One of my earliest gaming memories is playing Pang on the Amiga 500.
A nice, laid-back arcade game full of bright colours and lots of bubbles to pop. Total chilled-out fun, right? Wrong. Either I was some kind of five-year-old gaming genius or a child masochist, because after playing Pang Adventures I can tell you one thing: Pang is really bloody hard!
Pang (or Buster Bros. as it was known in some territories) originally released in 1989 and spawned several sequels over the following few years. Now, some 27 years since its first release, DotEmu have attempted to capture its charm in a completely modernised remake: Pang Adventures. Have they succeeded? All signs point to yes.
The premise of Pang Adventures is incredibly simple: with your upwards-shooting weapon, pop and dodge bubbles until the stage is cleared. Big bubbles will break into two smaller bubbles, which will also break into two even smaller bubbles, and so on, until the smallest bubble can be destroyed. This means that stages can get incredibly hairy, with lots of smaller bubbles bouncing all over the place; one hit from any one of them and it’s game over. The game is less of a shooter and more of an act in dodging and darting from one side of the screen to the other, but you’re also against the clock with a very short timer, so speed is key. With its cutesy and cartoonish visage, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Pang Adventures was a walk in the park, but in reality it’s extremely tough and brutally unforgiving.
The game comprises three modes: Tour Mode, Score Attack and Panic Mode. Essentially the main campaign of the game, Tour Mode takes you through a series of locations around the world, each with 15 stages. Each individual stage offers a unique and varied challenge, but the difficulty feels a little all over the place at times. Rather than gradually getting more taxing as you progress, there are random difficulty spikes all over the place. One level may take 20 attempts to beat, but the next might be done on the first try. After beating all 15 stages of a location, you’re faced with a boss. Unfortunately, each boss is more or less identical, apart from slightly higher difficulty and one or two new tricks up his sleeve. It’s a shame there wasn’t more variation gone into enemy design here; as a new addition to Pang Adventures, differentiating from its predecessors, it would have been great to see some new creative flair but instead it feels rather lazy.
Panic Mode is perhaps my favourite mode of the three. Essentially an endless mode, Panic Mode takes you through continuous levels of ever-increasing difficulty to see how far you can get. The gameplay here eases you in gently, and unlike Tour Mode the trickiness of the levels does fairly and gradually increase rather than having random spikes. It soon gets pretty chaotic though; you’ll quickly see why it’s called “Panic Mode”! You also get a number of lives (and the opportunity to pick up more as your progress) which makes gameplay feel less punishing and more rewarding. That brings me onto the last mode of Pang Adventures; Score Attack, which is all about punishment. This mode doesn’t unlock until you’ve finished Tour Mode, and provides identical gameplay but with one caveat: you get no option to continue. The difference is you get three lives, but this is essentially Pang Adventures‘ answer to Diablo‘s hardcore mode: once it’s game over, that’s it – back to the beginning with you. It’s safe to say I likely wouldn’t even make it past level one.
Whilst for some, Pang Adventures might be not much more than a nightmarish foray into the act of rage quitting, others will relish in the challenge it offers – and that challenge is even more enjoyable when played in co-op. Undoubtedly the highlight of the game, local co-operative is available in all three game modes and is a simple case of player 2 dropping in and out. The maddening chaos becomes much more fun when you’ve a friend by your side to experience it all with you, and tackling those bubbles together becomes less arduous and much more entertaining.
It’s clear that Pang Adventures will be more enjoyable to those of us who have fond memories of the original game, but its fresh and modern graphical overhaul means that it stands a fair chance up against arcade games of the 21st century, too. Its cruel difficulty is going to be one thing that holds it back from appealing to the masses, although the addition of seamless local co-op is sure to be a great selling point. If you enjoy a challenge and some classic old-school arcade action, you can’t go wrong with Pang Adventures. Just watch out for the bouts of imminent Rage Quit.