Panic! Review—Beware the Blob!
I am a big fan of 1950s-style monster movies where a giant creature runs amok. In particular The Blob, where an oozing glob of slime grows and threatens a small town, including Steve McQueen. Apparently so were ThumbsUp, the developers of Panic!, which is one of the more distinctive titles on PlayStation Mobile, something of an action puzzle game.
While the Blob would sneak across town, attacking people here and there seemingly randomly, the alien slime in Panic! behaves in a much more orderly fashion. It flows only through wide open spaces, so the idea is to simply guide the slime around townspeople in the game by altering the terrain of the town.
This is done by touching buildings and dragging them the way you want them to fall, creating piles of debris that will block the ooze. You can also clear a trapped debris pile by tapping on it. Later on you get more options, such as life rings (flotation devices) to throw to townsfolk and bombs.
There are two modes, campaign and survival. The campaign is the meat of the game, where you progress from level to level, 30 in all. The first part of the campaign also serves as a tutorial, which is rather slow-moving. There are some amusing cinematics in the campaign mode. Survival mode is just playing for score, and I’m not entirely sure how it ends, to be honest.
Probably the biggest flaw with Panic! is that it seems to have been designed with a phone in mind, not the Vita. It uses a vertical orientation which makes it rather awkward to play on it. I realize that theoretically PlayStation Mobile runs on more devices than the Vita, but in practice, I think most people are using proper Android stores on their phones and tablets.
But beyond this, it makes the gameplay more difficult than it should be, I feel. Humans have wide vision; our eyes are next to each other, giving us a much larger horizontal viewing range than vertically. It’s much easier for us to scan things horizontally.
The game is also somewhat plagued by technical issues. Loading times are pretty awful, with it taking 15-20 seconds for a mode to load once you select it. I realize that Sony seems to have cut corners on the Vita’s memory cards, and thus the data transfer is just slow. But it still seems somewhat excessive even taking that into account.
The touchscreen also doesn’t seem quite as responsive as it should be, and dragging the life preservers is especially tricky. Despite the cute nature of Panic!, it’s a remarkably fast-paced game, which means you need to do things quickly. Unfortunately, the not so great touch response gets in the way of doing things as fast as they need to be done.
I admit, I’m not a phone guy, the only touch device other than the Vita that I own being the DS, which used a stylus. So when it comes to touch using fingers, I’m fairly new at it. But still, compared to other Vita games I’ve played, it just seems the touch is not as nimble as in those games. It’s even sluggish in the credits screen, not just the gameplay.
However, I should also note this is not the first time I’ve noticed the problem in PS Mobile. Underline is a another big culprit. I suspect part of the issue simply lies in PS Mobile itself. It could also be how PS Mobile runs on the Vita. Despite the Vita’s power, PS Mobile apparently runs worse on it than most other devices.
Graphically, Panic! could pass for a high-resolution PlayStation One game. Not a lot of polygons, not much in the way of textures, but clean and crisp-looking. There does seem to be some slowdown on the more complex levels.
Panic! is an attempt at a fairly original game with reasonably nice production values and some depth. At the same time, it’s a bit tricky to play on a Vita as opposed to a phone (and how many people actually use PS Mobile on their phones?). I really wanted to like it, but I just didn’t have much fun with it. The rushed nature of the gameplay and the persnickety touch controls just lead to frustration instead of fun. If they could tighten them up, the game would be a lot better for it.