Pool Panic – When 8 Ball gets weird

Posted on August 6, 2018

The world of independent games is a wonderfully chaotic section of gaming. So many games seem to fill in the blanks of “X but weird” or “X but stupid and funny”. It’s an industry that is really dependant on the internet to spread the word about these odd little titles. It’s only in such a world that a game like Pool Panic could come to pass.

Starting from the humble beginnings of a simple concept like Pool, Pool Panic then warps and expands on our every expectation to create the weirdest and most inaccurate version of Pool imaginable.

Let’s start with the basics. Pool Panic is, unsurprisingly, a pool game at its very core. The player character is a cue ball, capable of summoning a cue to knock you around the play area. Your goal is simple, knock a certain number of coloured balls into holes before taking down the black ball. Follow the black ball into the same pocket, and that level is done.

Now if you have even a passing interest in pool, the rules of Pool Panic may sound familiar. See they are (almost) the same rules as a standard game of European 8-Ball. Hell, even the first types of balls you are introduced to, aside from the black ones, are red and yellow, the European equivalents to solids and stripes. Other standard elements from pool also make the transition. Perhaps the most obvious is the “scratch”. There are many specific instances that incur a foul in pool, by far the most well-known is “scratching”, or hitting the cue ball into a pocket.

There are also some pretty standard video game tropes on display here. To get the most points, you have a series of conditions to meet. Completing a level without scratching, in a time limit, in a certain number of shots, and getting all the balls in; each earn you a point. Reach a certain number of points and you unlock stuff. This is a pretty classic loop, harking back to Angry Birds on mobile. Such a mechanic really fits well with an arcadey pool game. It prompts the player to be quick thinking but accurate.

But so much of the game just draws on things completely abstracted from pool and video gaming. Some levels take place at an athletic meet, a ski slalom race, an environmentalist rally, and so much more. So much work in this game is just dedicated to screwing with how far one can stretch the concept of a game with sentient pool balls. They all are given personalities and behaviours that really help make this weird and wonderful game so unique. Yellow balls run in fear from the player, Green balls are raccoons that emerge when you topple a picnic basket full of food to attract them. All of this helping to create these very oblique billiard challenges for the player.

Pool Panic is everything I’ve come to expect from the indie side of the games industry. It’s such a weird, offbeat game with a whole lot of love and interesting influences to make for an interesting game. Pool Panic is out now on Switch & Steam.