Polar Panic from Valcon Games is an XBLA puzzle game about a polar bear cleverly named Polar who must overcome an evil corporation run by the heartless and equally cleverly named Mr. Big in order to save his arctic homeland and his bear friends. How will Polar combat this corporation all on his own, you ask? By crushing his enemies with blocks of ice, of course! Polar Panic may have a cute cartoon presentation, but don’t let that fool you—the game can be quite difficult.
Polar Panic features three main single player modes: the story campaign, Puzzle Mode, and Survivor Mode. No matter which mode you play, each map is composed of tiles and is displayed from an overhead isometric perspective. In Story Mode players will find themselves facing off against numerous trappers that Mr. Big has sent out to stop Polar in his tracks. Story Mode spans ten chapters and 50 levels, and features boss fights at the end of every other chapter. The over-arching goal of each level is to defeat all of the trappers on the map, but there are also secondary objectives such as rescuing your fellow polar bears and destroying igloos or snowmen. In order to eliminate his enemies, Polar needs to make use of the many ice blocks covering each map, pushing them so that they slide into and squish the trappers. However, there are several different types of trappers and some of them, such as those toting flamethrowers, cannot be attacked head on because they will simply melt the ice blocks. On occasion Polar will also be able to make use of dynamite crates and special “freeze” power blocks to dispatch multiple baddies quickly.
Trappers, even the ones who throw sticks of dynamite, are not the most difficult obstacle you will face in Story Mode, and neither are the boss fights where you face off against Mr. Big in one of his many machines. No, the worst enemy in this game is the time limit that constantly ticks away as you play. Although it is usually simple in most levels to finish off all of the trappers and get to the exit tile within the time limit, if you wish to complete secondary objectives and receive a good rating at the end of a level, the game becomes almost a little too unforgiving. In other words, the difficulty curve in Polar Panic is steep; in later levels it becomes almost impossible to earn an A rating without multiple attempts, even on the easiest setting, all because of the timer. Story Mode has some fun levels, but it really could have been balanced better.
I actually enjoyed Polar Panic‘s other two modes, Puzzle and Survivor, more than the main story campaign. In Puzzle Mode, you have to make your way through 50 maps that challenge you to plan out your moves in advance before attempting to clear the levels. Puzzle Mode does not feature any trapper enemies, instead mixing things up by using special blocks and tiles to block your path. As with the story mode, you are graded at the end of each level, but in Puzzle Mode your grade is based on the number of moves you executed before getting to the exit. In Survivor Mode, you face wave after wave of trappers until you run out of lives. Survivor Mode is probably my favorite mode of Polar Panic; it is really satisfying to squish multiple trappers with one block of ice, and even more so when you manage to blow them up with a crate of explosives. It can get pretty frantic when the map is crowded with trappers trying to off poor Polar. Both Puzzle and Survivor Mode benefit greatly by challenging the player without having to resort to a constantly ticking clock.
Polar Panic is a fun but frustrating XBLA puzzle game. The game doesn’t really bring anything new to the table, but Polar Panic is worth checking out, especially for the Puzzle and Survivor modes. The Story Mode has respectable length, but it is unforgiving and not as fun as it could have been with some tweaking. If you have a craving for some puzzle action, you might want to consider downloading this game, especially if it happens to be on sale.
Pros: Puzzle Mode and Survivor Mode
Cons: Unforgiving difficulty curve in Story Mode, no online play
Plays Like: Pengo, Bomberman