The conflict between pigs and wolves is a long and storied one. Many a brutal and lengthy battle has been fought between these two honorable species, culminating in the great Pig-Wolf Wars of 1825, in which many brave soldiers both canine and swine lost their lives. It seems that no peace treaty or accord will ever be signed between these two sides; their differences are too great, their causes too deeply-felt, to ever consider reconciliation.
None of this is true, of course, although pigs should probably avoid wolves wherever possible. True or not, it makes for a great backdrop to Iron Snout, the latest title from appropriately-named Lithuanian developer SnoutUp. SnoutUp’s previous games include fighter / shooter hybrid Bacon May Die and jetpack jamboree Cave Blast, both of which are centred around plucky pigs battling their way out of sticky situations.
Much like those games, Iron Snout’s hero is decidedly piggy. Unlike Cave Blast and Bacon May Die, though, the pig protagonist in this game is completely immobile, rooted to the spot by some dark wolf magic. Wolves pour in from all sides, and our hero must use his knowledge of kung-fu and action movies to dispatch them before they turn him into belly pork.
If you’re looking for a deep narrative experience, then it’s safe to say you can look elsewhere. Iron Snout simply assumes you know that pigs are awesome and wolves suck, and that you’ll be invested enough in this viewpoint to aid in thinning out the wolf population a bit. It would be churlish indeed to say that this was a negative, though; many games like this have a whiff of try-hard about them thanks to overwritten cutscenes and flat jokes, and it’s a pleasure to report that Iron Snout doesn’t pretend towards any such notions.
At first glance, Iron Snout doesn’t look like a particularly substantial experience, but there’s a lot going on under the hood. There are two backgrounds available for the game’s wolf murder-fest: a forest (which will likely provoke flashbacks for the Three Little Piggies) and an urban road set against a city’s imposing skyline. Which backdrop you choose doesn’t impact much besides what you’re looking at while you dispatch countless wolves, so choose whichever one you prefer.
Iron Snout’s art style is compelling and quaint. The game’s aesthetic is characterized by big, broad brushstrokes; think Worms crossed with Angry Birds and you’re most of the way there. The colors are bright, broad and vivid, bringing clarity to an experience that could very quickly descend into indiscriminate mayhem. The sound design is probably the weakest link here – the sound effects are fine and the music is an adequate backdrop, but there’s nothing transcendental here in terms of audio.
Luckily, the gameplay more than picks up the slack in this regard. Iron Snout is a kind of hybrid of beat-’em-up and rhythm action game, akin to something like One Finger Death Punch. Our pig is situated in the centre of the stage, and will never move, instead waiting for the wolves to come to him. Hordes of canines will rush him from all directions, and the player must press the corresponding keyboard arrow key depending on which direction the wolves are coming from. Pressing a key multiple times results in a combo, while different combinations of keys yield special moves such as uppercuts and somersaults.
The control scheme is refreshingly simple to learn, with the game’s tutorial serving simply as a slightly more laid-back introduction than its first level would. “Simple” doesn’t equate to “easy” in Iron Snout, though. Although you’ll beat back your first few waves of wolves with little difficulty, very soon things will get hectic, with different enemy types vying for your attention and working together in surprisingly sneaky ways to undercut you.
Several tools are available to you to help thin out the hordes. Defeated enemies will often drop weapons which your pig can pick up and use himself, while some enemies can be used to help defeat others, lending a surprising amount of strategic depth to the game. Rocket-riding enemies, for example, can be kicked out of the skies, and if this manoeuvre is timed right they’ll crash-land into other enemies, landing you a nice score bonus and taking out both foes into the bargain.
All of this comes together to create a seemingly simple but deceptively complex set of core game mechanics which are a joy to visit and revisit. Iron Snout is, to put it simply, tremendous fun. The game’s official website promises “movie-like fighting combos”, and although we’re yet to see the essential cinematic version of Pigs vs Wolves, the action in Iron Snout does feel like the fever dream of a John Woo who’s eaten too much bacon, all martial arts prowess and flashy feats of physical athleticism.
With its simple control scheme, strategic depth and infinite replayability, Iron Snout is a must for fans of martial arts, pigs, wolves, and games in general. It’s not a massive package – there’s the game’s main Classic mode, a Sudden Death mode in which players have reduced health, and a 2-player “Wolfieball” mode – but the core mechanics are so enjoyable that the mere act of playing the game is a joy.