Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Panic Road (Arcade)

Video pinball games make sense on home systems, as there are factors of cost and space that make keeping a pinball collection at home incredibly unrealistic for anyone but the most crooked robber barons. In arcades, though, they're a much odder prospect, since most places that have arcade machines are also places you're likely to find pinball tables, so who would bother playing an untactile facsimile when they can play the real thing? Which is probably why, off the top of my head, I can only think of two pinball arcade games: the pornographic Gals Pinball, and this one, Panic Road.

Panic Road features some early examples (maybe even the first, but I'm not sure on that) of a video pinball game having features not possible on real tables, too: there's roaming, destructible enemies in place of stationary bumpers, there's multiple tables, and were those multiscreen tables real, they'd definitely be abnormally long compared to their peers. You don't get to choose which table you play, though, as the game takes a videogamey approach to progression. Each table has a goal, which reveals a key when fulfilled. Hit the key with the ball andgo to the next table!

The problem is that the game doesn't tell you what these goals are, and they're not particularly intuitive, either. The first table's goal is to collect the numbers 1-2-3 that are in a row about midway up the table, the ocean-themed table two has you hitting every clam on the table so they open up, and though I made the key appear on table three, I still have no idea what triggered that. It just seemed to happen. At least the table's themes are varied, though: table one is in a little garden with mushrooms, strawberries and wooden fenceposts, table two is as mentioned before, in the ocean, while the third table is just an arrangement of random objects, like moles, pencils, disembodied hands and a pink mountain.

Panic Road is an okay game. The opacity of each stage's goals is a problem, as are the slightly odd ball physics (which can be forgiven considering the game's age), and it obviously doesn't hold a candle to many of the console pinball games that would come later, but it's a fun enough distraction. I imagine it wasn't very popular with arcade operators, though: my first credit with no prior practice lasted over 20 minutes, and none of those that followed were any shorter.

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