Adult Swim Games is well known for bringing their own twist to certain genres. They did it several times last year with their Match 3 take on cooking in Battle Chef Brigade, and with their spin on survival games in Rain World. Even bringing the term Slugcat into video game venacular. Now, Rekim and Angus Dick put Adult Swim Games’ focus on Billiards of all things with Pool Panic. If anything, it certainly promises that you won’t look at your cue ball the same way again.
Review: Pool Panic
Title: Pool Panic
Platform: Nintendo Switch [Reviewed], PC
Genre: Puzzle Game, Action Adventure
Developer: Rekim & Angus Dick
Publisher: Adult Swim Games
Players: 1 (2-4 Multiplayer)
Release Date: July 19, 2018
Price: $14.99 (USD)
Pool Is Alive
Billiards is one of those games that has a very simple premise. Use a Pool stick to hit the cue ball at other balls and put them down any hole on the table available. Pool Panic follows this same formula in the most basic sense. However, this is not a tabletop simulation by any means. As this 3D cartoony cue ball with a goofy face and its own set of legs becomes your window into a much deeper world of pool madness.
Through a quick tutorial delivered by a talking pool chalk, players learn that they create angles and openings for shots by literally moving the cue ball around. They then try to hit other balls, which each have their own color and special purpose, until only, the 8-Ball remains. After that, its much like the ending of real billiards where you hit the 8-Ball in, and end the game. Then, you follow the 8-Ball in the same hole, go through a trippy warp sequence, and the game literally opens up to a whole new world.
Welcome to Pool World
The cue ball is dropped onto this huge sprawling 2D Map that flows into different topographic areas. You can easily go from hills full of greenery to a campground, streets with biker gangs, a farm, and more. It even includes a fun little rollercoaster that gets you to certain areas. While other areas are magically blocked off by pool balls strategically placed to keep you from entering there. Anyone that’s been to a theme park can express the feeling of magic you get from simply walking around and exploring. Pool Panic‘s map employs essentially the same aesthetic. It’s neat to walk around and find a previously unseen area or find another entrance to the rollercoaster ride.
However, you quickly realize that they forgot to provide the map telling you where to go, or even what to do in this fun land. Luckily, there are at least set points leading into the actual puzzles for each area. So once you find one, just hover over it, and the actual gameplay begins. Bringing with it some hilarity, ridiculousness, and frustration.
Look At All the Colors
Pool Panic plays more like a mixture of a puzzle game and Bowling than actual Pool. The mechanics are simple enough. The analog stick lets you move around the environment freely. You can also lock-on balls to gain an understanding of their possible trajectory. ZR takes regular shots, while R gives shots a touch of finesse. Each level features certain colored balls, with each of them presenting their own challenge. For example, the early levels may only feature the more docile red and yellow balls. Who for the most part are there for you to get a hang of things. Except that the yellow balls move sometimes when you aim at them. So you have to hit red balls into them first so that they actually go where you want.
Once you get out of the first green hills area though, the challenge escalates up quite a bit. This is because the rest of the colored balls have some difficulty altering abilities. For example, grey balls have armor on them that tightens in place when they squat down. Making them perfect as the rack breakers, but can be a pain to move around on their own. While orange balls skate out of the way any time you aim at them. Not to mention, each area has specific balls pertaining to that region. Like the farm area, it has horse balls that you can actually ride around. The campground area has raccoon balls you have to knock off ledges, and so on. There’s also just fun puzzles like a biker race.
You Got the Touch
This is also where you get to see the Adult Swim touch on Pool Panic. Each of the balls have their own unique expressions or facial designs. So you are sort of grinning or chuckling at something happening on screen. This is further shown in the boss type enemies. For example, there are these big monster trucks you have to hope attack each other and not you in order to get an upper hand. Not to mention, a few Pool Ball bullies in a campground bar that have some unique requirements to defeat. This is also another reason why exploring the map is enjoyable because you literally don’t know what you are going to face in the next area.
Oh Camera Where Art Thou
The major issue with Pool Panic is two-fold. First, the puzzles aren’t necessarily hard perse, it’s more that they are overly cluttered. And this isn’t so bad in itself if it wasn’t for the bad camera. There is no top-down or bird’s eye view available to remedy this either. Instead, you have to deal with a camera that’s positioned more to the side allowing a full view of all the silly characters.
But it creates issues when you need a better line of sight for a shot. Since many of the balls move around on their own, and by extension you need to hit certain balls into other ones, the camera makes this a major pain. So, you soon realize you’ll have to waste numerous shots to get into a position where you can finally knock a ball into a hole. It’s almost like the feeling you get when there are people standing around a pool table and you have to hold the pool stick in weird positions to get a clear shot without hitting the person sitting behind you. The camera eventually reaches a point where it can’t turn anymore. Thus, forcing you to move around. Except that then moving around may make the shot just as impossible once again.
Wandering Aimlessly in Search of Direction
What I just described is really only an issue because the way you actually accomplish things in Pool Panic is by completing four preset challenges. On the upper left part of the screen in each level are four icons. Keeping these icons yellow can get difficult really fast, and due to the other two issues I discussed earlier, sometimes its virtually impossible. Especially the time (where you have to finish the puzzle before the clock turns red) and shots (finishing the puzzle prior to hitting a predetermined number) challenge. As in regular pool, you do get penalized for knocking the cue ball into the hole, or if you knock the 8-Ball in before all other balls are cleared. This is represented by a sock. While clearing the other balls in a certain order gets you points in the fourth challenge slot.
This is all fine and dandy, the bigger problem is that none of this is ever explained to you. The challenges are just there and you have to figure out what they do by trial and error. Even worse is that you actually need to accomplish some of these challenges if you want to open up the closed parts of the map. Completing the challenges builds up, and randomly adds points to this mountain that continues to grow until it explodes. Once you hit enough points, it unlocks previously closed off parts of the map. Giving you more areas to explore and different balls to blast into oblivion. And oh yeah, the thing about the mountain and getting points is never explained either. So, once again you kinda just have to figure it out.
Ugh, I Just Want to Get Through This
Giving players something more to unlock is a wonderful idea. I just wish the game made me feel excited to actually accomplish this. Honestly, once I completed a few challenges in a puzzle I just moved on to the next one on the map. Due to the impossibility of some of these challenges, I never felt compelled to go back and try to get all four of them.
It was more like “oh I got one or two out of four? Great, that’s enough for me.” The game also doesn’t make you feel like you are getting better as you go along. It’s more like I just got lucky some crazy stuff happened and I completed some of the challenges. This is why I had much more fun when I just played freely without worrying about challenges the first few times I entered a new puzzle. Then on the third run through, it became time to get serious.
Panic Mode & Multiplayer
Thankfully, Pool Panic offers some other modes to turn your attention away from challenges, and more towards just chaotic fun. Panic Mode is a time attack with randomized balls that tests your mettle in how far you can make progress. While versus modes feature a literal battle against a friend in Table Mode. Party Mode is all in the name as you complete puzzles by getting certain colored balls into holes before your opponent.
Cartoony art style fits perfectly
The world map is a joy to explore
A fun way to experience pool in singleplayer or multiplayer
The ball characters are hilarious
Camera causes some viewpoint issues
Some challenges feel frustratingly impossible
Lack of explanation can create confusion
Overall Score: 7.0 Out of 10 Pool Panic is a fun game that benefits from its crazy take on billiards. The ball characters are sure to provide some laugh out loud moments. There’s nothing quite like making balls hit the hole and then setting off a whole chain reaction of events that knocks a few more in. The world map gives theme park goers a great sense of wonder and adventure. There’s quite a lot to unlock for the completionists out there too. However, the game does have its issues and could have explained some of its more important concepts better. If you are looking for another party game on the Nintendo Switch this might just strike your fancy. The multiplayer modes are fun, and Pool Panic makes for a good game that’s enjoyable to play or even just to watch someone else play.
This game was reviewed using a digital code provided by Sandbox Strategies.