Pang always seemed like a strange name for the then-popular game about bursting deadly alien bubbles. The word not only sounds like the perfect title for a shameless rip-off of Pong, but it means "a sudden, strong feeling of physical or emotional pain". When the original game was released in the US back in 1989, it adopted the name Buster Bros., a far less mystifying title that, crucially, doesn't imply the game instils any kind of anguish.
For the uninitiated, your objective in Pang Adventures is to pop bubbles falling to Earth against the clock, using a variety of weapons and power-ups. Shooting the bigger bubbles splits them in two, and these splits get smaller and are worth more points as you go. You can play solo or in two-player coop, though the latter adds a subtle competitive wrinkle to the action, giving the player with the higher score at the end of the level a pat on the back.
The simplicity of this concept – essentially balloon keepie uppie with firearms – is possibly the game's greatest strength, as it allows the developer to expand upon the idea and introduce new hoops for you to jump through. By the end of the Tour mode, in which the game's minimal story is played out via a collection of levels taking place around the world, you'll need to think about the differing bubbles and their unique behaviours, impenetrable surfaces, springs, mysterious orbs that require protection, and plenty more, all the while avoiding any contact with the one-hit-kill balls of death.
To combat the threat of aliens and their circular weaponry, you begin with a humble harpoon gun, which launches towards the top of the screen, popping the first bubble it comes into contact with. It isn't long, however, before you're given access to machine guns, flamethrowers, shotguns, and ninja stars to name a few – all useful in certain situations. For example, in the Scotland levels, you must deal with electrified bubbles which, when shot with your harpoon, send a swift, lethal current down the line, killing you if you fail to step out of the way. Part way through these levels, though, it gives you access to a pistol, a god send of a weapon that mercifully doesn't trigger the lightning strike when you hit your target.
The game can be approached in a couple of ways. For one, there's the instinct and temptation to play it chaotically, missing as many shots as you land in a scramble to beat the timer. On the other hand, Pang rewards precision; if you manage a 100 per cent hit-rate, you'll receive bonus points on the score breakdown post-level. Not only that, but we found that a fair amount of the levels were nigh-impossible to complete without figuring out where best to position yourself, in what order to pick up the weapons, and when to pick up certain power-ups. It rapidly becomes a fast-paced puzzle game as much as it is an arcade experience.
If that sounds too structured for your tastes, there are a couple of other modes in the form of Score Attack and Panic mode. The latter is a more action-packed way to play, featuring trippy backdrops that recall Pastagames' previous work, as it sees an endless stream of bubbles raining down upon you which, naturally, gets faster and more complex as you progress. The extra modes flesh out what is a fairly slim selection, but it would've been nice to see some crazier ideas. That the game is as sparse as it is could be partly due to the effort to keep it old-school, and Pang Adventures certainly retains that feel. It's purely an arcade game, one that doesn't need an elaborate story or multifaceted gameplay mechanics.
Pang Adventures is a thoroughly retro arcade game that offers addictive bubble-bursting fun in a modestly sized package. The gameplay is compelling enough to keep you playing for a few hours, but whether its trio of modes provide much replay value is another matter. It's certainly worth a look if you have an old-school itch that needs scratching, and fans of the original game will be pleased with just how faithful Pastagames has been to that decades-old formula.