Friday, March 20, 2009

God Panic

Super CD-ROM

God Panic resides with Star Parodier in the PC Engine's niche of wacky/cartoony verticals, and the one you prefer might just come down to the kind of humor you enjoy in your "lighthearted" shooters. SP cleverly caricatures Soldier-series enemies while GP features a huge, weird-looking red guy with explosive farts. SP has bright, gorgeous snowfield and underwater levels while GP has you soar over an enormous bikini-clad sun bather.

Seriously though, GP actually does succeed with its nutty character designs. The fourth stage alone features the aforementioned crimson fart giant; pudgy pouncing guys whom you can knock to the turf; a mohawk-sporting, chain-wielding punk-rocker dude and his two oddball sidekicks; clones of your own character; a lunatic tanuki; and a fire-breathing dragon.

That's a solid boss parade, and even the normal enemy sprites are often large and appropriately off the wall in design.

The soundtrack is pretty good and presents rips of some famous rock numbers (like "Danger Zone"). Still, SP whips this game superficially, as the background graphics here are far from impressive. But GP holds up well enough with its aesthetics.

Its gameplay is where most of my concerns lie. The action is heavy on projectiles even though your hitbox is a little large for a bullet-heavy style of play. In fact, even the bullets themselves are huge, relatively speaking. (The developers seemed to have an idea that this would be a sloppy affair, as they decided to grant players an extendable life bar and allow play to resume right from the spot of death even after the use of a continue.) GP is still easy, though, as it suffers from the Cyber Core syndrome: it keeps you busy with lots of things to blast, and it hurls lots of crap at you, but somehow it still ends up lacking challenge. The weapons are lame for a shooter of this ilk, and the adventure is too short, with only five proper stages to play through. (If you're wondering what I mean by "proper," well, let's just say that there's a GNG-ish twist that a lot of people will not be amused by.)

Once you do reach the end (which will probably happen sooner rather than later), there's little incentive to take another trip through the game. You can set it to Hard to try to draw a little more life out of it, but then you end up with sped-up bullets hurtling towards your huge hitbox, which just makes the whole thing feel messy. If you stick with the default difficulty level to maintain a playable feel, you'll find that it's simply too easy to stay one step ahead of the game, regardless of the constant fire coming at you; and you'll discover that GP is a classic case of a title featuring a lot of good concepts that aren't executed particularly well. Take the last boss, for instance.

He's a gigantic vampire/monarch/pro-wrestling-champion bear dude, definitely neat in design, and he has five or six types of attacks at his disposal. Unfortunately, instead of utilizing his attack types randomly to keep you on your toes, he continues to use the same one over and over until you deal a certain amount of damage to him, provoking him to switch to the next. What should've been a great battle ends up a simple scrum, just like the fights that precede it.

GP certainly had the potential to be one of the PCE's true sleepers. It's still a decent shooter, boasting charismatic enemies, quality tunes, and consistent action. Honestly, though, based on screens I'd seen and reviews I'd read prior to purchasing it, along with the first few fun-filled moments I'd spent with it, I thought it'd be a bit better than it actually is. I ended up disappointed, but I have little doubt that there's an audience out there for it. Nonetheless, if it comes down to buying either this or Star Parodier for $5-10 more, SP is certainly the smart choice.

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