Pool Panic, from Adult Swim Games and developer Rekim, has a weird concept and even weirder art style, but oh my, does this game scratch that itch for something original. Just imagine: your grinning white ball drops from the sky, a very strong but very angry grey ball flips burgers in the distance. A few green squirrel balls scatter into the trees, and the red balls run in a panic for their tents. This is not a drug fueled dream I was describing, this is just one of the levels in Pool Panic.
Pool Panic was initially show off at a Nindies Direct and you would probably remember it for its in-your-face and unique art style, similar to many other Adult Swim games. Thankfully, the gameplay backs up the great visual presentation, and they made something so pure in knocking a billiard ball into a hole and extrapolate that into many different situations. In fact, it feels very Nintendo-like, even though Nintendo had no involvement because it is that concept of taking a simple gameplay mechanic and finding creative ways to make it more fun.
First of all, Pool Panic features many different types of balls (pool balls mind you). There are angry balls, sad balls, scared balls, skater balls, ghost balls, raccoon balls, monster balls, and this list keeps going. You control the cue ball and with your cue you can run around and hit yourself into other balls knocking them into their respective holes. Now this may seemed like a sports focused game, but this is much more of a puzzler because you have many objectives to accomplish in each level.
Even with many different scenarios, you goal is to always get all the balls in without scratching yourself or the eight ball and the eight ball will always be the last ball to go in just like billiards. You’re also trying to do this on a timer, with a gold timer, silver timer, and bronze timer, depending on how fast you accomplish the goals. There are four different trophies you can earn per course, no scratches, all balls hit in, timer goal, and in a limited amount of shots to get a perfect run which is very hard to accomplish in Pool Panic.
There is a lot of replayability in Pool Panic and that not only goes to completing all the goals, but there are many different kinds of play styles and all types of different scenarios. The courses start off relatively simple with just being on billiard tables, but just like I described in the opening paragraph they take these balls to some crazy places. Some of these places include campsites, radioactive growth chambers, restaurants, construction sites, and even the Wild Wild West. If you can think of it, they probably have it in Pool Panic as there are over 100 levels, multiple different kinds of modes, and local multiplayer.
Pool Panic worked great in handheld and docked modes and was easy to control whether using the pro controller or joy-cons. You move your ball around with the left stick and aim your cue with the right. Occasionally, the controls felt somewhat fidgety, but most of the time you’re in complete control and have the precision that you need. There’s even a nice aim reticule for seeing where the ball’s aim trajectory is.
Unfortunately, there are a few frustrating levels where it’s not clear of what you’re supposed to be doing or how you would knock in a specific ball. But thankfully, this was few and far between and learning the nuances of each stage was part of the charm for the title. For completionists, Pool Panic will take quite some time to finish and while restarting a level will take more time than I would like, it’s easy to know when goals are completed or failed.
For the colorful and captivating art style Pool Panic features, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the incredible world map. This might go down as the best map in any video game and is jam-packed with cuteness, color, and creative ideas. You will be entering area specific zones and exploring unique environments, finding interactive elements, shooting balls away, acquiring new helper balls, and even taking selfies. It makes everything in between each stage enjoyable and different visual components from the actual levels.
The soundtrack is generally good, but the tracks end up feeling too samey and repetitive. One of the early tracks can get annoying on repeat, but thankfully the music improves as you get deeper into the world. The sound effects for various pool balls are also quite inconsistent in quality with some feeling very well done but others tacked on like they were added at last minute.
Overall, Pool Panic will probably end up being one of those hidden indie gems that is creative and offers craziness, but it remembers that gameplay is king and it delivers a formula that is very fun. It may not be for everyone due to the lack of direction and off-the-wall nature of the title, but I couldn’t help but be impressed by the polish that all the different levels featured without feeling gimmicky or just thrown together.