When Lemmings arrived in 1991 the world took note, because there really hadn’t been a game like it until then. Unlike many game styles today I don’t think this one really “took off”, but there have certainly been a number of clones and variants since the original firecracker-popping critters came strolling along. Aqua Panic is one such game, but instead of manipulating individual creatures to guide the pack you actually direct the course of the stream of water the creatures are swimming in. The game is interesting, but I’m not sure I’m real keen on the interface, and so far I don’t have a compelling urge to sit and play more than a couple of levels at a time.
The premise is certainly cute enough. A bunch of little aquatic creatures are minding their own business, playing around in the water for what amounts to them like being a big slip ‘n slide. Unfortunately, most paths south of the border lead to some really big fish that would just love to eat the little guys. There are some other bad things along the way as well, but these fish are the worst. Unfortunately, the water-logged protagonists seem oblivious to their plight, so it’s up to you to make sure they get to the safe zone at the bottom of each level. As one might expect, this will not be as easy as it might seem.
At the top of each level are one or more bubbles just waiting to spew forth streams of water containing helpless little fishes. Depending on the level you will have 0, 1 or multiple tools on the right hand side to use as you see fit. The number of each tool available is in the corner of the tool’s icon. To select a tool simply tap on it. There is also a cursor on the screen that you will position to determine where the tool gets used. Be sure to pay close attention, because the cursor will change to reflect whether or not you can actually use the tool in the current location. To use a tool position the cursor in the appropriate spot and then double tap it.
The cursor follows your finger as you move it across the screen, but it also moves relative to its own last position. In other words, if the cursor is in the upper left corner of the screen and you press the middle of the screen, the cursor remains in the upper left corner, but then it will mimic your movements. I really wish there was an option to force the cursor to center itself to where you tap the screen, especially given the time sensitive nature of most of your actions.
To view more of the screen you can use two fingers to slide the level up and down. It would also be nice if you had the option to view the whole level on a mini-map sort of view and then tap to jump to a certain part of the screen, but alas no such thing exists. Still, it’s not too hard to navigate around the screen. Once you’ve set the level in motion and used all of your tools you can click the fast forward button to speed your helpless allies along, or to find out more quickly that you haven’t saved enough to complete the level. At any time you can pause the level and elect to restart, but once you’ve completed a level by saving the right number of fish there’s no turning back.
So far it appears that there are three different types of tools at your disposal – a plant, a missile and a spear. The plant allows you to block and redirect the flow of water, the bomb enables you to make holes in the landscape, and the spear gives you the chance to dispose of one pesky adversary. There are also elements of the level itself you can use to your advantage. For example, eggs can be manipulated to fill gaps so critters don’t fall through, while certain gates (conveniently made of snail shells) can be opened and closed manually.
As for adversaries, the giant fish in the water at the bottom of each level are ever present. In addition you’ll run into things like fish that are snoozing until they get awakened by water splashing in their face or nasty birds that will pluck your aquatic buddies right out of the water. I’m not sure how many types of bad guys you’ll run into altogether, but as of level 20 I’ve only encountered 3 besides the main fish.
The game looks good. Each set of levels is prefaced by an amusing little animation that helps illuminate the current crisis your friends will be facing. The levels themselves are pretty colorful, with a nice cheery sun in the background belying the perils your critters will face. Even the villains seem a bit perky, except for the giant fish that looks like mischievous animated Monty Python rejects. The main effects in the game revolve around the flow water, which does look pretty cool, and the explosion when setting off a bomb, which is pretty blah actually.
Sound effects are pretty decent for the most part, especially when it comes to things like the happy mutterings of the oblivious good fish or the snoring of the lazy adversaries. I also quite enjoy the sound of a plant growing, which sounds like something out of a Dr. Seuss cartoon. On the other hand, the spinning snail shell gates can get kind of annoying. Most levels don’t really last long enough for anything to get too grating, however. The one thing I really found disappointing about the sound was the lack of music. This seems like the type of game that could have some really fun, whimsical background tunes, and yet there was nothing.
There’s a lot to like about this game. The levels can be challenging, but they don’t make you want to tear your hair out. The graphics are good, and the characters are colorful and fun. The sound effects for the most part are pleasing. It’s just that for some reason, even though I enjoyed the game, it really didn’t grip me like some recent puzzle games have. I’m not sure if it’s because of the controls or because the levels felt like they were “too big” for my iPhone screen, but I found myself playing the game in short spurts of a level or two instead of really digging into it. Still, it should appeal to fans of Lemmings style games, and anyone for that matter that likes puzzle games where you actually have to think past your initial supposition of how a level should be solved.
Overall Score: 7/10
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