The launch of PlayStation Mobile as a new digital format has been greeted with a fairly muted response from the videogames industry at large. Accepted as the natural evolution of the PS minis programme, some publishers have jumped at the chance to produce one title that can be played on a multitude of devices while others simply see it as a secondary option to iOS in the same fashion as Android or Windows Phone productions. One publisher that has been quick to capitalise on the initiative as it meets its early adopters is Ripstone, with Panic! now available as one of their earliest projects.
Designed for mobile devices primarily, Panic! uses only the touchscreen for gameplay even on the PlayStation Vita. So much so it the videogame intended for mobile handsets that it is the first title Electronic Theatre has experienced where there is not reorientation of the PlayStation Vita’s impressively scaled screen for the traditional layout; Panic! is played with the system held so that it reaches vertically as opposed to the familiar horizontal layout. Of course there is nothing inherently wrong with this; Dr. Kawashima’s Brain Training broke through the industry’s invisible walls with the reorientation its host format. But while Panic! may never witness such phenomenal commercial success it does manage to make just as good a use of that stretched layout.
There are two gameplay modes offered by Panic!, the standard Campaign and the Survival option. Campaign offers three worlds of ten levels each, beginning very simply with a mild tutorial. The gameplay is fairly simple: destroy houses to block the path of a slime monster that moves along the empty spaces on the grid-like stages, saving the lives of as many humans as possible. Each level is rated out of three stars depending in the amount of people saved and houses destroyed, with higher and lower numbers respectively offering more points.
Things get slightly more complicated as the player progresses through the Campaign, with new mechanics such as running civilians and babies to save, but Panic! remains an immediate and intuitive experience throughout. Given that the screen consistently scrolls no matter how the player interacts, it’s odd that the development team didn’t see it necessary to offer the opportunity to scroll back up the screen manually when you are confident you have created a safe passage for the slime. Given that the slime is constantly flowing until it passes the finishing line players can often lose due to a hole they left higher up the screen, resulting in several plays of a single level until the mistake is noticed and rectified.
The Survival mode takes all of the lessons taught in the Campaign mode and places them in a single endless level. The lack of screen control is more understandable here as there’s much more to take into consideration from the very moment the level starts, and a bad mistake early on simply can’t be rectified in the same way. It’s an interesting revision of the gameplay design but still not one which will demand more than a few minutes of a gamer’s free time. And this it seems it the feeling earned by Panic!’s gracing of PlayStation Mobile certified devices in general: it’s a videogame that can pass a few minutes but will never be considered for anything more. Enjoyed in one minute and forgotten in the next, Panic! is most likely a videogame that worked better on paper than the final product suggests.