Pool Panic is billed as “the world’s least realistic pool simulator,” which I didn’t quite understand at first as I looked at the premise on paper, but after spending just a few minutes before everything started to click and make perfect sense.
The game resembles a traditional round of pool for about 90 seconds as it teaches you the controls, and from there on out everything is out the window and it becomes its own weird thing.
I mean, sure, you’re still a cue ball, and you need to get rid of all of the other balls by knocking into them, but that’s about Traditional elements like a pool table and, you know, stationary, non-living pool balls are gone and instead you’re dropped into a world of anthropomorphic pool balls that serve as obstacles, opponents and allies that’ll need to be sunk into a hole at one point or another.
The traditional core of the game is still there, you still need to remove all other balls from play before sinking the 8 ball and wrapping the level, but other than that, all laws and logic go out the window, as the different balls take on different, distinct personalities and abilities. The varying ball abilities help dictate the mechanics for each level, giving a wide sense of variety, at least from what was shown.
For example, in one level I came across a marching band of pool balls led by an 8 ball conductor who they would follow. In order to sink the band into the level’s singular hole, I had to knock into the conductor, take his hat, and conduct the band using the conductor’s abilities, all the while the 8-ball was trying to knock back into me to take control back via his stolen hat.
Another level was billed as a “smash ‘em up” level, where I placed on a construction site confronted by an angry 8 ball in an excavator. Through some visual cues and a little trial and error, I was able to suss out which parts of the machine I needed to attack to whittle down the machine to get the ball out into the open. There are plenty of other weird scenarios I saw in my short time with the game, but I’d rather not spoil any more as I found the element of surprise to be a big part of the game’s charm.
That said, the variety helps to add a sense of discovery, as you’re never quite sure as you’re getting yourself into and need to figure out the level objectives as you go along, and it’s not uncommon to come across a level with a mechanic or gimmick made specifically for that level alone.
Pool Panic is full of weird little twists on the game of pool like that, and it’s so refreshing to see. You wouldn’t expect there to be a ton of variation, seeing as pool is generally a game of “hit ball with other ball and put it in a hole,” but they manage to do it with a fun, quirky art style some really weird humor. Pool Panic seems gleefully self-aware of its absurdity at times, which is something I really appreciate and look forward to seeing more of as the game gets closer to release.