I had pegged developer Eko System’s Aqua Panic as a puzzle game for kids until the majority of the cute, singing fish I was supposed to save started screaming as they were chewed into bloody chum by sharks and pointy contraptions.
Aqua Panic, the successor to the PSP game Downstream Panic, is a puzzler about guiding a waterfall of fish towards a shark encircled goal while using a variety of tools to minimize casualties.
Cute little videos introduce new enemies. Yes, ducks are the enemy.
The first few levels of the game start you off with some rockets to punch holes in walls and some plants to divert water flow. New enemies and tools are introduced on a smart level-by-level basis to the point where, within an hour of playing through the game, you’ll find yourself having to manage all sorts of switches and jim jams.
Most of the 80 levels in the game seem to have a single and very precise solution with the finite equipment that you’re given. This lands Aqua Panic in the rut of most puzzle games in that the player is either rewarded with a harmonious clockwork display of success or a total mental roadblock.
Eko System made a good effort to remedy this by giving the player five ‘jokers’ that, when activated, skip the current level entirely. The jokers can be returned to your stash using the Freeplay mode in the game that lets you play previous levels in which you can use the money you’ve earned in story mode to buy far more resources than you’d normally have access to for any given level.
Even the sun is stumped
A lot of the later levels in the game become really overwhelming and, by extension, frustrating. You’ll definitely find yourself in situations where you’ll need to separate some water from your wet mess of fish in order to hit switches and open doors. At the same time you have to scroll up, down, left and right across a large puzzle board in order to make sure everything’s set up for when your fish get there.
Any completionists who want to have a hope at finishing Aqua Panic should be ready to trudge through a process of skipping difficult levels and then beating them in Freeplay mode. It’s not an elegant solution, but I feel like Eko System deserves a lot of credit for devising a system that allows a world in which puzzles can be difficult but feasible.
The odd control issue, perhaps a leftover from when the game was on PSP, is that the game doesn’t allow the player to simultaneously move the cursor and scroll the camera – It really gets in the way when the later levels demands precise control across a large playing field. This is odd, considering that both operations are mapped to separate control sticks, and I didn’t have to make it to the halfway point in the game to find it annoying.
These screenshots are in French, but the anguish of fish is universal
I mentioned singing fishes earlier and, as you may have guessed, that singing is what makes up the majority of the music and sound effects in the game. The sound effects play a dual role of being an oddly adorable ambiance and, if you’re not careful, as an audio cue that your fish are being chewed, crushed, and stabbed into a cutesy slurry by the predators on the board. Unfortunately, The music quickly wears thin as a bunch of fish singing in shrill Alvin and the Chipmunks voices doesn’t really work as a concentration aid.
I feel that Aqua Panic stands alongside Viva Pinata and Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts in that it juxtaposes tinker toy cuteness with the cerebral demand of a New York Times crossword puzzle. However, I burned out on Aqua Panic after about eight hours, and I doubt that only the most avid puzzle addicts will make it through all 80 levels.