Reviewed on Nintendo Switch
Best known for its wonderfully absurd line up of late night cartoons, Adult Swim has been making some serious headway on the indie game market. With such titles as Robot Unicorn Attack, Amateur Surgeon, and Battle Chef Brigade, Adult Swim Games packs the same zany punch as its network counterpart. The company’s newest release, Pool Panic for the Nintendo Switch and Steam, is certainly no exception. Described as “The World’s Least Realistic Pool Simulator,” Pool Panic is a funny and charming game brimming with creativity that oftentimes forces players to think outside the pool table.
Visually speaking, Pool Panic packs more euphoria than a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. The game takes place in a land where billiards comes to life, with a vibrant art style reminiscent of the Adult Swim classic Rick and Morty. Players control a constantly smiling cue ball as he smacks his way into a wide variety of colorful balls. It’s downright hilarious watching this little guy crouch in anticipation while the player lines up their shot. Equally amusing are the various strange balls the player literally comes into contact with. Each ball sports their own personality, with facial expressions ranging anywhere from seething anger, to blissful joy, and frantic panic as they awkwardly move across the table. Just watching this game is enough to make even the most cynical person burst out in laughter.
Gameplay wise, Pool Panic is pretty straight forward and standard for its genre. The player lines up their shot by pulling back on the right thumb stick, and aim until a golden reticle goes around the target ball. At this point the player is good to take their shot with a pull of the right shoulder button. However, this set up isn’t perfect. Due to the crazy nature of the various pool tables the player comes across, balls often get stuck behind random objects. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if the game offered camera control to the player. Having to hit something you can’t quite see can get infuriating. While the controls are adequate enough, at times the sensitivity of the right stick just seems off. The slightest nudge of the right thumb stick can move the pool stick further than intended, making pinpoint accuracy a little difficult to master.
When the player isn’t hitting balls, they spend most of their time exploring the over world, with the goal of clearing out 100 pool tables. The over world, though drawn in an even more simplistic (yet hilarious) art style, is surprisingly large and diverse, with scenery ranging from forested woodlands, to a bustling metropolis, and even a scorched desert. Seemingly random events, such as a car crashing by the side of the road, will trigger a new table to open, while clearing a set amount of tables will open up more tables. There’s also a great metroidvania-like mechanic where the player can unlock previously closed areas with special ball characters they meet out in the pool tables.
The sheer number and variety of these pool tables is enough to keep the player coming back for more. Each table almost works like a puzzle, with new ball characters and situations constantly being thrown at the player. At any moment, players could be on a track field with black balls that scatter everything across the table, on a literal soccer field with green goalie balls, or even at a fishing pond complete with fish balls. These constantly changing scenarios make for an extremely fresh experience with every new table, and are guaranteed to leave a smile on the player’s face.
Some tables require more thought than just knocking balls into pockets. The level of creativity in Pool Panic one of the game’s greatest strengths, and is something that even some AAA studios should take note of. In one case I could only get a marching band of balls to move after grabbing a conductor’s hat and baton, while in another I could only take on some bear balls after luring a hunter ball from his cabin to scare the bears away. One table even works a lot like a boss fight, with the player breaking down a large bulldozer to get to the 8 ball inside. Like the old Transformers adage, there really is more than meets the eye with every new table.
In addition to these ever changing challenges, a trophy system injects the game with a decent amount of replay value. Trophies are awarded for such tasks as sinking all the balls within a certain number of strokes, meeting a time limit, and keeping the cue ball out of the pockets. Some of these tables are hard enough, so players seeking an additional challenge will find plenty to keep themselves busy. In my time with the game, I struggled even trying to keep within the stroke limit.
If that wasn’t enough, Pool Panic also comes with two local multiplayer modes, with each mode supporting up to four players: Party Mode and Table Mode. In Party Mode, players are thrown into four randomly selected tables and must complete some of the game’s more off beat challenges, such as clearing out a field of crops or collecting coins while rock climbing. Table Mode offers more of a traditional pool experience, with all the wacky ball characters players have come to know from the story mode. Rather than taking turns, each player can hit their cue ball at the same time, creating a very hectic yet fun experience with balls flying in every direction.
Adult Swim has long been known for its obscure sense of humor, and Pool Panic perfectly translates this to an interactive experience. It’s hard not to laugh at the silly animation and ridiculous situations that come with each pool table. At the same time, this is a game that will test player’s skill, sometimes even more so than a standard game of pool. All things considered, Pool Panic is an indie gem, and a must have for any Adult Swim fan.