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Polar Panic
Score: 80%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Valcon Games
Developer: Eiconic Games
Media: Download/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: Puzzle/ Arcade/ Family

Graphics & Sound:
One of the best things about downloadable games today is the ability to cater to a specific audience. Polar Panic on PSN is an icy new puzzle game that works great for kids, families, and anyone looking a quick and simple puzzle-game fix.

Adopting a very cartoonish art style, Polar Panic works well to create cute and adorable characters that are equal parts Saturday-morning cartoons mixed with the kid-friendly movie Ice Age. The oil-baron caricature, Mr. Biggs, and the goofy henchmen he employs, like trappers with flamethrowers and giant bulldozers that shoot ice-beams, do a good job at establishing a cute and approachable world that anyone in the whole family can enjoy. From a frosty village to the deck of ship, Polar Panic uses its art and environments well to create a cute and marvelous world.

The bubbly art style is matched with an whimsical musical score that actually managed to get stuck in my head. It is appropriately thematic, invoking a chilly and arctic world where a bi-pedal polar bear would call home. There are some basic sound effects as you earn points and a few of the henchmen make some silly grunts as they are trapped behind the ice and it all plays out really well. The only drawback to the music is during a level when the action gets frantic, the melody is often drowned out into the background from all the sound effects going on in-game. I would say this is more of a problem with too much going on and ruining the music, but it does sound as though those levels are a little softer with the musical accompaniment than others.

Polar Panic is a straightforward block-based puzzle game. Think of the countless online puzzle games with blocks or Bomberman. Or more practically, think of a ten-year-old PC game, Rodent's Revenge, where the player's mouse had to trap all of the cats in one level before he could continue on to the next level. Fridtjof said he was reminded of another classic game, Pengo (and you can read his review in the links section below) and both comparisons are valid because Polar Panic borrows ideas from many places and executes them very well. Polar, the bear, must navigate his way through 50 icy levels by shoving ice blocks around a grid and eliminating all of the trappers that are after him, while avoiding environmental hazards.

Mr. Biggs is wrecking Polar's home and capturing all of Polar's family and friends. The upbeat and frosty bear is on a mission to save his family and put a stop to Mr. Biggs' evil plot. There are ten levels broken into five chapters and, every so often, Mr. Biggs gets fed up with his lackeys and attempts to take out Polar himself during each of the five boss battles throughout Polar Panic. Since Polar isn't trained in any sort of formal combat, he shoves the blocks into strategic positions to set up elaborate traps for each of the trappers and, provided there is enough time left in each level, save his family that are kept in cages on each level.

After a sizable Story Mode, Polar Panic also offers two other modes of play to keep everyone entertained even longer. The first is Puzzle Mode. No story or evil oil tycoons, just Polar and his wits as he moves blocks one space at a time to unlock the exit and earn a high score, while still avoiding some minor hazards. Fifty puzzles are available and after solving each one, you are ranked and the score is posted on the leaderboards to compete with your friends.

The other mode is Survival Mode and this is where everyone can get involved to stop the evil trappers. Up to four players can take on wave after wave of enemies to see how long they can last. It would be nice to see some online play in this mode, but for its intended audience, local play works fine too.

There are a few difficulty choices in the Story Mode: Easy, Normal, and Hard, although, I never noticed a difference in each except for the amount of time required to finish the level. Even on Normal, there seems to be barely enough time to figure out the puzzles and make it to the exit, so Hard offers strict timing and plenty of trial and error gameplay.

In Puzzle Mode, there are some tricky puzzles, but nothing too scary and Survival is only hard because of the amount of trappers that are sent after you at once. To be honest, the only difficulty that comes from Polar Panic is the fault of its own design and mechanics.

Game Mechanics:
Polar Panic is as easy to control as it is easy on the brain. Move Polar around with the D-pad and when you have to shove a block, simply press (X). Polar can only move in a grid-based fashion: up, down, left and right. While the enemies are also limited in the same movements as Polar, Polar can still be damaged diagonally from enemies, which at times is completely unfair. Although the game never abuses this oversight, when it happens, it just feels cheap and for a game that is meant to create peace and calmness, unintentionally aggravates when it plays dirty.

The other problem with the mechanics is when Polar loses a life. He automatically re-spawns at the start of the level, but sometimes there may be enemies already crowding the spawn-point and it becomes unavoidable to lose yet another life immediately through no fault of your own. Along with the movement issues, it doesn't always happen that way but when it does, it feels cheap and wrong.

Polar Panic is great game for a puzzle fanatic or for those looking for family-friendly fun. The bevy of gameplay types ensures that there is always another puzzle to complete or high-score to beat. The shortcomings, including the somewhat unfair controls, only become noticeable after long play sessions. Taken in small doses, Polar Panic is a fun time at a fair price.

-HanChi, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Hanchey

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