Pang Adventures PC Review
Intuitive gameplay and mechanics
Brilliant level design
Audio sync issues
Harking all the way to 1989, Pang Adventures is revisits and revamps CaPCom’s bubble popping quarter-eater Buster Bros. This 2D, shooting-puzzler boasts over one hundred levels, numerous weapons and powerups, and a journey that’ll take players around the world fighting an alien bubble invasion. It’s a silly concept, yes, but was enough to justify its mechanics back in the day. As someone who’d never tried the series before, Pang Adventures often felt more dated than nostalgic. And still, thanks to some great puzzle designs and mechanical variety, I warmed up to it rather quickly and found Pang Adventures to be an incredibly abundant package well-worth its asking price and dozen of hours of playtime.
Called upon by the president of the United States, it’s up to the two Buster Bros to ready their harpoon guns and rid the world of bubbles, level by level. Up to two players in local or online co-op can team up to tackle over one hundred shooting puzzles across three game different modes. Every area of adventure mode is tied off with a boss battle that typically doesn’t scale to be as complex as most levels.
A variety of dangerous bubbles each bear their own color and behaviors. Red bubbles are rather predictable in their bounce patterns and move rather slowly, blue bubbles accelerate as surrounding bubbles are popped, lightning bubbles launch a lightning bolt at directly downward after being popped, and the list goes on and on. Add in a few NPC critters wandering around that can pop or redirect balloons or even stun players, bubble-spawning bosses, environment factors, such as walls that close in, platforms that accelerate bounce, and an arsenal of weapon drops, and you’ll never find yourself implementing the same solution twice. Machine guns, flamethrowers, double harpoons, bubble-popping crabs, egg-dropping seagulls, shields, time-freezes – they’re all worked in precisely to create tight-knit levels that often demand much more from players than they initially seem to. Overall, the mechanical variety is truly remarkable and consistently challenging.
Levels are designed like puzzles and often reward efficient solutions more so than pure speed. Each stage is cleverly assembled, tastefully picking and choosing which variable to implement where and timing out wonderfully. In fact, I finished most levels with only two seconds to go. Figuring out each level solution isn’t enough, however. Avoiding incoming bubbles meanwhile popping others requires a certain level of skill that might not come naturally to some. The Pang brothers move slowly but steadily – fast enough to navigate the murderous bubbles but still slower than you might expect.
What was most interesting to me was how brilliantly Pang Adventures was paced. Despite the countless variables of bubbles, environments, NPCs, and so on thrown at me, the game didn’t once hold me up to explain new mechanics or throw a tutorial at me. Mechanical variations were visually represented extremely well, making level designs self-explanatory but not obvious. Furthermore, mechanics were introduced slowly allowing players to get a grasp on the basics of each element then building toward increasingly complex formations. Levels would seemingly max out the concept of each mechanic before introducing a new one, only to bring the former back around down the line. It was great intuitive gameplay that surprised me at every turn.
To be frank, for all its modernizations, gameplay feels dated. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing though. I imagine a good deal of Pang Adventures’ audience will come from old fans of Buster Bros. While some of its variations may come off as inauthentic to veteran players, they do a great deal to keep adventure fresh. The blend of old-school shoot-em-up and outside-the-box level design ideas should prove clever enough to win over old fans and earn some new ones.
The game looks incredibly tacky with big, bright colors, characters, and cutscenes, clearly built for iOS. More importantly, however, the game runs smoothly and the visuals were enough to clearly parallel the mechanics. Before a recent update, I had incredibly annoying resolution issues throughout my playthrough with the game limiting itself to Steam’s window. It just wouldn’t size up properly to my 2560 X 1600 screen no matter what I tried. I also had audio-sync issues in levels with weapon drops, wherein sound effects would chime about thirty seconds after their corresponding actions. This would even carry across retries and levels – my flamethrower sounds coming in from the previous level as I already started playing the next.
Pang Adventures is a great package at a great price. For fans of the arcade original, 1997 Playstation Buster Bros Collection, or newcomers, there are hours of arcadey fun to find here. It’s an old-school, shooting puzzler preserved and refreshed tastefully in Pang Adventures.