We know what you're thinking - a sports game in Starburst?! Have no fear, because as you're about to see, Pool Panic isn't quite what you might expect. Made by Rekim Games for Adult Swim's gaming division, you know straight away this is going to be more than just a little bit kooky. What we have here is possibly the world's least realistic pool simulator, where nothing is what it seems...
Pool Panic doesn't even bother with a regular pool table, instead placing your mischievous cue ball into a huge variety of imaginative environments in the wide open world. One moment you're knocking your ball into a barbecue, flipping burgers to encourage balls to come down from the trees for a snack before you smack them into holes in the ground, the next you might be diving into a fish pond to retrieve underwater balls, abseiling down a cliff, or ricocheting around a chicken coop to knock balls over the wall. Controls are easy to get the hang of, moving your cue ball with the left stick and aiming with the right, before pressing the right trigger to take your shot.
Balls have different faces, personalities and behaviours based on the environments you find them in - some run around, some cause trouble, the occasional one might lend a hand, and every single one of them looks adorably silly. The overworld map is another source of amusement, a supremely quirky landscape that begs to be explored. Each area contains a handful of themed levels, so you'll find the animals at the farm, the campsite in the forest, and so on. Wandering around and discovering the next ridiculous creation is a neverending source of delight, and the desire to find out what's going to happen next very much lends the game an addictive “one more level” factor.
Each of the 100+ levels contains four trophies to aim for, awarded for potting every ball, completing the level without any mistakes, taking a certain amount of shots, and finishing within a time limit, so there's always something to do if you're up for challenging yourself. The objectives for finishing a level aren't always clear though, so some stages can take a bit of trial and error to figure out. Thankfully there's always a helpful counter in the top corner letting players know how many balls are left before the exit opens up.
Even with the overall craziness, playing Pool Panic is a pretty laid back experience, and almost relaxing in a weird sort of way. A wonderfully unique puzzler, filled with ideas that maybe don't quite land 100% of the time but never fails to be endearingly absurd.
POOL PANIC / DEVELOPER: REKIM GAMES / PUBLISHER: ADULT SWIM / PLATFORM: PC, SWITCH (REVIEWED) / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW