Let’s be honest – most billiard video games are as exciting and vibrant as the bedraggled green felt of a dive-bar pool table. In the real world, pool is one of the best parlor games, but something is lost in translation when you’re breaking balls, lining up shots, and putting English on the cue ball digitally. Sim-style recreations may come up short, but that’s not to say someone couldn’t reinvigorate the game to make it more appealing.
Enter Adult Swim Games’ latest title, Pool Panic. Developer Rekim’s self-proclaimed “world’s least-realistic pool simulation game” embraces absurdity in a way that reminds me of the best minigolf courses and feels comfortable in upending your expectations about what a billiards game should be. I had a chance to play the cartoonish, whimsical game and came away intrigued.
From the overworld hub to the 100s of different levels, everything in Pool Panic is built around billiards. You take the role of a legged cueball, and your objective is simple – pocket every the other ball you see. You can walk around and reposition yourself for the perfect shot, but don’t expect that to make it easy because different types balls behave in different ways. The balls in early levels are pretty standard, but as I progressed into more difficult scenarios they started to behave erratically, running away right as I was lining up my shot. Monster balls even go on the offensive, picking up other balls and throwing them at you. A scoring system delivers different types of rewards based on how many shots it took you to complete the level.
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The diversity of content in this campaign is impressive – there is a level for every type of geographical region you can think of – from deserts to urban areas – as well as themed levels that take place during events like bank heists or weddings. Each presents its own unique puzzle scenario you must decipher to clear the table in the fewest number of shots. One particularly tough challenge takes place on a pirate ship on the high seas. As the waves rock the ship, your cueball can get seasick, and all the balls and various objects like crates slide back and forth between the bow and stern, making it tricky to properly line up your shots. Another quirky level had me trying to bypass a security system in a bank in order to bank the balls into a pocket in the vault.
Pool Panic also offers local multiplayer modes as well, but I didn’t get a chance to check them out. The game is slated to launch on Switch and PC later this year.