The Nindies showcase brought with it a ton of indie games to be excited about. Among those were Lumines Remastered, Garage, and Pode. Although many looked great, I couldn’t help but laugh and become intrigued by Pool Panic. So, when I saw it on the show floor during the Game Developers Conference (GDC), I was excited to plop down and pilot my pool cue.
It took me a long time to become decent at pool. Believe or not, I took a billiards class in college that finally shed some light on the sport. I always had just kind of shot the balls around and attempted to make shots. This was the first time I was shown the official rules of the game and the right etiquette for play.
My interest in pool led me to own a pool table in my garage (still one of the saddest things I left behind in a divorce), not to mention find pleasure in playing some of the video games that recreate the feel of the sport. It was always generally the same, angle your stick here, hit it on the ball in different areas to create spin, etc. However, Pool Panic took this mildly uninteresting genre of games and added something that it had unknowingly been missing: comedy.
The first few tables in the Pool Panic demo I played introduced the mechanics of the game. You can walk around as the cue ball using the LS, while aiming around the ball in different directions with the RS. A push from the RT will send your cue ball flying. While a bit wonky at times, mostly due to the camera panning in and out, the controls make it simple to hit the ball in just the right place to garner combo and precision hits. In the meantime, the other balls on the table have quirks of their own.
As soon as I finished the first game on the table, I was introduced to the quirkiness of the game. Much like real pool, the 8-ball must be sunk last. This leaves you to chase around the other balls on the table in the meantime. While this may seem easy, the balls have a personality of their own. For instance, one of the yellow balls gets visibly nervous/scared and doesn’t sit in place long. This leaves you to chase around the lil bugger. And, in another area, the purple ball couldn’t be hit dead on because when it was slamming down on the table, sending all balls, including the cue ball, flying.
When you complete the first few levels, you are then introduced to the overworld. Here you can select stages and continue your journey. Each level you choose has its own characteristics and genuinely clever design.
The first level I wanted to talk about was a camp scene. The level consists of a charcoal barbecue with meat patties on it in the center, while tents are scattered around. A nonchalant archway also sat in the bottom right corner. After hitting the balls through the open tents and into the holes, I was ready to sink the 8-ball. When I landed the shot and saw the kerplunk, it indicated it was not the last ball. I thought, “What gives?”
After panning around the map, I could see there was a ball sitting atop the archway. I shot my cue ball at it to no avail. I was stumped. That was until I knocked into the barbecue pit. This sent meat patties falling to the floor, only to have the green raccoon balls come racing over to take a bite. At this point, when the balls are eating, it was now time to take a stab at sinking them. I couldn’t help but find this silly, yet fitting with the game’s hand-drawn aesthetic.
The next level I was privy to was a desert scene. On this map, there were a handful of toy-like creatures dancing around. These resembled Russian matryoshka dolls (the ones that have a doll inside of a doll inside of a doll). After knocking into these three times, a ball is released and ready to sink. However, the shells from the dolls you dismantled can encapsulate your cue ball or reassemble around the ball you knocked loose. Brilliant!
Each course comes with a designated number of shots you must complete it in. If there’s anything that I could compare Pool Panic too it would be miniature golf meets pool meets cartoon. These pars for the course are also indicators that a puzzle or trick might be present in the level in order for you to complete it. I had already wanted to go back and play the initial levels now aware that I could cut down my shot count.
I haven’t been excited about an indie game in a long time, probably since Retro City Rampage. Pool Panic has easily piqued my interest with its quirks, animations, challenges, and laughs. If you’re turned off by the concept of a pool game, you’re in luck. Pool Panic is anything but, bringing back that excitement I’ve been missing in the indie scene.