Is there a better way to kick off 2019 than with a reminder of how good arcade games were in the 1980s?
Well, there probably is, but after spending the past few months traversing various open-world maps – one end to the other – for hours at a time, mindlessly shooting some bouncing bubbles with my girlfriend is a welcome palette cleanser.
Before you ask, Pang Adventures is completely playable and beatable all on your own. It’s just not as much fun, which is a bit of a shame as you can’t go online and pick and choose a virtual friend to join in. Sadly, you have to actually know somebody and bring them in the old-fashioned way. Which is – admittedly – completely suited to the game’s aesthetic.
See, Pang, Buster Bros, Ponpingu Warudo, or whatever you want to call it was always meant to be two people travelling the world, running alongside each other while shooting balloons. Pastagames have kept the spirit of that completely intact in the gameplay and it has never felt more at home than on Switch.
It’s the same game you know and love – though an alien invasion has been shoehorned in to try and make some narrative sense of all the popping and panging – but this is essentially Pang with a gorgeous new lick of paint, a few boss battles, as well as Score Attack and Panic Modes.
Here’s the thing, though. The deeper you get, the less mindless Pang Adventures becomes, and the more you have to pay attention to what’s happening. For example, a flock of seagulls will start to swoop onto the screen and affect the flow of balloons, meaning they’ll scatter in different directions making them harder to hit.
Oh, and if a balloon touches you, you kind of … sort of … die. Nope, not when the snappy crab comes near you, or if a Seagull divebombs at your head. Nah, you’re perfectly safe from them. Just the balloon. Never touch the balloon.
Perhaps your character is severely allergic to helium and you accidentally take some in once the balloon approaches. Or maybe it’s the latex. Yeah, definitely the latex! I reckon the squelchy squeakiness is cap-headed Phileas Fogg’s Kryptonite, his fingernails down a chalkboard moment. It all makes sense now.
I jest, as some balloons do come infused with electrical current. Which certainly doesn’t make for a comfortable collision. But there are ways to protect yourself using a variety of powerups. There’ s a diamond-shaped shield for instance, but also a sand timer which freezes everything on the screen.
You can even change your harpoon to a chaingun, shotgun or flamethrower – to name but a few – to really keep those smaller split bubbles at bay. This goes back to Pang Adventures actually requiring some thought as each weapon has unique properties which can help or hinder your progress.
It’s all really simple and basically boils down to a ‘build your combo to gain as many points as possible’ extravaganza. The tour does gradually introduce new threats and obstacles, changing the background as it goes, but the routine remains the same throughout.
And if you do play with a pal, there’s even a degree of competition in there as you can compare high scores with one another based on performance. Of course, that can be taken one step further with the aforementioned additional modes, but you’ll have to make significant progress through and eventually beat Tour Mode to unlock both of them.
Which, I feel, is a bit of a mistake. It limits Pang Adventures almost immediately and if you’re stuck on a particular level for a period of time, there’s not much else to do but keep on trying or quit. And it’s a shame as not everyone will get to play both modes. Panic is actually really good, addictive fun that really keeps you on your toes and serves up a good challenge.
Basically, though, Pastagames are locking away 2/3 of the content of a game – which is already quite bare bones – and are forcing you to play it their way. This is a complaint that has cropped up for previous console versions of the game, so it’s disappointing to see they’ve not rectified that for the Switch version.
They do get some things right, though. The instant restart button should be a main staple in most games. One tap and you’re able to restart the level anew after a brief pause. It’s not quite as reactionary as a Trials or N++ but it’ll certainly suffice in a clinch.
And Pang Adventures is just good – solo or co-op – old-fashioned retro arcade fun that is perfectly suited to handheld play. There’s nothing different from the Switch version compared to the rest, but I’d certainly argue this is the definitive version.
Code kindly provided by the publisher and played on Switch.