot of very hard to avoid hits, blowholes everywhere make navigation tricky, there are many frustrating jumps that are easy to miss, forcing you to return to the last checkpoint, which, on that note, are quite far apart -- the stage has three checkpoints, two in the middle and one before the boss... which isn't much, with how far you go between them. So yeah, it's a nice, tough classic side-scrolling platformer level.
As for the graphics and sound, as you can see from the screenshots and as I said earlier, the game has nice cartoon art. I like the visual look of the game. Each level has a somewhat different look as well, so they don't all look the same. The enemies are amusing too; all are fantasy-medieval animals, and each is silly looking in their own way. Sure, the artist isn't exactly the best around, but it's okay, and it does succeed at being amusing, as it was trying to be. For instance, Bruno's grin while floating in the blowhole vents is great. I like the art design here overall. The character animation's reasonably good as well. The music is similarly solid. Sure, it's nothing incredible, but it's more than good enough to do, and the tunes are a bit catchy as well. No complaints here.
Despite how fun it is, the game does have several important flaws, unfortunately. The most obvious is how incomplete the game feels. Why are two of the three supposed main characters nonexistent in the actual game? It's strange. The game's somewhat short length reinforces this incomplete feel too. Eight levels isn't much. Sure, the game does have some challenge through the first seven levels, but it only really gets harder in the last one, and most SNES platformers have more than eight stages, even if they do have levels this large. A third element reinforcing that this game has to have been rushed is the password system. You see, this game has password save... but there's only actually one password. For some bizarre reason, you only are given a password at ONE point in the game -- at the beginning of level five, halfway through the game. What the heck? Why... why not every two levels or something? That's so weird... and annoying. Sure eight levels isn't long, but the last level takes a relatively long time to finish. It'd be great to be able to turn off the game and then later start right from that point, or at least from level seven (because as I mentioned above, there are only real bosses every two levels or so). You do have infinite continues (from the beginning of the level), but while great, that doesn't help if you want to turn off the game. Oh well.
In a house
Also, I know I've mentioned it repeatedly, but I just find it really strange that the other two characters are absent. Despite the box, manual, and backstory all clearly mentioning and describing the three Piggs in your heroic team, and the ending of the comic showing all three of them charging out to defeat the evil Wolffs, you can only actually play as Bruno. The other two only appear in the manual and main-menu screen art, with one exception: for no apparent reason, when you touch a checkpoint, the point turns into an image of one of the other two character's head. I have no idea why. The other two weren't kidnapped by the bad guy or anything like that; they simply aren't in the game. Odd. Was this game shipped only partially complete? Was it originally supposed to be much more ambitious with multiple playable characters, but they had to cut back (the fact that there is a password system but only one password also makes me think this happened, as I've said)? Was it supposed to create a franchise and later titles would bring in the other characters in a more substantial way, but the game wasn't nearly successful enough to earn that? The ending is sufficiently "there could be a sequel, so be prepared!" to think that any or all of those may have been the case... but despite how much the artwork and design make the game look like it's a licensed game based on some obscure early '90s cartoon, it's not. It's an original design. I'd be interested in hearing the backstory behind this game's production. Unfortunately, I've never found anything. Too bad.
Oh, and one final oddity. After beating the game and watching the ending cutscene (the Power Piggs are thanked by the happy Piggs for saving them from the evil Wizard of Wolff! Shocking!), it sent me back to the beginning of level 8 again... Uh... I don't get it, I don't know if I've seen a game do THAT before... some games loop you back to the start, but looping you to the beginning of the last level? How odd. Oh well, I won. You can beat the last level again then if you want, or something? Strange, but minor point. Fun game. Kind of rare, too -- only a couple copies are ever on EBay... it's not expensive, but is a bit rare.
Finally, the game does have some cheat codes. Or rather, it has some hidden passwords that you will only find online, and not in the game. Check GameFAQs for the list, but two of the secret passwords allow you to start from two more of the levels. Not coincidentally, these levels are levels 3 and 7, so despite what I said above, you can indeed start from the other quarters of the game -- you just aren't given the passwords while playing. Thanks. Of the other three, one gives you a special credits sequence, one gives you a special message, and one a little shooter minigame you can't play without this password. This shmup is called "Bad Guys from Space II", and it's not half bad, really. It's a very simplistic game from the Space Invaders or Galaxian mold, where you move left and right and shoot at enemies coming down the screen at you, but it's decently fun enough for its genre. Amusingly, while your ship is an average shmup spaceship, the enemies are all digitized heads of three of the programmers. Yeah. Silly stuff.
Overall, I liked the game quite a bit, despite its issues and length. I know most people consider this game mediocre to bad, but I just can't agree. It's a fun, cartoony Western-style platformer. It's not one of the best such games -- Lady Sia for GBA's certainly better for instance -- but it's not the worst for sure either. I think it's a lot better than the game's two GameFAQs reviwers do (a 3 and a 4, and one of those reviews wrongly says that the game has only six levels?), for sure. It's a decently good, interesting, and somewhat unique platformer. The artwork is great, in that Western cartoon style, and the music is pretty good as well. These two factors definitely helped keep me interested through the game -- the art and music are very well done. In the end it's not a great, great game, but it's a solid, fun 16-bit platformer that fans of 2d platformers with exploration, Genesis Aladdin, or floating-in-the air action might want to try. This game is very poorly known, but it's actually kind of good.
Level introduction screen
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTQZGVM6bUE - some gameplay in level 1
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=atkwIo68mZc - level 2
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7n8CbJm_R00 - this guy should have either tried to find another way (there are often multiple paths after all), or tried seeing if up and down would get enough height...