There are a few titles this year that are, sadly, going to go unnoticed by most gamers. It’s not a huge surprise, we’re lucky enough to be living in an era where it seems like every month a new triple A title is released that demands the attention of an audience obsessed by the next big thing, the next ‘Gears, the next Call Of Duty. While most of the titles we skip over tend to be mediocre to poor quality, or niche to the point of obscurity, there are some absolute gems that are swept under the carpet too. Panzer Dragoon Saga, Ico, Okami, the medium’s brief history is full of examples of great games missed. Let this review then act as my stand against this unfortunate and all too frequent occurrence, join with me reader, on my exposure of the soon-to-be-undiscovered, and go and buy PANG: Magical Michael.
First let’s deal with that name… PANG has impact, setting itself apart on the shelf from the dross, by-the-numbers Sci-fi Shooter X: Retribution deluge, an onomatopoeic, playful and wholly relevant little header. Conversely, the subtitle is completely off putting, so weak is its impact on the average consumer. Magical Michael. Really?
The titular Magical Michael is our debonair protagonist, tasked with rectifying a self-made error during one of his conjuring experiments. He’s presented – like the rest of the game – in an appealing, flat coloured cartoon style, a simple design that makes for clean and crisp visuals, ensuring your screen is never cluttered or overly busy when the action hots up.
And it will hot up. If you’re not aware, PANG (or Buster Bros. as it’s also known) is a puzzle action series that stretches back all the way to 1989 and the core formula of frantically bursting Russian doll-like bubbles by shooting skyward, all the while dodging these deadly spheres, remains largely unchanged in this DS outing. That’s not to say that this is a simple port or remake, far from it, this latest title sports the aforementioned new look, features improved multiplayer modes and a Wi-Fi enabled leader board system to check your rankings against players from around the world. It’s this leader board and the game’s inbuilt stat tracking of how well you’re performing (and what kind of a player you are) that provides much of P:MM‘s appeal.
As do the levels themselves. Each individual stage, set against a backdrop from a famous real world location, is a spatial puzzle, Magical Michael and the player need to figure out the most efficient way of bursting every single bubble in the level in order to progress and areas are tightly designed to ensure that solving this riddle is rewarded with high scores and fastest times. Getting to the end of the single player campaign is easy enough and at roughly three hours in length you’ll see ‘the end’ in no time, but gold medalling each stage is a mammoth task. Progressing through this portion of the game unlocks extra features – a mind bendingly complex hard mode for example – and demonstrates items to be found throughout well with brief tutorials. You’ll do most of your learning of more advanced techniques, such as ensuring you pop the maximum amount of bubbles consecutively, through playing, which feels incredibly rewarding.
With a structure that is perfect for those short portable gaming opportunities – bus rides, lunch hours, toilet breaks – there’s never a moment where you won’t feel you’re achieving something, the player is constantly improving their game, edging towards beating that next area, or reaching the next wave of survival. Getting into the action itself is incredibly rapid too providing the kind of instant enjoyment the Nintendo handheld is perfect for.
It’s a complete experience with a lot of content and, for some people, a lot of replayability. For those who don’t like out and out puzzle titles, or want something a little more action orientated from their brain teasers, it’s one of this year’s best. To return to my opening gambit, I really don’t think it’s going to be a huge success commercially and that’s a real shame, because from a critical perspective it’s a smartly made game with a lot going for it, perfectly matched to the system it was made for. Go buy it and prove me wrong, it’d be the best mistake I ever made…
MLG Rating: 9/10
Platform: Nintendo DS Release Date: 17/09/2010
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a physical copy of PANG: Magical Michael for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of three days on a Nintendo DS. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.