Software Developers Eko have taken the time to transfer their Nintendo DS / Wii puzzle game Aqua Panic! to the PSN platform, these transitions are not always pain free particularly given the input nature of the other systems, but in this case Eko have done themselves proud. Your mission is to save the fish, octopodes and seahorses by getting them safely to the exit, this is done by controlling the water with the different tools in order to achieve that goal. A little bit like lemmings, only wetter.
Controlling things is easy enough, with the right stick moving the cursor and the X button controlling actions, different tools being selected with the shoulder buttons - it's a scheme that's nice, simple and easy to understand, so should be able to be picked up by just about anyone. The game breaks the player in very gently too, introducing the various aspects of the game, and for those who've played this type of puzzler before, perhaps a little bit too much on the slow side.
Each tool has a limited number of uses, so where each one is activated in the levels, which scroll vertically, is vitally important. Before things start it's possible to view the entire cavern structure and work out what will be the best strategy to fulfil the level goal. Once happy with the direction the sea creatures are sliding, it's possible to speed up the proceedings with a hold of the triangle button, a very useful inclusion as waiting around for everything to get to the bottom can take a while otherwise.
The Bomb tool allows the ground to be hollowed out and is also useful for destroying certain objects. Usable only once, they blow-up straight away but oddly don't have any affect on the fish, surprisingly given what a simple cat claw does to them in reality. The same cannot be said for the giant monsters lurking at the bottom of the screen ready to devour the poor little mites. Guide the tiny marine life to the wrong part of the screen, and well, it's fish supper. Not all parts of the ground can be blitzed though, certain parts are indestructible and so it would be a waste of TNT to use them there.
The Plant tool allows the player to change where the water flows, directing the course of the critters being saved, which of course should avoid the gnashing teeth, but it's not just the vast jaws of the giant death at the bottom the player has to worry about; there are also other predators lurking away, these can be dispatched by harpooning their gills with the harpoon tool.
The first level is easily completed by blowing a couple of neat holes in to the scenery, for which the "Too Easy" trophy is awarded, and yes it is very simple indeed, at least for the first few levels. Further complications are added to the mix by introducing environmental items like the snail. Stuck in the rocks, it works like a tap, opening and closing to allow the aquatics and water to move though. Sometimes there can be multiple snail taps on a level, along with multiple creature drop points, so there's a careful need to balance things. Turning the taps on and off at the right times will help stop things over-flowing and inevitably ending up as dead bait - this is a challenging task as it's not possible to see the entirety of the level at once. There's a lot of juggling to be done and this turns out to be fun rather than frustrating. Then there are green snails that are automatic taps and eggs that can block the flow of water - simple as it may start, the journey is a long, and at times a complicated one.
Some of the puzzles can be a little devious, others will take a number of retries to use the tools in the right places, but here is another jewel in the crown of how to avoid frustration to the player: should one of these brain ticklers prove too much, it's possible to play a joker and skip the thing entirely. There are a limited number of these available though, so it pays to use these wisely.
For every ten levels of the game completed, a bonus item is unlocked in the options menus, and although this sounds exciting, most of these just alter the type of sprites the player has to save, it's a nice thought at least. However, there are also a couple of other game modes that can be unlocked, namely Free Play Mode and Time Trial. All of this is painted with bouncy sprites and lots of bright primary colours, something which works very nicely for an arcade puzzler. The music that accompanies things could be said to be jolly, but most people would probably use the adjective irritating. Thankfully it can be easily turned off, either in-game or on the main menu.
The only real criticism that could be levelled at Aqua Panic is the speed at which the marine life starts to fall from the top of the screen, which is almost immediately. It can make using the tools quickly enough to save the little lifeforms a troublesome task and saving all hundred of them sometimes feels impossible. This is a minor niggle though in an otherwise fabulous game.
Aqua Panic is bright cheerful and likely to put a smile on your face, even in the deepest of saturated situations. The game gets a definitely thumbs up from me.
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