Downstream Panic! Preview
The puzzle genre can never die, and there's a damn good reason for that: they can be more addictive than any other game in any other category. The PSP has been a puzzle lover's haven over the past few years, as the likes of Lumines, Exit, Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords, Mercury Meltdown and more have granted players hours upon hours of unending challenging fun. Well, another one is one the way; it's Downstream Panic! and it's loaded down with plenty cutesy, charming characters and environments, plus a lot of unique puzzle action. It's difficult to explain the premise, but we'll give it a shot. A massive hurricane has swept the ocean, and it was so furious, it...uh...displaced all the fish. Basically, it literally blew them right out of the water, and now, you have to lead those fishies out of that prison in the sky and back to their homes. Obviously, this isn't a traditional concept, but then again, that's half the fun of quirky puzzle games, right?
In looking at this game, we're instantly reminded of an upside-down Lemmings, believe it or not. In that old puzzle classic, you had to set open and safe paths for the little dudes to follow. You couldn't control them; they would simply wander in one direction, only changing direction if you altered their environment or the path itself. In Downstream Panic!, the fishes will continue to swim down any current of water that goes from top to bottom on the screen, and you have to steer them clear of vicious enemies looking for a fish dinner. You will be forced to think ahead of time to, as the water won't start falling for a little while and you can prepare the route based on the background. To aid in your efforts, you'll have an inventory of useful items that will help you carve out an acceptable path for the fish. Yep, we'll get the good ol' bombs (seriously, shouldn't they be in every puzzle game?) that can blow away rocks or other annoying obstacles, and you can even place plants to change the water flow. The key centers on your timing ability- can you alter the flow and deal with the unending force of gravity?
A variety of environmental factors will dictate the flow of water, and if those adorable little fish will find their way home. There will be choke points, for example, that slow the flow, causing the water to collect in one area, which can grow from a puddle to a small pool. But if the water spills over the edges, it can toss some of those fishes into the clutches of waiting predators, some of which are just sitting and waiting for dinner to come swimming by. Damn bottom feeders. Again, it's all about a combination of timing and preparation due to the game's format, and most fans of the genre should really get into the idea. The only question we have regarding the gameplay is this- do we have the ability to choose when the water starts to flow? Or is it going to start after a set amount of time? In other words, how close is it to a turn-based strategy style that allows the player to take as much time as he needs to select his next move? We're guessing that, just like Lemmings, you'll always be racing against the clock in some form or another, and we suppose that's fine.
And while we'd like a clarification on that matter, we're certainly intrigued by this new puzzle title. We can already imagine how we'll go about approaching any given level: we get a look at the environment, the fish-eating nasties lying about, and any other potential hazard. We then access our inventory of helpful goodies and start to set up a proper route for our underwater friends. Then, when the water begins to fall from the sky, following along the path we half-created, we'll have to keep an eye on the proceedings and think quickly if things don't go exactly as planned. This will probably happen quite often, in fact, and we're kinda looking forward to that. Some of the biggest problems we'll face are the ever-changing influx of water thanks to larger and smaller bottlenecks, erratically placed bombs, and poorly positioned plants, but we'll just have to deal with it. The good news is that we don't need to save every single fish attempting the tough journey from Ďahem' air to water; there will be a certain number we have to save in every level. Without any doubt, those levels will get harder and harder, and the number of fish we have to rescue might also increase as well.
Freezers (what, we can actually freeze the water?), harpoons (those sound pretty nasty) and even teleporters will be available, and if we can consistently utilize them to our advantage, we'll be happy campers. Furthermore, now that we've heard the game consists of over 80 different levels, we're relatively certain this one will be worth the price of admission. Many puzzle titles operate almost entirely on the addictive nature of the gameplay rather than providing a lot of different levels; Eko System clearly isn't doing that with Downstream Panic!, though. The game is also prime for some quality downloadable content in the future, just because we figure we can always use more maps, items and other add-ons that will only further our enjoyment of the experience. More good news- we won't be waiting long for this promising PSP title. It was only recently unveiled, but it's still supposed to hit U.S. retail stores on February 5. Granted, it might not be the biggest game of the month - not with the likes of Devil May Cry 4 coming out the same week - but hey, if you want innovation and originality for your handheld, look no further than Downstream Panic!.
1/26/2008 Ben Dutka