Platform: PS3 (PSN - Reviewed) | PSP
Developer: Eko System
Publisher: Eko System
Me and online gaming are not, it must be said, close. My experiences of weapons-based action games are somewhere up there with Peter Griffin in a recent Family Guy... and being stabbed in the neck by stealthy 12-year old gits of course.
My one area of expertise is PES – I’ll take you all on, come and have a go if you think etc., ad lib to fade – but that online experience was marred by annoying gits (probably frustrated at not being able to stab me in the neck with a sharpened corner flag) pausing the game until I gave up and thus awarded them a 3-0 victory.
As a result, I’ve not paid much attention to what the PS3 is capable of. Hell, it took me six months to realise it had wi-fi built in and then another few months before I noticed that I could access the BBC’s iPlayer through it. Seriously, one of these days I must read the instructions...
Accordingly, I’ve only recently discovered the cheap online games that are available through the PlayStation Network which, given the generally fragile state of my bank account, is probably no bad thing. Mind you, if they’re all of the migraine-inducing, endlessly cheery, stupidly addictive quality of Aqua Panic, at least it’ll be a long time before I spend another £7.99.
Remember Lemmings? Welcome to more of the same. Only vertically. With fish. And a fantastically jaunty soundtrack that sounds like it’s been recorded in a helium-filled nightclub.
At the start of each level, you have a bubble filled with fish at the top of the screen. After you’ve had a quick scroll down and look around your environment, you press start, burst the bubble and watch as 100 fish pour steadily down. Your task is to use the tools you’ve been given to change the flow of water and thus guide your aquatic charges safely to the safe spot at the bottom of the screen, away from the chomping jaws of various big evil fish.
It is, as a certain cravat-wearing meerkat might say, simples. Only it isn’t. It’s the sort of game that will have you gnawing your fist in frustration and screaming – even as you press reset for the 87th time and have “just one more go”.
The learning curve, like the addiction level, is also very well judged. For the first dozen or so levels, you’re treated with kid gloves, and given the chance to get used to your various bits of fish-assisting weaponry. Sometimes you get a limited number – as in just-the-exact-amount-you-need-so-don’t-bugger-this-up – of bombs. Other times you’ll have precisely calculated numbers of flowers which grow instantly to block the way water can flow. Other times, you’ll have a harpoon to shoot peckish carnivores that will eat your fish if you don’t spot them lurking throughout the puzzle. And, as the game progresses, you’ll find you have combinations of the three.
As mentioned above, you start with 100 fish and, in order to complete the level, you have to employ your arsenal of weird weaponry to get a specified percentage of them past assorted obstacles. This means blowing holes in pieces of rock, changing the direction of the water and shooting the nasties. Those first few levels will prove challenging and require some restarting – a mercifully quick process – but you’ll soon be punching holes and blocking flows and laughing in the face of piscine danger. And then you won’t be. Because there are many more levels – many, many more levels – that are much more – much, much more – difficult.
You’ll find valves that need to be employed to control the flow. Flowers that grow at a particular time (which you don’t control) to block the water’s movement. Bits of rock that, actually, can’t be blown up. As the game progresses, you’ll be required to carefully time your various actions in order to protect your fish. Sometimes this is frustrating and painfully precise but, on the plus side, our carpenter reckons the dent in the door where the controller hit it will sand out. Better than that though is the deep satisfaction of finishing these exacting challenges. In a world where puzzlers too often molly coddle the player, one that can be so psychopathically challenging and require 30, 40 carefully planned attempts to complete a single level is surprisingly, almost ironically, welcome. You will, however, have turned the sound down long before then.
- Eight quid for a week's plus of mind-bending is great value.
- Brilliant learning curve
- Simple interface
- That *&^%ing music
- The exacting nature of certain solutions with no option to take back a move if you press the wrong button.
- A degree of repetition
The Short Version: Aqua Panic is not without its flaws. Far from it. The cursor occasionally seems to get stranded on rogue bits of the screen which, on time sensitive levels, will have you pulling your hair out. The display is garish. The music will drive you homicidal. Misjudge a bomb or a flower by fractions of a millimetre and you’ll find that the big evil fish get a rapid sushi supper. However, the ease of play – clicking between tools is simple – the length of the game (unless you’re Stephen Hawking and / or have a sleep disorder, you’re looking at a minimum of a week’s worth of tough puzzling) and the “eureka” moments as your final fish finds salvation make this a very decent way of spending eight quid.