Panic! is a birds-eye 'stop-the-slime-from-consuming-the-townsfolk' puzzle game. As part of Sony's recently released PlayStation Mobile initiative, it is compatible with both the PlayStation Vita and PlayStation-certified mobile phones.
The narrative relays that a deadly alien slime has attacked the Earth, and you, in your assumed position of ‘touch control deity’, are the only one who can save the victims trapped in its wake. Slime flows from the top of the screen to the bottom, with the fixed camera following it down. You are tasked with altering the landscape by swiping buildings in the path of the oncoming ooze to alter its direction and slow its movement, with the ultimate aim of keeping your people alive.
This all takes place on a grid, with housing units, roads, and greenery filling the squares. Swiping the buildings in a certain direction leaves a pile of rubble where it once stood and a further square of debris in the direction of your swipe. Tapping a square causes a house to collapse, with a second touch removing its remaining ruins. Combining these functions allows you to dictate the direction of the slime, and hopefully guide it past the innocent civilians to the finish line at the end of the stage.
The game boasts two options: campaign and survival. The former consists of three separate locations, each with 10 missions to complete. Borrowing a little from Angry Birds, you get a three star rating at the end of each level, providing you with an incentive to replay and compare scores. The first few missions exist to explain the mechanics, while more complex objectives come into play later on. Sometimes all you have to do is guide the slime towards the finish line without losing a single person, whereas other times you have a casualty limit, but must destroy rubble blocking the road to allow for a police car or a train to get to safety. Meanwhile, buoys – used to save those who can’t be prevented from contact with the slime – and missiles – used to clear large areas – are added later to mix up the gameplay.
Survival provides you with a few buoys, a couple of missiles, a fatality limit, and no end in sight. Predictably, you must play for as long as you can, failing only when you’ve burned through your resources and can’t save that last civilian. Although the introduction of other elements, such as buoys and missiles, shake things up and provide some much needed variety, there are issues.
A few missions into the game, civilians have a nasty habit of running around, making it frustratingly easy to bring a building down on top of them and fail the level. In addition, the scrolling screen makes it difficult to accurately swipe a building in the desired direction. On multiple occasions our swipe was registered as a tap, prompting needless frustration as the game misinterpreted our actions. We also found that the more we ‘interacted’ with a level – destroying buildings, using missiles, etc – the more likely the sound effects were to cut out, leaving us stuck with one or two sloppily looped music pieces to complement the frantic action.
Panic! isn't a bad game, but its imprecise touch controls hold it back. There's definitely a decent premise here – but, much like its subject material, the puzzler's best ideas are obscured beneath several layers of sticky, murky matter.