Polar Panic
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2010-01-13 Xbox 360 Action/Puzzle E (Everyone) Eiconic Games / Valcon Games

Polar Panic places you in the role of a polar bear named, appropriately enough, Polar. Polar's family has been kidnapped by Globoco Inc's boss, Mr. Big, who wants to take over the arctic wilderness and extract all manner of untapped resources from it, and as such, you must make your way through the game's 50 increasingly difficult levels in order to rescue both your family and the arctic from the "big bad business."

The gameplay here is in the same vein as something like Bomberman, only instead of letting you plant bombs around the environment, you can slide ice blocks, crates, etc. into your enemies to crush them. As you begin, enemies are only equipped with melee weapons, giving you a bit of breathing room as you negotiate each level, trying to figure out how to kill them while still managing to pick up and/or otherwise activate the bonus items in each stage - all within the level's set time limit.

Items like breakable snowmen and polar bear statues offer bonus points and extra lives, respectively, while switches and bridges must be activated or constructed by moving an ice block into their path, thus opening up new areas, or helping you to unlock cages containing your arctic brethren.

Levels obviously become more complex as you go, as do the enemies, who become stronger and carry both melee and ranged weaponry. Fairly early on, igloos begin to pop up around the outskirts of each level, which serve to increase the number of enemies on the playing field at certain timed intervals. You can push an ice block into these igloos to destroy them along with any remaining enemies inside, with the number of enemies killed at once translating to a larger score multiplier (though score is really only a factor when going for achievements or in multiplayer).

TNT crates are also introduced, which can destroy both blockades and multiple surrounding enemies when detonated, and in specific levels (like those taking place on a moving ship), rolling barrels can destroy both yourself and any enemy they may roll over. Using these items to your advantage, then, you can easily wipe out groups of enemies at once by luring them to a sloped area and letting the barrel run over them all in succession, or, in the case of enemies utilizing projectile weapons, can lure one enemy into the path of another's dart.

While strategies are abundant when it comes to defeating your enemies (all of which must be eliminated before you can move onto the next level), actually accomplishing the task is easier said than done, as the game has a few issue plaguing it. First and foremost, the levels are displayed from a slight overhead angle, and while there is a very light grid pattern on the ground, it can still be difficult to determine which block is in which column or row when you are at the very top of the screen.

Additionally, there are some issues when utilizing TNT, or when avoiding falling blocks, rolling barrels or other moving objects, in that you can easily be hit by something that it appeared would never actually impact you. Likewise, when darts or flames make contact with Polar, there is a very noticeable gap between the impact animation and Polar's body, which makes dodging them at close range incredibly difficult since it is harder to determine how much time you truly have to get out of the way.

Aside from the game's story mode, there are also Puzzle and Survivor modes for you to play around with. In the puzzle mode, you're greeted with another 50 levels that ask you to make your way to the exit by navigating each set of blocks in the fewest amount of moves and time possible. These puzzles do offer a real mental challenge, yet are much more laid back than the frantic Survivor mode, which places you and up to three local friends against multiple waves of enemies in a test of who can survive the longest, who can amass the most kills, or who can score the most points in a session.

While the game's story mode can be entertaining in short bursts, Polar Panic would be in the realm of instant-buy if only it included online multiplayer, the lack of which seems like one of the biggest oversights in today's multiplayer-heavy industry. As it stands, Polar Panic is one that had a lot of potential, but is unfortunately pretty forgettable once you've finished the main quest.

Special thanks to Susan Lusty and Valcon Games for providing a copy of this title.