Panic Attack - The Devil's Favorite Game

A game by DeRail Games for Xbox 360, originally released in 2010.
This is the second game in DeRail’s trilogy of titles that stars a bouncing emoticon named Hug. In his first adventure, Jump’n Bounce, Hug bounced his way through a series of 50 single-screen platforming levels (plus 10 challenging director’s cut levels), making his way to the shiny golden star at the end of the level, and avoiding enemies and spikes along the way. What set the game apart from other platformers on the market was the fact that Hug was unable to stop bouncing, which forced players to think about how to get through the environment without direct control of platforming’s one defining move: jumping. The world takes on a very different appearance when jumping is removed from the player’s hands, requiring new sets of skills to be mastered, such as long lateral bounces, and the act of jumping under enemies instead of over them.

Hug makes his return in Panic Attack - The Devil’s Favorite Game. The basic controls are still in place: Hug can move to the left or right, but he cannot stop bouncing. There are only 2 other controls available to the player. One is a double-jump, which you’ll need to use often to get over obstacles, avoid spikes, and perform basic environmental navigation. The second move sends Hug down toward the ground at a high speed. In Jump’n Bounce, this slam move allowed him to smash through certain types of bricks and to navigate under spikes, enemies, and low ceilings.

It was a good move to have on hand, but most of the levels didn’t require regular use of it. Here, however, you’ll be constantly faced with death from above (more on this in a bit), as well as numerous enemies, spikes, and other obstacles that force you to bounce under them. By repeatedly pressing the button, Hug will perform a low, tight series of jumps with similar effect to dribbling a basketball.

However, while the basic moves are the same, the gameplay in Panic Attack is very different than that of its predecessor. The game still requires that you have your precision platforming skills well in hand, but now it adds an element of speed to the equation. In the lower-left corner of the screen are 2 meters. One indicates Hug’s current speed, and the other indicates the amount of built-up turbo boost, which can give Hug a bit of extra speed when you hit the right trigger. You’re going to want to keep these needles as far to the right as possible. There’s only one type of pickup in this game, and it’s a green icon that increases Hug’s speed, and your turbo boost meter can be increased by bouncing on striped platforms.

Every level has a timer running in the background, and you have to complete the level under a certain qualifying time in order to unlock the next. The levels are no longer constrained to single-screen environments as they were in Jump’n Bounce, but are instead made up of large scrolling areas, with checkpoints spread throughout to accommodate for the larger size. So, you won’t be able to see what’s in front of you until you dive (er, bounce) in and see for yourself. On the upside, the game’s timer is just there to keep track of how long it takes you to make it through the level; it’s not a countdown timer that ends the level when your allotted time is up. Unfortunately, the timer does not reset when you die, even when you are sent back to the beginning of the level, which means that you’ll have to manually restart if you hope to achieve a fast enough time to unlock the next level. You can instantly restart any level from the pause menu, without having to wait for the level to reload.

However, if you are struggling with a level, the lack of a countdown timer does give you the ability to do some exploration and experimentation, and affords you the opportunity to try out a perfect run before you give it another go. But that doesn’t mean you can just plod through the levels, because there are plenty of things will make you go splat if you just stand around.

The game is called Panic Attack for a reason. Each of the levels has rows of spinning saw blades suspended from the ceiling that will start to descend once you reach a certain point. In early levels, these saw blades will simply motivate you to move forward down a horizontal corridor, but later on you’ll be racing them down as you attempt to descend through vertical sections as quickly as possible while avoiding enemies and obstacles. Death is rarely far behind.

Since players can’t stop bouncing, they must consider every jump, every enemy, and every wall of spikes and flamethrowers, and they must finesse the double-jump and smash moves to get over and under these things, all the while attempting not to fling themselves into the spinning blades of death that are descending upon them. There are also one-way platforms that can be smashed down, arrow walls that will not allow you to backtrack, and cannons that will launch you at high speeds over dangerous obstacles… and into more dangerous obstacles. And that’s the reason for the subtitle: The Devil’s Favorite Game. That is assuming, of course, that the devil enjoys being tortured as much as he enjoys torturing others.

Functionally, the game shares a lot of similarities with Super Meat Boy. Both games offer very challenging levels, spinning saw blades, precision platforming, and a trial-and-error mentality to completing the levels. Also, both games feature director’s cut levels that are even more dastardly versions of the standard levels, tossing in even more of the hurty pain to challenge hardcore gamers. Every time you achieve a gold medal in a level, you will unlock the director’s cut version of that level. The basic layout is the same, but most of the blank spaces are filled in with pointy objects that are designed to splat your otherwise happy emoticon. There is even a set of special Panic levels that are reserved for only the truly hardcore and/or masochistic players, offering challenges that border on impossibility, and require players to make a series of perfect moves through a gauntlet of pain that is well beyond anything you will experience in the original set of levels.

Oh, and there’s a death counter on the title screen. It has 5 digits. And the 5-digit death counter is not an idle threat… it’s quite easy to get into the triple digits during your first half hour of gameplay.

When you reach the end of each level, your time will be recorded, and you’ll be awarded with one of three medals (if you were fast enough). A bronze medal indicates the basic qualifying time and allows you to unlock the next level. Achieving a bronze medal usually requires a pretty decent run, but allows you to make a few mistakes along the way. The time required for the silver medal is much more aggressive, usually just a few seconds beneath the gold, which requires a near-perfect run. You’ll be given the opportunity to enter your name in a high score board, but for some reason, the game does not use your gamer tag for this function, nor does it remember the name that you manually entered, so you’ll be forced to enter your name each time if you wish to take advantage of this feature.

One really nice feature is the option of seeing the ghost from your best playthrough. When doing this, you’ll see a semi-transparent version of your best run, represented by an actual ghost – which is a nice touch – so that you can compare your current pace to your best. This is really helpful when you’re trying to shave off those last couple of seconds to achieve a gold medal. It also helps you see where you might have taken a slightly better path, as there are some levels where you may find shortcuts, if you’re paying attention. In this respect, the whole game is essentially a speed run challenge, with most gold medal runs coming in around the 60-90 second range.

Once again, the presentation here is very minimal. The function of each of the tiles is obvious from its design, and the overall look is meant to hearken back to the days of 80’s arcade games. To help sell this presentation, DeRail Games brought in chiptune artists 8Bit Weapon and Computeher to create the game’s soundtrack. Of course, some of these retro tunes are sure to be drowned out by the sound of your repeated deaths, particularly when you take on the director’s cut and Panic levels.

DeRail Games is based in Oslo, Norway, and they are focused on making games for XBLIG and PC presented in a “new retro” style, featuring basic graphics with a mix of arcade-style gameplay and 80’s platformers.

As mentioned above, Jump’n Bounce and Panic Attack were their first two games in the trilogy of titles featuring Hug, the bouncing emoticon. The third was CTG.

Jump’n Bounce features 50 single screen levels, most of which have multiple possible routes to reach the exit. As Hug, you must traverse each of the levels, dodging enemies, collecting 1UPs, and making your way to the exit. However, unlike most platformers where the player is free to hop and bop his way through the game, Hug is unable to stop bouncing, and all of the gameplay is built around this.

Navigating tight corridors and wide open areas is made all the more challenging by your endless bouncing, and you’ll frequently have to bounce under enemies and obstacles to reach your goal. You do have one additional tool at your disposal, which is a smash dive that allows you to break through certain bricks. You can also repeatedly use the smash dive maneuver to stick close to the ground and get through areas where a high bounce would surely get you killed.

The third game in the “Hug Trilogy” takes the focus away from Hug, and places it on a heavily armed alley cat who is bent on killing as many grannies as possible. Hug is still here, but now there are multiple bouncing emoticons equipped with spikes that bounce around the environment breaking blocks and causing havoc.

The cat has 4 different weapons at his disposal, each with a different firing type, ranging from straight shots, to bouncing shots, to explosives that send grannies flying into the air. But the grannies don’t just die when they’re shot; instead, the cat needs to use the projectiles to bounce the grannies into the air and send them toward spinning “granny grinders” to destroy them for good. That’s right, ground up grannies. Fun for the whole family.

Grannies plod onto the screen in long lines, moving like lemmings as they drop off of ledges and turn around when they hit walls. Specialized grannies come in the form of stationary bazooka-wielding grannies (which fire Hug projectiles), grannies on ECV’s that roll along slowly but are unaffected by your regular bullets, and huge granny filled busses that block your fire until you send the whole thing into a grinder for a rewarding bloody splat.