Making Curling Fun is Like Putting Earrings on a Pig

Can we have a moratorium on pigs in iPhone games? Please? I've seen enough of them, and they no longer communicate fun, quirky or cute as much as they do "a focus group told us to use this," whether one was actually hired to or not.

Pig Curling is another gaming app seeking to capitalize on porcine appeal, whether that's the antagonists of Angry Birds, the protagonists of Pigs In Trees or whatever in between. In it, you slide the porkbellies across the playing surface—ice, bowling alley, steel or marble—and try to land them in the center of a bullseye target. Each level requires you to land a minimum number of porkers on the spot. Any additional pigs mean bonus points. Obstacles, rebounds and pigs with different attributes shape your shot and strategy. It's a physics puzzle game.

Pig Curling's problem is less that it's about pigs than it is about curling. There is a reason that sport, in real life, is a barely televisable curiosity that appears only once every four years and even then, on the auxiliary Olympic networks and always accompanied by late-night jokes on the main one. Curling as a spectator sport is boring and Pig Curling doesn't do enough to make it interesting beyond the canned porcine charm.

Give it credit, Pig Curling tries to impart some surface physics that keep the whole thing from becoming a fast-flick shuffleboard shootout. The problem is it poses a precision challenge to you and then forces you to obscure a critical piece of visual information to execute it. Where have we heard this complaint before?

The game's hamfisted (beg pardon) control allowing you to zoom in the screen does not go far enough to keep an adult male finger tip from completely covering the piggy payload, making your angle and distance to the line (which starts a shot) mostly guesswork. In some cases, I thought I was dragging a pig up to the start line and I was not. In others (especially with the big fat pig), the shot seemed to leave my fingertip before I was ready. If you cross the start line, the shot is on, no matter what, so you'll have plenty of false starts that dribble over the line and require a reset. In no case did I feel like the angle was anything more than a guess.

As you progress through harder levels, you'll luck into plenty of successful shots and gnash your teeth at plenty of unsuccessful ones, but never really feel in control. It should be difficult to put a precise angle and speed on each shot. It should not feel difficult to implement simply an intended speed or angle. Special-purpose pigs like the "pee pig" (which leaves a piss puddle to make subsequent shots stick to the spot) or a frag-grenade pig are nice, but when the game can't deliver reasonably predictable shots with the main arsenal their appeal is diminished.

Pig Curling is not a bad concept; its problem is that it's pigs and, well, it's curling. It's too slow to be an action game, too imprecise to be a satisfying puzzler, too derivative in its aesthetic to be compelling.

Pig Curling [iTunes]