When I first started my playthrough of 'Avatar Panic!'I had a feeling of dejavu. I was thinking to myself that I remember a game back in the NES days which was very similar to it. After doing a tiny bit of research I found the answer I was looking for, or rather the game I was looking for. If any of my readers recall a Nintendo game titled 'Buster Bros.' then you'll have a very good idea what this game is all about. Basically 'Avatar Panic!' is a bubble busting game (similar to 'Buster Bros.') that uses your avatar as a playable character, and has you trying to shoot down bubbles with a harpoon. The game is presented in a 2D style with 3D accents/backgrounds. The game features two modes of play (Arcade, Panic!) in which the objective is to pop all the bubbles while trying not to get hit. Milkstone studios, the developer behind this rendition of the arcade classic is well known for their online scoreboard based games. I was pleasantly surprised when I did my playthrough of 'Avatar Panic!', and found out that they included online leaderboards in this game.
Avatar Panic features two modes of play, each with their distinctive objectives. Both modes can be played with up to four players locally. When playing with multiple players the score is shared as well as the lives. Lives won't be subtracted until all of the players have died, and even then it only counts as one life. During my playthrough I played singleplayer, and found the game very fun and addictive even without someone to share the experience with. The really cool thing about 'Avatar Panic!' is that you get to play as your own Xbox LIVE avatar! The downside to that is that the avatar is fairly small on the TV screen until you actually lose a life.
Arcade mode in 'Avatar Panic!' is very involved when it comes to gameplay, and it offers a lot more features than 'Panic Mode'. The neat thing about 'Arcade Mode' is that you can collect some really cool power-ups from the bubbles you pop. There are additional weapons to gain such as a plunger which lasts longer than the harpoon shot, and even a spray shot that shoots out multiple bullets at one time. Aside from popping bubbles you must also tend to enemies that move around the screen. Ladders are also added to enhance the difficulty in the later stages/levels of the game. Avatar Panic features a wide variety of bubble types as well that each have unique movement patterns to them. Learning these patterns will mean the difference between a life lost, and a life gained. Whenever you pop a large bubble in the game (the initial size) it will break up into smaller and smaller bubbles. If you pop the smallest bubble size it will vanish. There are several different unique backgrounds in 'Avatar Panic!' that have a 3D look to them, and feature a variety of different landscapes (snow covered land, volcanoes, trees, stonehenge ...). I'm not 100% sure, but I think you can unlock new backgrounds as you play through 'Arcade Mode' for 'Panic Mode'.
Panic mode is a lot like a survival mode. You are given a set amount of lives in which to achieve a highscore with. Like 'Arcade Mode', 'Panic Mode' uses your Xbox LIVE avatar as the playable character. Your goal in this mode is to simply survive as long as you can while popping as many bubbles as you can. There are only time stopping (Clock), and bubble clearing (Star) power-ups in this mode. You can also pop special smaller bubbles that are surrounded by light to briefly stop time as well. Stopping time with either method will freeze the bubbles in mid-air giving you an opportunity to clear more of them. As you pop bubbles in 'Panic Mode' a meter at the top of the screen will fill up until you reach the next level. As you progress in levels the bubbles will increase in number, and speed. While the levels change the backgrounds will not. Unlike 'Arcade Mode' where the levels change in appearance/content as you clear all of the bubbles, 'Panic Mode' constantly stays the same. Bubbles in this mode will continuously appear until you are hit. One hit from a bubble in either mode means an immediate loss of one life (unless you are playing multiplayer).
In the end I was extremely impressed by 'Milkstone's' rendition of this classic arcade genre. Everything about the game was of high quality. The sound, and the graphics were what you'd expect from an XBLA game. The gameplay itself very is challenging, but extremely fun at the same time. Since there is an online leaderboard for both 'Arcade Mode', and 'Panic Mode' the game has some serious replay value. I actually tried my hardest to get 1st place before typing up this review, but only managed to get 10th. I won't give up until I secure that top spot though! If you are a score hound like myself then I definitely suggest this game as a worthy buy. I'm not quite sure what the msp asking price is since I forgot to check, but even if it is 240 msp, or more it would still be worth it.