At what point does a game become “retro” rather than just outdated? There must be a particular time when the game goes from being old to being cool. I don’t know when that time is, but it would seem that classic 80s arcade games would fit into the categories of retro, otherwise why would anyone bother remaking them?
Those of you out there who were around in the Eighties and frequented video game arcades will no doubt remember Pang. But for you young whippersnappers out there, here’s the deal. Pang, also known as Buster Bros., hit the arcades at some point during the Eighties and involved a guy with a safari hat, as I remember it, shooting deadly balloons. These deadly balloons would bounce erratically around the screen and our hero would fire his harpoon gun into the air. Hitting a balloon would cause it to split into two smaller balloons and so forth until they were the smallest possible and then a shot from the harpoon would destroy it forever. I am not really sure why the balloons were deadly, but if they touched our hero, a life was lost. Two player co-op was also available with the heroes’ brother joining him on the screen.
But, that was then and this is now. Pang: Magical Michael, from Rising Star Games, has brought this retro gaming gem to the DS. Gone is the safari hat wearing hero of yesteryear, replaced by the stylish magician known as Michael. His latest experiment has gone awry and released a multitude of deadly balloons across famous locations all around the world. It is up to the player, as Michael, to clean up this mess. And no, I still don’t know why the balloons are deadly!
The tour mode takes Michael from one famous location to another to clear these balloons. The world map is divided into different regions and each region has a number of levels to complete before moving onto the next. With 40 levels to work through, this mode will keep you busy for a while.
Because, as with the original, the game is actually quite hard. Starting with a few large balloons and getting on with the popping, it is quite easy to be overwhelmed by little balloons bouncing around the screen without a care in the world. Fortunately, there is no limit to the number of lives in tour mode and players can keep retrying until the get past the level. Don’t be thinking that quick reflexes and an itchy trigger finger are all that you will need for this game, there is even some thinking to be done. The levels are all laid out differently, with some of them spanning both of the DS screens, and they will occasionally require a bit of puzzling to work out which way is best to deal with them. Some of them will leave the player scratching their head as they try to plan a route that will let them finish the level.
We all know how important the score is, and that quest for the high score is something that drives most of us in our video gaming lives. Within Pang: Magical Michael there is a ranking system which, to be honest, doesn’t make a lot of sense (how can I be penniless and affluent?) but at least it gives you a sense of how well you are doing. There are also some hidden achievements to unlock, but they are secret so don’t tell anyone.
It would seem that I am painting a bleak picture for Michael and that he has absolutely no hope of saving the world from deadly balloons. But he is, after all, a Magician and there are more than just fluffy bunnies up his sleeve. Throughout the levels, the player will find power ups that will make his life a whole lot easier. Some of these power ups will allow time to slow down, or even stop, which certainly helps. Others may well allow Michael to shoot more than one harpoon at a time, or fling playing cards into the air to destroy balloons. There is even a magical shield to protect Michael from these dangerous inflatables.
For a real challenge though, the player needs to head for Panic mode. In this mode, the player has just three lives to begin with, and an endless stream of balloons coming from the sky. Every now and then, a flashing balloon will descend and popping it will increase the level and thus difficulty. This mode is truly one for the Pang masters.
Then we have the multiplayer modes. Offering the chance to compete with a friend, using either one cart or two, or een against the devious AI. There are two basic multiplayer modes, each of which involve playing in the bottom screen whilst the other player appears in the top. The players will try to stay alive, whilst simultaneously attempting to scupper their opponents game. These modes are quite frantic and will bring out the competitor in anyone.
To look at the game, one is instantly reminded of it’s heritage. The sprite representing Michael and the detail of the levels, whilst functional, look extremely dated. The backgrounds look like they have been created using MS Paint. The sounds are not too bad, with some satisfying sound effects and a tune that seems familiar, but never quite kicks into the bit that would make it identifiable.
Retro gaming is, and always will be, very trendy. Pang: Magical Michael will certainly scratch that retro itch for gamers out there who remember the original arcade version. Youngsters, who I would imagine are the target market, may well wonder what all of the fuss is about. The level of difficulty and speed with which a player must react will put off the younger gamers. But the game comes at a bargain price point and is bright and colourful enough to attract attention.
Pang: Magical Michael, with it’s very existence, promises retro gaming goodness. And that is what it delivers. Although the game has evolved with the different modes and such, the changes are not drastic enough for it to feel any different from the arcade game from years ago. Those who enjoyed the original game will get their kicks out of this, whilst new players may well find the challenge and different modes keep them busy for a while.