Panic Restaurant (NES) review
"A fun, well-executed game that ultimately doesn't succeed so much as it could have because it's over almost before it begins, Panic Restaurant is still a title worth playing. Particularly if you manage to find it in a bargain bin somewhere."
It's not really possible to say how it happened. Maybe the eggs were looking at the weiners wrong, or the ice cream was getting just a bit too big for its britches. Whatever the case, the food all revolted and then, just when it seemed things couldn't get any worse, they got together and agreed not to hate one another, but rather to aim that loathing at the one they held responsible for the whole disruption in the first place.
That someone is you, a chef with a big hat and, at least on the cartridge, a menacing disposition that would make Wario jealous. Yes, you're a chef. Not a plumber, or a superhero, or anyone else one might typically call upon when the world is in need of saving. You're a chef and your weapons are the tools of the trade: spoons, dishes, forks, and kettles. With such an odd concept, you'd expect either a really horrible game relying on the concept, or a truly great game. What Panic Restaurant ultimately delivers is neither. But if it's closer to either of those, it's definitely the latter. A fun, well-executed game that ultimately doesn't succeed so much as it could have because it's over almost before it begins, Panic Restaurant is still a title worth playing. Particularly if you manage to find it in a bargain bin somewhere.
I've already gone over the plot. It's really no more complex than that. The way the plot contributes to the gameplay is that you are presented with six levels. Each is based on a certain type of food, such as breakfast, desert, and everything in between. You aren't able to choose the order in which you tackle those. Instead, you must go in the order the developer intended. This is just fine, though. The early stages are quite simple and the later ones quite difficult. Progression feels natural and that may not have been possible were Taito to include a stage select.
Each stage is of moderate length, perhaps comparable to a level in Rescue Rangers. You can continue from various points, should you happen to die (and it's likely you will). A given level is occupied by the appropriate rampaging foods, with a few standard opponents scattered about for good measure. Frequently, these foes are good fun to watch. The headless, featherless chickens are good for a chuckle, as is the skating ice cream cone. In fact, most of those villainous foods you fight look so amusing that it may come as a bit of a shock when they manage to cut short your adventure. The apples are nightmares!
And so it goes, as you tackle first one stage, then the next. You begin able to take two hits, and you can build up to four slots on your life meter. These can be refilled if you grab candy throughout a stage. Of course, taking a hit is about more than just losing your life. Suppose you've worked through half a stage and finally collected the powerup that lets you toss plates. An apple segment gets in a lucky hit and you can kiss that upgrade goodbye. It's frustrating, and it definitely makes you tread softly.
Really, the level design is quite cool. Simplistic, sure. But unless you give some serious thought to why a chef would have a huge vat of grease in the middle of his kitchen, one he can't safely cross without hopping from bubble to bubble, you'll find the whole thing quite charming.
Part of this is due to the visual presentation. Most of it, actually. Your chef looks like a happy little fellow, clothed mostly in white. And he's well-animated. Though you won't like dying, it's almost worth it to see the way he falls flat on his back and convulses. And the personality each piece of food has is, as mentioned earlier, a definite selling point.
Speaking of selling, this game has currency. They're coins, which you gain by beating bosses. After a stage has been completed, you can use those coins in the slot machines (what do slots have to do with cooking?). This is a chance to get extra lives and refill your meter from that last taxing boss battle. Where it fits in I'm not sure, but you'll be happy for every coin you've saved up when you finally arrive at the bonus.
Unfortunately, there aren't many such bonus areas. This is because of the game's single true fault: its length. Seriously, this just isn't long enough. You get six stages, and playing through them doesn't take long at all. Even if you count going back to the start because it's easier to build up your life meter (lose all your lives and you continue with only the default 2 slots), you're not going to get a lot of playtime out of this. Though the stages are perhaps harder than those in most platformers on the system, there simply aren't enough of them.
This is a small complaint, really, at least in this day and age. After all, if you find this game you're not likely to have spent much money in the effort. And for a few bucks, this is the perfect platformer. It's charming, it's fun, and you can use it to fill that half-hour before work. By all means, pick it up if you can find it.
Staff review by Jason Venter (February 28, 2003)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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