Title: Panic! (Switch, in Japan)
Publisher/Developer: Data East
Year: 1993
Platform: Sega CD
Genre: Puzzle, sorta

Panic! is a game that very nearly defies description. The basic plot (or what passes for it) is thus:
At some indiscriminate time in the future, a computer virus infects the world's computers, causing every push-button device in the world to go haywire in strange and surreal ways. As the mayhem escalates, a young boy named Slap is chosen (apparently at random) to use a special program to make his way to the World Central Network building, where he must access the main computer and delete the virus. Along for the ride is his lazy dog, Stick (Slap and Stick, slapstick, get it? TWAJS!).

While the story isn't that original (young boy must travel on a strange and dangerous quest to save the world), the gameplay is rather unique. Technically, Panic! is only a game in the loosest sense of the word, as the gameplay soley involves pushing buttons on various devices (ranging from vending machines to vehicles to household appliances, and even a monolith right out of 2001: A Space Odyssey). Pushing a button will either send you to another level, trigger a booby trap that will demolish some random famous (or not-so-famous) world monument, or (more commonly) make something strange happen. Strange events include malfunctions, falling objects (frequently Moai heads), or the showing of Monty Python-esque animation scenes. Cameo apperances are sometimes made by one of an Angel and Devil duo, who will encourage or taunt you respectively. Bathroom humor, sexual innuendoes, and occasional nudity pop up with suprising frequency, but don't dominate the gags in the game.

My Thoughts
Frankly, when I first got this game, I had a lot of fun with it. The crazy sight gags and cutscenes amused me, even though I had no idea at the time what some of the jokes meant. Of course, the "gameplay" gets a bit repetitive after a while, but since you can save anywhere, at any time during the game, I found myself taking a break from playing, then coming back after a while. I managed to beat the game several times, but I didn't have the free time to try and find everything. Panic! is strangely addictive, as cliche as that sounds. Basically, you should only play this game if you're a fan of quirky Japanese games that make you wonder if what they say is true.

In the far too many years spent gaming, this may be the most ridiculous thing I've ever discovered.

Panic! is a game specifically designed to dance with the fairies. This does not make sense. Ladies, gentlemen and Matthew, none of this makes sense! The plot: Thanks to a "nasty computer virus" every device in the world is malfunctioning, from computers to elevators and doorbells. "Malfunctioning" here means "lights out in the attic, both oars not in the water, elevator not going to the top floor, ding-dong-nobody-home INSAAAAAAAAAANE". Phone booths take off. Salamanders hatch from lightbulbs.

The alter ego is a cute little boy who gets sucked into his console for no reason and must save the world by battling his way to the source of the infestation. He's occasionally accompanied by his dog, who didn't get assimilated and must've popped out of nowhere.

The battle is fought entirely by pressing buttons. Each of the game's several dozen scenes has a device with a control panel, such as a lawnmower, a blender, a planetarium, an elaborate robotic assembly line designed to throw things in your face or Rodin's The Thinker, and each has several buttons, for a total of a hair over 1000. Some change the scene by simple teleportation (or by getting sucked into a blowdryer, or eaten by a toilet or the like), 30 are booby traps which blow up a random monument (check out the Ion cannon effect with the Pyramids!), and the rest cause effects. Panic! has hundreds of possibilities, some of them wonderful, many containing physical comedy and most just plain weird.

A room's walls turn to water and a dolphin jumps through. Trams fold like accordions or pop like balloons. A radio dish might reach out and snatch a satellite or just melt. There's a scene where the heads of the great composers can be made to perform Ode to Joy off-key by yawning, hiccuping, screaming (with or without edged weapons), puking or flying off. Another's dedicated entirely to dropping things on other things. There's a fair but manageable amount of puke jokes and suchlike - there will be poop - and a strange obsession with Moai heads. Then there are the cameos. Thomas Edison's head on a baby's body might make an appearance to talk about completely irrelevant things. A hippopotamus might complain about its weight in a falsetto. Playing Panic! means a ceaseless onslaught of things impossible and deranged.

The graphics are cartoony in a good way, still pleasant to the eye. The music's nonunforgettable but the sound effects suit the game very well, especially considering that most of them were performed by mouth. Panic! uses its status as an early CD game quite well with spoken cameos and a variety of neat monument destructioness. Gameplay-wise, it has little substance but its jokes. Actually completing the task is usually secondary to the gags. The links between scenes form a loose network and the game has an inbuilt map, but exploring still amounts to blundering around randomly. Three clearly marked scenes cause Game Over, as does losing every single monument, but these are basically inexplicable minor annoyances. Encountering the same places over and over again can and does get tedious, so completing the game needs either tenacious note-taking or a freaky memory.

The game's greatest strength is its unpredictability: it's nearly impossible to see the next absurdity coming. A few buttons may bear comprehensible or even relevant symbols, but rest assured those have no relation to what actually happens. Those looking for a challenge will find nothing of the sort here, but for those looking for a touch of madness Panic! will provide, in spades.

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