Normally, you’d expect a game based on billiards to follow set rules the sport had for decades, but it doesn’t. Pool Panic has quite a unique style and flare bordering on the bizarre. It's a good kind of over the top oddness all over.
Pool Panic is heralded as “the world’s least realistic pool simulator”, and there’s absolutely zero exaggeration in play here.
Players get to control a cue ball that simply has to pot all the balls on the map you’re on - sounds simple, right? Well, it’s not that simple. Pool Panic’s collection of balls to pot have different characteristics to them. Some will run away, others will hide and only show when there’s food for them to eat, and some just act like sheep that you can herd as you move around the map.
Pool Panic follows the same rules as billiards, in that you have to clear all the other balls in a stage before you can start thinking about potting the black ball. Of course, with the different ball personalities you need to pot before finishing a stage getting to that final ball can often be a discovery process. Performing actions within stages is required to reveal the way forward.
The game’s world is a large plain known as Cueland and there are different stages within for you to enter and enjoy. Every corner of Cueland follows a different theme and stage mechanics mirror these themes with their own little quirks.
A course on the farmland part of Cueland for example requires players to break a fence allowing a ball meant to resemble a wolf into the area. This “wolf ball” then breaks a hatch releasing the remaining balls which look like chickens for you to pot. This is just a small taste of how zany this game really is. A lot of the stages become memorable through sheer force of comedy.
Every course also has certain challenges such as completing the course within a set amount of strokes like par in golf, on a timer, or potting multiple balls with one shot.
The game’s story mode has over a hundred levels for you to hammer your balls in. It also has a local multiplayer mode to challenge friends, but it's unfortunately local only.
Pool Panic's visuals are quite appealing by managing to have huge variety while still remaining aesthetically consistent. The appearance of individual balls is usually tied into their purpose on the playfield as well. Balls that run in terror for example are visibly scared in a cartoonish manner which does a great job of signalling their purpose and behaviour to the player.
The world design is also fantastic; upon playing through Cueland and experiencing different sections, I instantly admired the care that’s seemingly gone into the design both visually and thematically. The amount of detail that has gone into all the cartoonish corners of the world are simply impressive.
The game's backing tracks are melodic and memorable. The sound effects for every single action and the voice acting for the characters are also incredibly well fitting to the theme of the game. I personally feel as though the game has really put the world and sound design safely within that corner pocket with comfort.
Pool Panic has definitely won a new fan in me. When I first started playing it, I wasn't sure what to expect - the first few maps were fairly standard, you’d have some balls acting anything but normal but you learned to work with this to pot them all. Once the worlds became more interactive however, I found myself gripped with glee while playing the game. Figuring out how to progress within a course was very enjoyable and it went further as I discovered how insane some of the solutions turned out to be.
One thing I would particularly love to see in Pool Panic is an online player hosted multiplayer mode so that it wasn't restricted to just local, but I found most of my fun in Pool Panic was through the single-player story mode, so I wouldn't call this a desperately needed change.
I’ve already begun annoying friends with Pool Panic recommendations, and most of them don't even own a Switch. Indeed, some have questioned the premise of the game with “Billiards? Really, mate?”, but they soon change their mind when after seeing some actual gameplay. We can confidently say that Pool Panic is a great fit as a party game, or on the road in portable mode. A light-hearted and visually intriguing exaggeration of pool you won't regret having in your library.