I’ve always been a fan of pool, whether it’s watching the Mosconi Cup in Blackpool in real-life, playing it in the local pub with friends, or just playing video games like Virtual Pool. I’ve actually always thought it’s one of those sports that lends itself well to a video game, though developer Rekim and publisher Adult Swim’s interpretation of it is more than a little interesting…
Pool Panic is a puzzler that mixes up pool with bizarre physics-based puzzling, and it just so happens to be one of the weirdest games I’ve ever played. Fortunately, it just so happens to be bloody brilliant too, with it actually standing out as one of my favourite releases on the Nintendo Switch this year.
In Pool Panic, you smash a crazy-looking cue ball around an assortment of ridiculous levels as you look to pot every ball around you. Obviously, you’ve got to play by the rules though – that means you pot the black last and get punished for potting the cue ball. Much like other pool video games, there’s a targeting system in place that shows the line that your cue ball will follow when hit as well as that of any balls it connects with, so it’s an easy game to pick up and play for just about anyone.
Whilst it shares similarities with ‘traditional’ pool though, Pool Panic is also nothing like it. This is an absolutely ridiculous game and the self-described ‘least realistic pool simulator’ – it takes that tagline quite seriously, but believe me, it makes for a wild puzzler that’s incredibly entertaining to play through.
It’s all thanks to the game’s absurd levels – I hope you weren’t expecting everything to take place on your typical pool table, because you’re instead sent to the likes of the Wild West, a football field, a graveyard, a farm, and even a castle just to name a few locales. It’s never just a case of just potting balls either, with a battle against a giant spider and even a motorcycle chase just a couple of the things you’ll find yourself doing. I told you the game is bizarre, right? Everything just so happens to look superb in-game too, with some great visual designs that fans of cartoons like Rick and Morty, South Park and Adventure Time will appreciate, as well as some slick animations that keeps the action looking smooth throughout.
Whilst there are all kinds of things to do, the bulk of the experience follows pool accurately given that it’s all about potting balls. This might mean you’ve got to work across a maze-like map, interact with objects to get balls to appear, or even just pull off some neat trick-shots in order to find succeaa. There’s a lot of creativity on show throughout though and the game never becomes boring nor does it run out of ideas at all during its hundred-plus levels. It’s actually quite impressive, especially when you consider the core mechanics themselves are actually quite simple.
Some of this variety comes with how each ball acts differently, with some trying to run away from you as you aim a shot, some exploding, some side-stepping your shots (seriously) and some just freezing still when you hit them. Whilst the levels themselves are full of creative little details that freshen things up, your targets will keep you guessing too.
It all makes for a wonderful puzzling experience and one that’s easy to sink hours into. It took around seven hours for me to get through the game’s single player levels, and that’s without completing all of the challenges. Completionists will definitely want to play through the levels again with awards in place for doing things like beating the level within a certain time limit, only taking a specific amount of shots and for not accidentally potting the cue ball in the process.
When you’re done with the single player campaign’s hundred-plus levels, Pool Panic also has ‘Panic Mode’ which randomly generates levels for you to play across. They’re not as clever as those found in the main game, but they’re still fun and ensure you won’t run out of things to do. There’s even a local multiplayer mode on offer too, so you can share the game’s zany nature with your friends and family. It’s actually a lot of fun and I had a ton of laughs playing through it with my friends whilst having a few beers, so it’s certainly something I’d recommend checking out.
Whilst I do have a lot of love for Pool Panic, it did have a couple of issues. For one, I found the controls a little awkward to get used to. I found lining up shots could be a little imprecise at times, with a demand for the player to fiddle about a bit before they’re able to hit the sweet spot. It’s not a massive problem, but when going for one of the time limit challenges (or when a ball is running away from you) it can be noticeable.
Pool Panic is a highly original puzzler that just kept me thoroughly entertained throughout. I’m a sucker for zany stuff like this anyway, but the fact that the game just so happened to be a heck of a lot of fun to play and jam-packed full of ever-changing content just sweetened the deal.
The only real dampener came with the slightly awkward controls, but even that wasn’t problematic enough to stop Pool Panic from being one of my favourite puzzlers that I’ve played this year. If you’re a Switch owner, you simply need to buy the game.
Publisher: Adult Swim Games
Release Date: Out Now
Format(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PC