'Pang' was one of those games that existed in a genre of its own, inspiring several sequels both in arcades and upon consoles. The story may have been able to fit on the back of a cheap stamp but nobody played 'Pang' for the story. :cP
Best of all, 'Pang' is a game that you can readily find incarnations of online! It... is... alive!
Welcome. This is 'Nostalgic Game Design Focus' a new series where I get to think back and comment upon games that I had played when I was much younger - mostly from a game-design perspective.
Publishers: Mitchell/ Capcom
Designer: Toshihiko Uda
Music By: Tamayo Kawamoto
One of the earlier additions to our collection, 'Pang' is a game that is fondly remembered. Strangely the game was released under a different title in North America - 'Buster Bros' - and while I am not particularly fond of the name - the box art that accompanied that version was a lot more fitting.
So... What Kind of Game 'is' 'Pang'?
Let us first get the premise of the game out of the way as this will make explaining the nature of the game easier.
The story is that hostile balloons have invaded some scenic and picturesque locations, and it is up to you to save the day. The game guide also claims that "the fearless" 'Pang' is the name of the character - which for me further underlines how it truly isn't necessary for the premise of a game to make sense in order for it to work. ;c)
So... what kind of game is 'Pang'?
I'd call it:
Part Sight-Seeing tour
Its a game where you get to tour around the World, stopping places to shoot a variety of vertically-inclined weapons at deadly bouncing balloons, clearing stages to proceed with your World tour.
In terms of player abilities - the following sums it up:
You can walk.
You cannot jump, even a little (sadly!).
You can climb up and down ladders.
You can fire vertically-inclined projectiles ( of the weapon-type last picked up)
You can collect power-ups and points along the way.
This game does a really nice job of explaining much of what you'll need to know to play the game before you even begin the game.
This game was primarily designed for arcades and the Atari ST port really retains this feeling as the game switches from 'title screen' to 'basic game explanation' to 'high scores' to 'level demonstration' to 'weapon type demos'...
...well - this game does a really good job of drawing a player in (Attract Mode!)!
The first part of the video linked to at the bottom of this post illustrates it well.
Of Game Structure
Once you begin the game you will find that the game repeats the same short, simple but effective cycle.
Game Screen (Where you get to pop some troublesome balloons)
Bonus Screen (Where you get to see the cuteness & points stack up) 'or'
Map Screen (Less often - Each map location has a number of levels)
And so the objective of the game is to have an awesome time blasting bubbles while travelling around the World - until you get to the end of the line. Then you win.
Each level consists of a single screen - with a nice backdrop image, some foreground level structure, and of course some balloons.
Every level is entirely framed by a subtle yet sure layer of bricks.
An interesting landscape is pictured in the background.
A number of varyingly elaborate platforms and walls exist in the foreground.
Accompanying it is the player (or players!) along with one or more balloons.
At the top-right one finds a timer and as the stage begins this timer begins to count down.
The balloons bounce left and right and the player can move left and right to set up a shot.
A player begins with a standard harpoon gun. Firing it launches a harpoon toward the sky, trailing a jagged wire behind it. Should any part of this attack touch a balloon, and presuming that the balloon is large enough, then it shall split in two, each smaller balloon going in opposite directions.
There exist four sizes of balloons. The largest balloons hang in the air for longest and get the most height.
Bouncing motions tend to be rather smooth but balloons will seem to bounce much faster if trapped in a vertical space smaller than its natural bounce height.
Once you pop all the balloons on the level - you win the stage and are presented with a bonus screen.
The default harpoon gun is pretty nice to have but there are other weapons and power-ups. As you begin to pop balloons some will also drop power-ups. They will blink and disappear if not picked up within a matter of seconds.
The drawback of the default harpoon gun is that it takes some time for the harpoon to hit the ceiling - and only one harpoon can exist at a time.
Which 'can' be a pain when facing a lot of bubbles.
Other weapons and items include:
Double Harpoon - My personal favourite, this weapon simply allows you to have two harpoons in play at any one time. The short time it takes to hit the ceiling can be used to one's advantage and its always nice to have a second harpoon either on the way up or at the ready.
Power Wire - Especially handy in tight vertical spaces, the power wire behaves exactly the same way as a harpoon gun except that when it hits the ceiling it forms a temporary barrier. The down side is that one cannot fire more harpoons while the power wire is anchored (especially annoying when one misses. It disappears a few seconds later.
Vulcan Missile - Another fun weapon allows for rapid fire shooting. If I remember correctly it allows for up to 4 simultaneous shots - and this along with its wider profile makes it excellent for decimating balloons from below. However it does not trail any wire nor does it cover anything below head-height.
Bomb - Now that the weapons are covered - lets talk other items. A bomb takes every balloon on screen - and pops it repeatedly until they are at the smallest size. This speeds up the process but it is all too easily to be overwhelmed by large numbers of tiny balloons.
Clock - Balloons and critters freeze in time for a few seconds and you get to blast them to your heart's content in the meantime.
Hourglass - Adds a few seconds to your maximum timer.
Ice Shield - An aura encompasses the player, providing protection for a few seconds. Can absorb one hit.
Various Foods - Points! Because - High Score! :c)
Mechanically 'Pang' is a really simple game. However it is really well done and polished.
Each stage has a countdown. A player 'could' glance at the timer - but the game designer cleverly factored music into the mix such that a player always knew roughly how much time was left without ever looking at the imer directly.
Besides the stage-specific musical score - the game had two specific songs that would play in every stage when time was either short or running out respectively. In doing so the game allows a player to enjoy the beauty of the game for a while before musically tapping a player upon the shoulder to tell them to get a move on.
Another subtle visual cue is the piece of food that falls. Since it tends to fall around the same time it gives a player an anchor of how much time has passed.
During the course of a level, one or more creatures will tend to enter on screen. Coming into direct contact with them results in the character not being able to fire off attacks for a few precious seconds.
A few, such as crabs and certain birds, can prove rather helpful by popping balloons when they make contact. Others (such as snails) seem to be out to get you.
Two Player Mode
Yes please! Some of my favourite memories of this game involve playing it with my brother.
For some reason I always liked being 'Player Two' because I just liked the warmer beige color better than the cool blues of 'Player One'.
It was also quite enjoyable blasting through levels together.
Of course it did get annoying that the game level would reset if 'either' one of us came into contact with a balloon - but that ws a small price to pay.
One thing that would have been nice for the console port of the game is a combined pool of lives rather than player 1 and player 2 each havign a separate pool. Its OK to keep scores separate but then again it would also be nice to see a combined team score.
Yeah - that wouldn't necessarily have translated too well to arcade mode. Though then again it could have! Simply requiring a larger amount for co-op mode which could be selected at the start screen. :c)
A Further Word on Jumping
The game is awesome without it - and thats what really counts - but when you get a level similar to the following...
...you just have to wonder how cool it'd be if you 'could' jump a short way. How much? I'd say 'just enough' to note-easily-yet-comfortably clear the smallest bubble as it approaches the ground-level to bounce.
Then again 'perhaps' having the same joystick movement controls for jumping and climbing might have eroded from the game.
A Word on Atmosphere
Pleasant music, a bright and varied color palette, simple mechanics.
Being able to choose your difficulty level at the start is nice. I also personally remember a 'Trainer' mode that allowed for infinite continues - but then again I don't really remember having the box..... Maybe I got it traded in the school yard?
While the graphics for the game were a little more pixelated than they strictly needed to me - I feel that the look suited this game very nicely - which may have been due to it fitting in with the neat simplicity of the rest of the game.
And when I say simple I don't mean such in an insulting way. Simplicity is good! It makes the game highly accessible.
The music clips were really well made. Most of them spanned maybe 45 seconds and so would quickly enter a second loop. This is perfectly fine though as time allotted fr each level is about 2 minutes - and at the 50 second mark its time to begin the 'time is short song', folowed by the 'time-crisis' tune a few seconds later.
As such it wasn't likely that you would get tired of a particlar stage's music (unless you really get stuck trying to beat a tough level).
This game is worth playing. No two ways about it! Here is a knock-off version of it that is playable online.
It offers good replayability as the drops aren't always the same. A replayability that could have been greatly enhanced with a tour and level builder mode - but again its a game released in 1989 and it feels fresh to this day.
Oh - and I will say that it is refreshing to see a shoot-em-up game, even hybrid, that doesn't focus or even properly feature killing stuff. Yes you can nail critters with your weapons but the game doesn't reward you for it - and that is a nice touch.
Incidentally - while screen grabs are nice - I think that the following is a more accurate representation of how the game felt and played.
No, this (not-so-short-but-totally-worth-watching) video is not my work (I thus-far don't 'do' video content (insufficient resources). But I really think that adding at least one third-party video gives interested persons like yourself a feel for the game that my text alone cannot convey.
A bout of nostalgia always! I hope that you enjoyed this trip down memory lane. :c) Do you have any comments or feedback? Do get in on the discussion down below!
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