Review: Pang Adventures captures the feel of old school arcade fun

Pang isn’t exactly a household name to American gamers, but to other parts of the world it is considered one of the best puzzle-shooters in video game history. The original was renamed Buster Bros. for release in American arcades, as it became one of the most popular conversion kits of the early 1990s.

The latest version of this franchise is Pang Adventures, recently released for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam, iOS and Android. The studio that released the game provided a free Steam download for purposes of this review.

Pang Adventures is a one-or-two player game that challenges players to pop various balloons using a spear gun that can only shoot straight up. The balloons vary in size and bounce differently from level to level based on the obstacles that might cross your path. As in real life, contact with a balloon means instant death, unless it bounces off of your foot. In this version, you cross an adventure map with various locales across the globe, each with a boss battle at the end against an odd alien creature. Most stages contain some power-ups as well, ranging from a fun flamethrower to a gun with bullets, which you would think the Pang characters might have thought of before getting into this situation.

On the good side of things, the game is quick to understand and pick up, even for those who might not be familiar with the previous games in the franchise. The graphics and sounds provide a huge upgrade without overdoing it and losing the feel of the original. It’s perfectly okay to do as Pang Adventures does and create a modern-day retro game without having to resort to pixel-filled 8-bit or 16-bit graphics. The play balance is done well also, with the challenges between levels varying just enough to increase the learning curve. This game simply feels like an old-school game in your hands due to that factor above all else, something many retro-remakes miss.

On the flip side, the adventure mode is forced upon you in order to unlock other arcade modes. These score-based arcade modes are the stages I wanted to play, but to do so required hours of play-through of the other mode first, a factor that also means that the high score resets between each stage. For an original arcade player, this does the game no favors, adding in the mixed feelings of the quarter-feeding frenzy coin-op games rather than the sweet innocence of simply starting a game and playing through for a high score. Some of us don’t want or need to go on an adventure with a retro game, preferring instead to just play and enjoy it. The unlock is unnecessary and frustrating, as it should be an option from the start.

That factor aside, Pang Adventures does a better job than most retro remakes at capturing a true throwback feel without coming off as a lightweight snack or a title that tries to reinvent the wheel. There is plenty here to challenge players to both think and react at the same time, along with plenty of reasons to come back and play again. A highly recommended title for any gamer looking for a fresh challenge from a classic concept.

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