Summer is here, the sun is busy toasting those of us that have to venture outdoors, and it might be the perfect time for a bit of a pool party. Fortunately for those of us that don’t do the deep blue, Pool Panic is a different sort of game. Released last week on PC and Nintendo Switch, Pool Panic is Adult Swim’s latest ludicrous title to throw gamers in the deep end and I chalked up a weekend with this eccentric experience and tried to pot a few reds.
Billed as the worlds least realistic pool simulator, Pool Panic is developed by indie team Rekim, and happens to be the epitome of how Adult Swim do games. From Robot Unicorn Attack to Battle Chef Brigade, Adult Swim games are just as individual as the network’s TV programming and Pool panic takes a clear cue from this. Looking like a mash-up of the Mr. Men, Cuphead, and Rick & Morty, Pool Panic is a wonderfully anarchic work of 2D animation. The cue ball that takes center stage in this adventure is all flailing arms and exaggerated smiles as it rolls around a massive open world that is crammed with bright colors, misshapen ideas, and ill-fitting objects. In the end, it makes for a quirky set of scrawls that serve to give the game is distinctly leftfield personality.
The open world of Pool Panic is segmented into several themes, from well-kept gardens to farms and fairgrounds. In a move that feels oddly reminiscent of old-school adventure RPGs, players can roll their cue ball around this world, stopping to take on challenges as they explore. Fundamentally the goal of every encounter in Pool Panic remains the same. Pot all the balls, down the black, and get out in good time.
Clearing the tables relies on a similarly consistent set of controls. In order to persuade your fellow pool pieces into available holes, players can move the cue ball around the map or manipulate a huge pool cue. While I cannot comment on keyboard controls, the Nintendo Switch mix of analog stick movement and trigger controls felt comfortable most of the time. Swiveling a floating pool cue around the white ball, and battering everything in the right direction sounds straightforward. If it was not for a number of conditions, Pool Panic could be an entirely mundane experience. Instead, this simple conceit creates a challenge by adding a surprising amount of variety.
A timer and shot counter are a consistent gauge of capability across every challenge but the most interesting moments occur as you explore new instances. Balls develop their own personalities and puzzles become challenging as the game progresses. Yellow balls, for example, run away from your cue ball in fear, purple balls begin to push back, and oranges occasional hop around the map, taunting your attempts to clear the decks.
While I haven’t actually come across any seafaring puzzles yet, the variety of theme’s present in Pool Panic is astounding. Everything from lush woodlands to futuristic landscapes are included and each with their own unique mechanics. While the opening instances of Pool Panic seem simple, the moment I found myself fishing lost balls out a water feature, abseiling down a cliff edge, playing a round of golf, and rounding up escaped sheep, I knew Pool Party was packing more than one trick shot.
The complexity of these puzzles easily ramps up as you pour more time into Pool Panic, and progress is measured by a slowly ascending monolith at the center of the world. While the counter situated atop this huge mass of land serves to count down the number of maps completed, Pool Panic is not a game that is built around long-term progression. It takes a simple idea, crams in a ton of personality, original ideas, and serves each of them up in their own tiny microcosms.
Pool Panic is a game that is easily consumed in small bursts, jumping in playing a few rounds and then moving on. This is both a compliment and a problem. The game itself is a great example of programming for the millennial generation. Just like Adult Swim’s punchy irreverent ideas, Pool Panic does not ask players to hold onto a thought for too long. Even during the more challenging moments, things feel like they can be over pretty quickly. There is clearly no narrative and sometimes less exposition than some might reasonably require to engage with the game.
While I cannot deny that the delivery and attitude of the game are going to be divisive for some, I warmed to Pool Panic and found that the aesthetic fits the quirky take on fighting, farming, and exploring that permeates the game. Pool Panic is an interesting puzzle piece that continues Adult Swim’s insistence on trying out ideas that might not initially make sense. This time, Pool Panic manages something special. While I still wish I knew why my cue ball was winding its way around the world mercilessly attacking everyone it came across, I can put down Pool Panic knowing that it is the only time I’ve ever thought pool was cool. Pool Panic is out now on Nintendo Switch eShop and Steam.