While some might argue the pool-puzzle-adventure genre is somewhat over populated, it is always nice to see a new contender in this crowded arena to see if there can be some new innovations. Removing tongue from cheek, Pool Panic does a lot of new things that help it to really stand out from the other options for this kind of game. The game is set in a world populated by living and often incredibly emotional pool balls that all have personalities and different traits. Some of them are even based on different animals, so if you’ve been waiting to see what a pool ball/fish looks like, I have some good news for you.
You play as a somewhat derpy cue ball who can summon a giant pool cue in order to try and pot the other balls you find on your journey. More often than not the aim is to get rid of a certain number before tackling the black ball and then following it down in order to complete the level. Each one contains some kind of puzzle or challenge that will make it different from its peers. Whether you’re swinging around as a wrecking ball or fishing for the last couple of pots you need, the levels are entertaining and innovative.
Your interactions with the world are all straightforward, but as with all good puzzle games they can be used in an variety of ways depending on the situation. You can move around easily enough without the cue, which allows you to chase certain balls around, or have other ones follow you to their doom. Your main tool though is the cue, and using this allows you to lock on to a specific target and then tweak your aim from there. There are two different hits available to you here; either you can do a soft tap in order to stop a ball from bouncing around the rim of the pocket, or you can pelt it and you’ll hit harder and faster, but with a small loss in control as a result.
The simplicity of the controls is Pool Panic’s greatest strength; nothing is complicated because it is too fiddly, so the challenge arises when you have to figure out exactly how to use these tools in order to accomplish your goal. There’s a level where the balls are chained to trees, and in order to free them you have to use your knowledge of how the balls react to you. Another has you stealing a hat and timing your button presses in order to get a marching band to follow you into the pocket in order to accomplish your goal.
On top of these, each level has a few different challenges to try and accomplish which will task you with being fast, efficient, or thorough in your completion. Each level manages to feel different despite using the same skills, and it’s a testament to the ingenuity on display in this incredibly strange game.
As well as a lengthy single player campaign there are some multiplayer modes for you and your friends to sink your teeth into. It is easy to imagine these becoming a staple of game nights because of how easy the game is to pick up and play, not to mention the entertainment that comes from watching someone mess up a shot because the red ball was running away screaming.
With an off-the-wall sense of humour and style, Pool Panic is a very different pocket to sink your balls into. There are plenty of high points here that help to counteract the occasional camera issues and make for an entertaining experience all round. The multiplayer will probably drag plenty of your friends into this strange world too and there’s no reason not to enjoy that. Pool Panic excels at being exactly what it is, a weird puzzle adventure game with a lot of personality and plenty to do.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch – also available on PC