If you’d have told me that one day I’d be reviewing a billiards video game I’d have probably laughed in your face. It’s not that I despise the sport or anything, it’s just that in all my history of playing video games I have probably spent less than 5 hours playing electronic versions of pool when the real thing exists at nearly every local bar in America. However, the moment I saw Pool Panic I knew I had to check it out. The game is developed in coordination with Adult Swim, meaning it has crazy demented animation to go along with its wonky environments. It all comes together in a sort of surreal serenity that shouldn’t work, but oddly does.
The tutorial level kicks things off semi-normal with a traditional pool table. Maybe “normal” is a misnomer because the various balls have faces on them, complete with facial expressions and personalities. My favorites are the ones that close their eyes and tremble at the thought of being hit by you, the walking cue ball. Controlling the game is a simple affair and one that should be used on future games of pool. You move your ball around with the left analog stick and bring the pool stick into view with the right analog stick. Rotating it will allow you to line up your shot, with a virtual yellow path showing where the ball will most likely go upon impact. To make things easier there’s a Zelda-like camera lock-on so you can target a single ball and then move your cue ball to just the right angle to get that perfect shot. The ZR button will hit the cue ball with force and the R button will just give it a love tap.
The game is divided across many levels and you access them via a world map screen, where you can walk to various attractions and taken them on one by one. The objective is to clear each board of all of the balls by hitting them into various holes scattered around the environment. After doing so the black eight ball will glow and you must send it into one of the black abysses to finish off the level. Each course has a set of optional goals that provide even more challenge for those seeking it. You get rewarded for beating the levels under a certain time, hitting all of the balls in, getting under par (using a set amount of hits or less), and not scratching (hitting the cue ball into a hole).
As you gain access to more levels, you’ll soon come across some very insane things that make this game laugh out loud funny. Some balls will prove to be more challenging to pocket than others. One garners a pair of roller skates, making it that much more difficult to hit into a hole. Many of the courses have small puzzles to solve in order to proceed. In one level, which takes place in a campground where a bunch of balls are sitting around a campfire cooking up some food, I soon discovered that a couple of squirrel balls were hanging out in some trees. It turns out that to get them down I had to hit the BBQ grill over so the food would fall to the ground, enticing the squirrels out of the trees so I could then take them out one by one. Some of the puzzles were a bit difficult to figure out at times and some levels were definitely more frustrating than others. Luckily there are usually several different ones to tackle at any given time so if you really get stumped you can usually move onto something else for a while.
Really the most damning thing about Pool Panic is its camera, or lack thereof. So many times I wanted to get a different view or rotate the level and I couldn’t. This led to some shots missing their targets because of the restricted viewpoint. I’m not sure why this decision was made, especially since you can lock-on to a ball and move around it, which should make camera control that much easier to implement. Still, this isn’t a game breaker and although I did curse on more than one occasion because of the camera, it doesn’t negatively impact every single course.
From an audiovisual perspective the game really delivers something incredibly unique. The balls have personality and are often hilarious to watch. The levels are highly varied and it really does look like you’re playing inside an interactive cartoon. The music is zany as well and fits the mood perfectly.
Pool Panic is definitely one of the strangest games available for the Nintendo Switch, but it’s also a good fun time. While the main game has about 100 levels (and more difficulty levels open up), you can also invite some friends over for some local competitive play to keep things fresh. Even if you’re not the biggest fan of pool, this game offers up some fun puzzle solving and an entertaining atmosphere. If it weren’t for the troublesome camera and the repetitive gameplay this would have scored even higher. It’s definitely a worthy addition to your Switch library.
Pool Panic was reviewed using a final retail Nintendo Switch download code provided by the publisher.