Right then, hands up – who remembers Pang, the classic 1989 arcade game? No? It was called Buster Bros in the US? Just me? (Checks calendar) Oh yes, I’m officially old this year…
Okay, I’ll stop bemoaning the ignorance of “da yoof” – to be honest Pang was a fairly niche game in its time, something that people probably walked past in an arcade without a second thought while beelining for Out Run or Space Harrier, but it was a game that found a captive audience on home machines and I am pleased to include myself in that audience. I loved me a bit of Pang and I think a large part of that is because it’s a fairly easy game to grasp.
The goal of Pang is simple. Taking control of one of two brothers, you have to clear single screen stages of bouncing bubbles. You do this by shooting grappling hooks straight up the screen – hit the bubbles square on or catch them on the grapples cables and they will pop, larger bubbles splitting into two smaller ones until they reach the smallest size and split no more. It’s kind of like Asteroids with the vertical shooting of Space Invaders and the trick is to pace yourself so as not to get overwhelmed with bubbles – there’s only a limited amount of space on that screen!
As you pop your way through each stage you’ll come across helpful bonuses; upgrades to your grapple that allow you to shoot two at a time, shields and even rapid fire guns to help make short work of your bouncing foes. There’s also wildlife which will either help or hinder you, such as crabs that will pop the bubbles, or birds that will dive bomb you from above. It’s pure arcade fun and a formula that’s not really changed much over the years. Which is why the above description can pretty much be applied to Pang Adventures!
Okay so some stuff has changed in this updated version, developed and published by DotEmu. The core gameplay is pretty much the same but there are some tweaks which help streamline the experience. The stiffness that has aged the original is now a thing of the past, and the Pang Brothers now move smoothly across the screen, their shots feeling easier to judge. The power ups have had a tweak as well, with old favourites like the dual grapple and shield returning, but new additions like a gattling gun and wide sweeping flamethrower joining the fray. The animals make a return with some new faces, such as seagulls which will push the bubbles around the screen and attempt to lay eggs on your head and stun you.
There’s also a story! The bubbles are apparently alien weaponry deployed at earth to devastate the planet. This leads into the first of the games three modes – Tour Mode. One or two players advance sequentially through the stages on an overworld map, taking on enemies across different countries, each with their own particular quirk. You’ll come across numerous different types of bubble, some of which have shallower bounces, some of which are actually bombs, and part of the challenge is learning the best strategy to approaching each stage. Between countries are boss aliens to take on – these prove interesting challenges as they mix up the enemy types you’ve encountered over the previous stages, but are actually fairly simple once you understand how to read their attacks. Fortunately, Tour Mode offers you infinite lives and continues to just leisurely experience (to a degree – some stages are stressful!) the levels on offer.
For those looking for a more challenging experience, though, beating Tour Mode unlocks Score Attack which is a more arcade like experience. Starting with three lives and no continues, players must tackle the Tour Mode levels in order, with or without a partner. This is a proper hardcore mode, so only masochists need apply. Unlocked sooner, though, is my favourite mode – Panic Mode! This adds a little Tetris to the mix as you work through 99 evolving stages, tackling different bubble types of gradually increasing speed and complexity. This challenges all elements from the main levels, from balancing power ups to reading bubble types and patterns and is a fun and frantic experience.
Visually, Pang Adventures is lovely. While they don’t have the same pixelly charm as the arcade graphics, the new cartoon sprites are big, bold and well animated and characters and backgrounds gel together nicely and coherently. The game runs at a fairly solid 60fps throughout, which is essential – I only noticed slowdown once when I kicked off a large chain reaction in Panic Mode – and the audio fits nicely, from the upbeat soundtrack, to the cartoon bounces of the bubbles.
If there’s any criticisms here it’s that everything is just that – it’s fine. It’s nice. It all works together for a fun experience but it doesn’t really do anything revolutionary with the formula. But that’s okay – Pang works best as a simple pick up and play experience and, at a budget price, this is what you’re getting. While the game is available on other formats, including mobile, it feels just nicely suited to the Switch for that sweet spot “quick” game that you can play on the train or when you’ve got five minutes to spare. What more could you ask for?