PS3 is a gold mine for puzzle games. Between Elefunk, Trash Panic, and Critter Crunch it takes a lot for another puzzler to hold my attention. Aqua Panic has managed to hold my attention, though, with its unique premise, charming aesthetic, and gradual difficulty curve that starts you off nice and slow but before you know it you’ll be doing twelve things at once and thinking nothing of it.
Aqua Panic is a bit like underwater Lemmings. Your goal is to move all of the various sea creatures from the level entrance to the level exit without allowing them to be eaten or fall off of the playing field. You’ve got lots of tools at your disposal, and (just like Lemmings) it is nice to know that you do indeed have all the requisite tools to complete any given level. Things start off slowly with obstacles that only require one type of tool – the bomb. You’ll move the cursor with the right stick, cycle through tools (when you have more than one to work with) with the shoulder buttons, and control when a tool is used with the X button. It’s all simple to grasp, and the controls never get in the way of the puzzle-solving.
As levels get more complicated and your arsenal of tools grows you’ll come to appreciate Aqua Panic’s greatest feature: the level doesn’t start until you tell it to, and that leaves you open to survey the obstacles, consider your tools, and plan your strategy before cute little seahorses start falling to their cute little deaths. Once the level begins and all the creatures are moving nicely toward the exit the triangle button speeds up the action. Although not strictly necessary, the speed-up function is great for long levels where you’ve come to the solution but just need to save more creatures to move on.
Level design, tool availability, and cleverness of the solution all ramp up nicely. After you’ve mastered the bomb you’ll be introduced to the plant which can change the water’s flow, snail taps that let water and creatures pass intermittently, pits for creatures to fall in, and eggs that block your path. Every obstacle can be worked around, but if any given level proves to be too frustrating you can play a joker – of which you have a limited supply – to bypass the level, move on, and keep having fun.
If Aqua Panic has a flaw, and it does, it is that once a level begins the action can become too hectic too quickly. Creatures start falling from the top of the level at an alarming rate leaving the player with very little time to set up tools and carve out a safe path from start to end. As you start trying to save all 100 creatures in a given level this becomes even more frustrating as you’re fighting less with the level design and more with the game design to accomplish your goal. Nitpick aside, Aqua Panic is a fun puzzle game with a cheery look (which is quite welcome in our gaming landscape of browns and grays), and plenty of challenging levels to work though. If you like puzzle games then you’ll definitely get your money’s worth out of Aqua Panic.
Pros: Gradual learning curve, lots of levels
Cons: Creatures being to fall to quickly after level-start