Aqua Panic! (Yes panic indeed…)

Aqua Panic! is a puzzle game that has been featured on various platforms; so naturally it would end up on PSN. The premise is simple enough for those of you who are familiar with games such as Echochrome, Lemmings or even Loco Roco. You know… the ones with high-pitched music that will stick in your head long after you’ve stopped playing. Brought to you by Eko Software, Aqua Panic! puts you on a mission to take as many fishes as possible, back to the ocean. But of course, your goal is no easy task, as you’ll have to deal with predators on land and sea, valves, and the terrain itself.
At the beginning of a level, a flow of water containing 100 fishes will start spreading from a bubble, and you’ll have to use a series of tools to channel the liquid all the way to the safe spot located in between two yellow flags. To help you out, there are also a number of coins in every level that will increase the difficulty and grant you in-game money to spend on more tools to get perfect scores.

Aqua Panic! starts off easy enough with explanations of how to use the tools that will help you progress. However, once you get past those first few tutorial-type levels, the real challenge begins. Aqua Panic! has an outstanding 80 levels with each becoming slightly more difficult than the previous.

In order to progress to those aforementioned levels, you have to use those tools I spoke about a few sentences back. The tools include plants (which stop the flow), missiles (to blow up the terrain), and harpoons (to kill those piranha looking fish who seem to function fine without water…go figure), among others. However, with these tools, comes an extremely limited amount so more than likely you’ll be going through your own gut-wrenching affair of trial and error. But don’t be so disheartened my friends! As I found in my game play, you’re actually able to scroll through the level before you start playing, so you can have a sort of preview of how to win. Is it cheating? Maybe, but if the creators didn’t want you to do it, the screen would lock before you hit that start button. Also, if you fail any level, you’ll have a restart command available at all times (which is the Select button).

Unfortunately, besides that previous gem I just discussed, the actual gameplay has a few crucial flaws. In the later levels you have to be very precise in the use of the tools. Both time and accuracy, and the controls certainly fail to deliver the level of refinement required. In short, more often than not, you’ll end up putting plants in the wrong places, or wasting a missile because you used it a mere inch away from where you should have fired it…and then you end up hitting that handy select button.
In terms of graphics, the Aqua Panic! is very “cutesy”, and the illustrations are pretty well done, but you would expect a game with such focus on water to have some sophisticated physics and effects, but its not going to happen in this game. Is this not a next-gen system we’re playing on? The water behaves just fine, but sometimes it moves erratically, which more often than not costs you some fishes.

Personally, I found the music to be annoying, and after hours of playing the game, it wasn’t the increasing levels of difficulty that made me give up on it, it was the music piercing through my ears and blocking my concentration on the next puzzle at hand. Yes, you can actually change the music to listen to whatever you want while figuring out how to save those fishes, but my PS3 is a gaming system…not an iPod. (But it’s nice to know you have the option that so many developers choose to bypass)

Aqua Panic! has 3 different modes of gameplay to try out. They are the main Adventure mode, Free Play and Survival. In Free Play you’ll have the option to choose any of the 80 levels (as soon as they’re unlocked) in order to get the maximum score possible. This is also where the in-game money comes to play, as you can buy additional tools to help you finish by saving all the 100 fishes. Survival mode is a competitive mode for up to 2 players where there are a certain number of fishes to save, and whoever saves the most, wins.

Overall, my main problem with this game (aside from that earsplitting annoyance called music) was the game platform: PS3. Is this game really necessary on such an advanced system? Its probably geared towards casual gamers, but I feel like its not a casual game for PS3. Its simplistic in its nature, and for that reason I feel it belongs in your hands on a handheld, and not on your flat screen TV. Save your money for a real game worthy of the potential a PS3 has.