The basic premise of Pool Panic is pretty simple to billiards or pool players alike. Sink all other balls into pockets with a cue ball, and then sink the 8-ball to win. Every puzzle has a number of pool balls and an 8 ball. That’s about where the similarities end as you will quickly find yourself running around campgrounds running into tents to find hidden balls and chasing around ones that run and hide when you aim at them directly. If you aren’t careful you’re likely to get attacked by a pool ball sasquatch that is waiting to knock you into the hold and make you scratch.
Pool Panic takes a genre that can be incredibly generic and stale and brings new life and angles to all of the concepts of pool. It manages to accomplish this by taking the idea of pool and breaking it out into unique puzzles. It also adds raccoon pool balls that climb and hide in trees, pool balls that run out from behind trees and chase you down, and ones that will run away anytime you aim at them. Add onto that a very Adult Swim art style and you have a game that is unique and charming.
As you enter the game you’re presented with a pretty big overworld map with little nodes all around. Each of these little nodes is a self-contained level with a theme, scenery, and all sorts of different elements that keep levels from feeling very repetitive and samey. There are also unique play styles mixed in that break even from the basic premise of the game itself.
The first of these can be found when you find yourself in a western town. Matches here often have your cue ball running around with a big cowboy hat that shoots tiny bullets. Hitting the other balls with these knocks them over and rolls them, of course, you have to manage to sink all the balls without getting taken out yourself as the other balls also are firing shots back at you. There are also cliff-hanger style matches where you are hanging on a cliff face by rope and have to knock other hanging pool balls into a hole by shooting around to connect to other rope anchor points.
Each level has 4 main objectives. To complete the level within a time limit, to do it within a certain number of shots, to do it without scratching, and to get all of the balls in the level. Even that last one isn’t so easy as most levels have hidden balls that you have to poke around the level to find. Scratches can happen if you hit yourself or the 8-ball in before a certain number of balls in the level has been scored.
On top of the massive overworld, you also find soon that as you accumulate trophies you will be feeding them into a large central tower that rises out of the ground the more trophies you feed into it. The overworld is so well handled that you can spend a lot of time just trying to suss out the secrets it contains. Sometimes clearing levels will also reward you with a little overworld buddy that will follow you around. I will let you play to discover some of these little mysteries. The game does a great job of unfolding these little things as you play to keep the game interesting.
My favorite part of this game is just how unique each level is. From the first few I have seldom run into any two that play very similar. They all have unique challenges, different ball types that all have unique behaviors. Some run away when directly aimed at, some have roller-skates and will slide away from your shot. Some plant themselves where they are, making them immovable. The game is constantly bringing in new tactics, new types, and new things to discover. It does this all in a very relaxing way and in a bite-sized way that makes this game so perfect for opening for just a bit to play a puzzle or two. The silliness makes it always feel light and fun. The game doesn’t take itself seriously and it knows exactly what it wants to be. The art and gameplay have so much charm you just have to give it a shot.
The only complaints I can launch at this game are that the controls can take some getting used to as you use one stick to move your cue ball around, another to try and pull back the cue in a certain direction, and doing this all while trying to hit balls that can end up moving around on their own makes it a bit tricky at times. This is further complicated in the cliffhanger style levels because it seems to flip the functionality of the shooting and sometimes it’s hard to tell when you will and won’t hook onto a certain anchor point. Honestly, these are minor complains to a very fun and unique game.
Overall I would highly recommend this game if you’re looking for a goofy pool game that doesn’t put too heavy of an emphasis on skill or challenge. I’ve played a good portion of it on Switch and it’s great on the go when riding a bus, or just trying to kill 10-15 minutes. The smaller puzzle-like levels are all fun to explore and poke around in.
Note: GameOctane received a digital code from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing this game. Any code or product intended for reviews is distributed to the team to review and stream for our audience.
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Lots of content
Lots of charm
A unique take on a fairly stale genre
Controls take some getting used to