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Pang! (Arcade) artwork

Pang! (Arcade) review

"It may be fair to argue that Mitchell is not a coin-op company with a lavish history, and we, the gaming public, have not been inundated with titles spanning a 25 year stretch which other more illustrious names can claim. In fact, if you look at a list of their published titles, one name stands out for the frequency of its appearance - and for good reason too. "

It may be fair to argue that Mitchell is not a coin-op company with a lavish history, and we, the gaming public, have not been inundated with titles spanning a 25 year stretch which other more illustrious names can claim. In fact, if you look at a list of their published titles, one name stands out for the frequency of its appearance - and for good reason too.

“Pang” and its numerous subsequent iterations (all developed by Mitchell incidentally) is a name that most gamers worth their salt will at least have heard of, if not been curious enough to sample at least once.

If one word could be used to describe the concept behind “Pang”, it would be “simple”. Large balls/balloons appear on the screen when the level starts and bounce on the ground with a reasonably accurate gravitational force (although they never actually land, they just keep on bouncing). You stand (invariably) underneath firing a spike on a wire that when hits one of the aforementioned balls, splits it into two smaller balls. These can then be split again to reveal four even smaller balls, which when shot disappear for a points reward. Of course, if you get hit by a ball you lose one of three lives you are granted.

Standard, formulaic and easy. Or is it?

Well, almost. The formula remains constant throughout – burst the bubbles to complete the level you are on. It is, however, the attention to detail that helps to make “Pang” so addictive to play. The levels, for instance, are grouped into threes and set at different places around the world with backdrops to match the scene. “Fair enough – so far so yawn”, you may say. Yet it is when you reach places like Moscow that contains icy platforms for you to run along that things start to get interesting. These result in a small skid when you let go of the controller, making control of your character more difficult. Similarly, when you leave Moscow (and the ice has gone), control is equally tricky to adjust to again as you no longer slide for a few seconds.

The power-ups (it was inevitable – it is an arcade game after all!) leave you with some difficult choices to make throughout and are deliberately well placed in levels to make you think – particularly when you have no time to do just that. Shooting balloons (and some platforms) can drop items, which fall from where they are hit to the ground. As an example, a piece of dynamite will split the balls (no matter what the size) into their lowest common factor – so if you have two huge balloons left to shoot, and you grab the dynamite, they will split, split again, and again, and maybe once more leaving you with a real problem. From having two huge balloons bouncing around, you will now have 32 tiny ones bouncing lower and faster! So, if a stick of dynamite lands on the ground and it is essentially in the path of where you need to run, do you pick it up or wait for it to disappear, trading a small piece of time for the consequences of the dynamite's actions? Let's say the time limit (for there is one on each level - modest, but not easy on later levels where timing is critical) is low, and you have to pick it up. Even with this suicidal tactic employed, there are benefits, something comparative to every pickup in this incredibly well engineered masterpiece. Shooting the tiny balloons consecutively reveals big bonus points, so knocking off 32 of them in succession is going to lead to lots of points. Albeit mixed in with a whole heap of panic.

What can make the whole power-up issue even more distressing and complicated is the advent of the weapon pickups that can drop from the balls when shot. These range from the nerve settling "multiple spike on a rope” devices to the nigh-on terrifying “maniac vertical gun” whereby the protagonist must stand directly underneath the target to shoot it. They all add to the split second decisions necessary to complete the level and avoid being squashed, and yet there is so much more to discover.

Add to this heady mix a second player (who plays simultaneously) and all hell invariably breaks loose. The premise is the same, but you must work together to succeed, inevitably causing arguments about who gets the vital weapon power-up necessary to survive the increased ball invasion, but ends up with more points?

It is a common school of thought that the simplest ideas are the best ideas, and “Pang” fits into that bracket perfectly. This action puzzling platformer is so simple in concept that it may be easily underestimated as to just how devious and clever it actually is. However, the first time you find yourself ten levels in cursing profusely over that accidental pickup that has just made your life a living nightmare for the next 40 seconds or so, you know that addiction has started to set in like dry rot.

For two of you to experience it together is a joy to behold, and despite any arguments that may ensue, both players will be itching for just one more go, to get just one level further, to see the next city and so on.

Despite being nearly twenty years old, “Pang” is still an outstanding game that has stood the test of time in terms of playability and fun – something sadly lacking from many overcomplicated games today. The multiple updates over the years, and computer/console releases (even on the PS1 in recent years) has only enforced the true quality this game holds to almost legendary status – every gamer worth his/her salt really should play this at least once in their life.

beanhed's avatar
Community review by beanhed (July 31, 2005)

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