Creative But Annoying
Developer Rekim and Adult Swim Games have released Pool Panic on Switch and PC, a creative and comical spin on billiards. Unfortunately, gimmicks and annoyance get in the way fun.
Pool Panic is unlike any pool game you have played before. You freely control the white cue ball with the task of sinking all balls, then the black 8-ball, into the holes just like any game of pool. The difference here is each stage can contain traps, blockades, and other interactive elements. The sinkable balls also have a mind of their own and make it difficult to send them into the pockets. Sure, the red balls just sit there but the yellow balls move out of the way when you try and hit them, black balls can charge the cue ball to knock it around, and some balls can only be hit into other balls. Each color ball and stage have their own strength and weakness which sounds cool on paper but winds up becoming a tedious slog.
There are about 100 stages in total and each one is different. While the variety is welcomed, there often is no consistency between them. For example, one stage requires that the player ram into a barbecue grill a few times to make squirrel balls fall from their perch. Then, these skittish balls are only on the playing field for a few seconds before they run away again. Making matters worse, the perch in which they are sitting wobbles when rammed which makes the player think hitting these poles are the way to get these squirrel balls down. Instead, the player will have to ram a grill, or hit a flag pole in rapid succession, or find a hat in which a fishing pole comes out and fish balls out of pond, to make something else happen. The point is, the player just has to experiment within each stage to figure out what the hell is happening as the game never tells the player about these obtuse gimmicks. The overall design is built around humor but it often impedes gameplay more than enhances it. Controlling the pool stick is easy enough, and there is an option to reverse the controls in the main menu, but it never contained the accuracy I was looking for. I guess I wanted it to control like a twin stick shooter but instead controls with a loose lock-on system that is confusing and not fast enough. Sometimes the environment can get in the way too, with balls becoming hidden or stuck behind things.
This trial and error is only made more annoying thanks to the way the game rewards and punishes the player. The game not only keeps track of the overall time it takes to complete each stage, it also tallies the number of hits on the cue ball. Upon completing each stage, the player is rewarded with trophies for finishing a stage on time, using a limited number of hits, and sinking all the balls. However, each stage is so overly difficult, I was never able to complete any of these optional objectives other than sinking all the balls. In fact, I was never even close to getting any of these trophies because of the annoying way the environment and balls just move out of the way of your hits. If a stage wanted me to sink all the balls in ten hits, it would usually take me around forty.
Pool Panic features some imaginative art work. From the colorful open world map to the ridiculous level-ending sparkle sequence, it is easily distinguished that this is an Adult Swim Game title. The expressive nature of the balls provide humor too. The soundtrack is also outrageous and fits the overall theme of the title well. Unfortunately, these highlighting aspects are not enough to save the game from the infuriating gameplay.
Instead of creating a rewarding gameplay experience, the developers swapped annoying gimmicks that frustrate instead with quality entertainment. This is a such a shame because there are some creative foundational ideas in Pool Panic, it just winds up becoming annoying after playing for fifteen minutes.
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