Warning: This article is full of food related puns. Some are pretty corny.
The world of Organic Panic! is one torn apart by Meat and Cheese and it falls to Fruit and Veg to restore balance.
This is a classic food fight; a case of kill or be grilled, where only those with the stones can survive. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen as the sentient salad is on the rampage, taking down its protein-rich prey in a valiant effort to save their world as they know it.
That’s the story on offer here (which we find out via a stylised comic book) that the meats and cheeses of the world, with their superior technology, have taken over, and the remaining fruit and veg have banded together, using their magical powers to save their world. Each of the four playable foods has a specific attack, movement and special ability. I won’t spoil them here (as some are genuinely coco-nuts!) but some examples include Carrot, who can scale the walls and ceiling like Gabe Walker (Cliffhanger) whilst shooting fire from his hands, or Kiwi, who can fill areas with (and swim under) water. These powers can only be used if you collect magic orbs, which are dotted around the level, ripe for the taking.
If it’s not apparent by now, these are anthropomorphic characters, a kind of “humanised harvest”, if you will, which is how you can see a fruit punch. Sorry.
The same goes for the villains. You face a gouda variety of steaks, hams and sausages, and what would amount in real life to a mid-range cheese board. Early levels pit you against the simple Meatballs; attacking like boulders, they’re easy enough to dodge when there’s only a couple, but it becomes far more difficult against a whole pack. In later levels you’ll face off against flying, flame-throwing sausages and holiday hams whose machine guns will quickly turn you into Swiss cheese. Well, not literally, as Swiss cheese are the enemy and are armed with rocket-launchers, but you get the point.
If you’re finding these puns too cheesy, don’t worry, it gets feta.
There are 11 stages on offer here before the game’s finale. These provide a real smorgasbord of environments and challenges. Many feature spikes and saws ready to make mincemeat out of you and if you like steamed veg, the volcanic settings can see to that. Some of the more difficult ones require you to think with portals and provide a very welcome twist as things wear on. The environments are constructed from various materials (wood, stone, steel, ice etc.) and each one reacts differently to each of the characters abilities, whether friend or foe. The D.A.F.T. (Destructible and Fluid Technology) physics system means those interactions are pretty dead-on; whether you’re sawing through or setting fire to wood, or melting ice to cause floods, each of these offers a unique way to solve many of the puzzles.
Organic Panic!‘s levels themselves are the puzzles. Some are simple while others can brie quite a challenge, but a little lateral thinking will usually help you out as there is often a clue in the title of the level or in the combination of characters you can use. Early stages offer only one character at a time, before you are given the chance to play as any of the various veggies by either cycling through them, or playing side-by-side either on your own and switching between them, or with a friend in co-op.
Some characters like Cherry or Carrot can interact with destructible elements in the environments. This means you’ll need to tread Caerphilly as if Carrot sets fire to a wooden platform you need to use or Cherry carves her way through a support structure, you’ll need a quick reset with R3. This seems like a good time to mention how fast the load times are. If you make a mis-steak, resetting a level is instant and loading a from the main menu is similarly fast. Fast food, you could say.
Levels are completed with a star-rating. You’ll earn a bronze star for simply reaching the exit (and completing any essential objectives). A silver can be achieved by meeting the bronze criteria and either killing all the enemies or collecting a single hidden gem (one per level) before finishing, while the gold star is reserved for those who manage to complete all of these objectives before reaching the exit. As you progress, levels may also be timed or there may be environmental factors to be considered which necessitate a faster finish. If you are struggling, there is a fancy feature where a press of square on the menu will allow you to skip that level and head on to the next one. You get five of these skips and once you’ve used them all, you’ll need to complete a previously skipped level to earn that skip back. It’s a brie-lliant feature that I think more puzzle games should consider adding, as we all know it can be frustrating if you get stuck. I never found myself skipping more than one level in each world, if any, so frustration is generally avoided by the generous difficulty curve, as well as by the desire you’ll have not to be defeated. Generally though, even towards the end it’s easy enough to simply get to the exit with a bronze, before returning later to earn the gold star.
That being said, the camera movement can be restrictive. A nudge of the right-stick will move the screen around a small amount, or the whole level can be pulled in to view by holding L2 or R2, but a bit more player control would be helpful as sometimes it can be tough to navigate through the levels with the very “either/or” system, especially as the levels grow in scale to become quite cucumbersome. The visuals are vibrant and vivid though, which always helps when things get a little tougher to see.
Camera controls and a somewhat disjointed finale aside, I found very few other raisins to dislike Organic Panic!. It may not be competing for any Game Of The Year awards, but it’s still a solid title. The developers at LastLimb should certainly be proud of their produce. They’ve been working on this Kickstarter project for five years and their efforts are plain to see (I hope they paid themselves a nice celery).
Organic Panic! is a well-made and enjoyable game with a good variety of levels, characters and puzzles. It clearly takes inspiration from many great titles including Worms, LittleBigPlanet and Mario, but not so much that I give Edam and besides, it really pays off. The environments you play in are diverse enough to provide a welcome change every now and again and the various abilities of your crazy crops are fun to use and even more fun to master. The single-player campaign will last you a good half-a-dozen hours and there’s plenty of fun to be had in the myriad of multiplayer game modes via local co-op; there’s two, three and four player co-op, separated into different levels for each number of players as well as a versus mode for up to four players.
Given the number of indie titles available these days, Organic Panic! does enough to deserve a place near the top of the pile as it’s more than just another platformer; it’s inventive, amusing and a joy to play. It’s not perfect and at the somewhat peculiar price of £11.59, it is perhaps a little over priced for the single player, but if you’ve got a couple of buddies to play alongside, or if you love physics-based puzzlers, there’s plenty of fun to be had.