I don’t know about you guys, but I like food. I also like fights. So, by that token, I also enjoy food fights. What I don’t particularly like is when one set of food groups start a war with another set of food groups and start blowing up the whole world. In theory…
The whole premise of Organic Panic! is that the wholesome, magical, nature-loving fruits and vegetables are in a war with the technology and industry-backing meats and cheeses, and as such, battle lines have been drawn and crossed between these bitter rivals. The Meats & Cheeses (M&C) are living the big life in the cities and the Fruits & Vegetables (F&V) are hiding out in nature, being hunted down by the enemy. But now, the F&V are fighting back, and the M&C aren’t taking too kindly to that.
At the start of the game, the F&V are gathered in a secret base concocting a plan to win this war for good. Led by an old, wise (?) apple, they’re looking for a slew of friends and items to help turn the tide in their favor.
The story is more involved than that, but in the interest of keeping spoilers to a minimum, that’s all I’ll mention. Yeah, even on a physics-based puzzle platformer, I will try to keep spoilers low. I love story in a game, no matter how big or small, and appreciate the same care taken on the flip side. When you do get story told to you, it’s done at the beginning of each Stage in a comic strip intro. The story is kind of a unique one, not necessarily in set up, but in its execution. Throughout all story-telling mediums there are plenty tales of a war between 2 factions, but how often are they showcased between food groups? I admit, I haven’t done much research on the matter, but I’d venture a guess to it being not very much. Now when it comes to that comic strip story dump, I like the idea, but the end result isn’t always a hit. Sometimes it’s hard to follow what is going on at first. Some panels seem disjointed. Some have multiple people speaking, and the way the lines are written, it can be a bit confusing to know who’s talking and to whom. Take a couple of seconds and you’ll suss it out, but it’s not something you should be having to do to begin with. Other times the lines just seem weirdly worded. It’s not a major issue by any stretch, but, these are things I noticed immediately and felt were off. In games like these, I often wonder just how many people actually pay attention to the story, so this may not even be something you notice.
There are 11 stages with around 10 levels in each one, with a final boss battle level that I’ll talk about in a bit. Each stage focuses on a different motif, like a volcano, beach, jungle, etc. Graphically, the models look good and the backgrounds pop. The various fixtures you interact with look and feel nice, too. There’s nothing revolutionary here, but there’s also nothing less than good, either. The game also features multiplayer modes for co-op and versus, and each mode has its own slate of levels to tackle, added on to the bonus levels that arise after beating the Adventure mode, all bringing the total count between modes over 200. That’s a lot of smoked meats and mashed veg going down. And if you get stuck? There’s a limited amount of levels you can optionally skip to get over the tough humps you may find yourself facing. Then, if you beat that level later, you get that skip back. Pretty neat. Want another good thing about the levels? Very few of them are timed. Even better!!
In the Adventure and co-op levels of Organic Panic! the main goal at the start of each level is to get to the portal at the end of the map (which can be anywhere in said map), all while trying to accomplish certain goals in between, gaining you either a bronze (just making it to the portal), silver (accomplishing 2 goals), or gold (all 3 goals) star. The goals are completion, getting the large crystal in each level (which is more important than you realize, more on that later), and killing all enemies. You also have a level score, but I honestly don’t know how that’s calculated. If the game tells you, I missed it and couldn’t find it elsewhere. I thought maybe it was based off time, but I tested that and I got more points a few times just sitting there than I did speeding through. Oh, and it features a quick restart button, TWO buttons, in fact, which is great news for people like me. I guess they added the second one to make up for not having that option in 101 Ways to Die. Such nice devs!!
Each of the F&V have their own unique magical abilities, and you’ll need to collect little blue crystals to be able to perform said magics. They each have their own size, shape, and speed, so just like in real life, not every food is created equal. For example, the kiwi can swim and jump higher, but the carrot shoots fire and can climb. Each is suited to tackle different areas, and on the levels you’re tasked with swapping at will between them, knowing their strengths and weaknesses pays off. Especially when you need to destroy something, because I think I forgot to mention… THE LEVELS ARE DESTRUCTIBLE. A fact that both works for you, and most definitely, against you.
The levels are also littered with power ups as well as enemies. One power up gives you a second magical ability, while another speeds you up. You can also get invincibility, which is sometimes a must. Each has a time limit, and if you grab more than one at a time, they stack, so pay attention to the countdown, because you don’t want to lose that invulnerability smack dab in the middle of a lava pit.
The sounds you’ll hear in Organic Panic! are actually really catchy. Sometimes they’re funky. Sometimes they’re frantic. Sometimes they’re mellow. Sometimes it sounds as if you’re playing a food inspired spy caper. There’s a lot of diversity here, and it’s all mostly satisfying to listen to. And the voices of the characters are cute, which is always a plus for me.
Just like any other puzzle games I’ve covered, if you get stuck, take a break. I think that’s sound advice for most games, but puzzlers in general. It’s helped me, and it may just help you, because this game can get really frustrating, especially if you’re going for the gold in each level. Hell, sometimes getting even a silver or bronze is a disaster. But, if you persevere, you’ll eventually make it out alive… Just maybe not with the rank you were looking for.
The multiplayer modes can give this title longevity, too. The co-op levels aren’t as vast as the Adventure mode, but there’s a healthy amount to sink your collective teeth into, for up to 4 people. The versus mode is the one that strays a bit from the normal formula, and you have 3 different games to play here, again, up to 4 players:
Acorns: collect acorns to win
Target: collect a target and try to hold on to it while gaining points for staying alive.
Frags: standard death match
Each mode turns into chaos, especially if you turn some settings up, and features random mutations partway into a match to hinder the player. If they aren’t random, they certainly felt like it. I was partial to the Acorns and Target matches. I just had more fun collecting rather than only killing.
OK, so remember when I said I’d get into the final boss stage? Remember also when I referenced how collecting the large crystal in each level would be a benefit to you, not just in ranking? Well, in the final level of the game, it’s a boss battle in space against the boss of the M&C, who’s in a heavily fortified spaceship. A ship that has plenty of ways to annihilate you in the small map, with 1 hit kills not being uncommon. Naturally. You also get to use every single F&V you have at will, with a seemingly endless magic bar. You also have lives in this level, unlike the rest of Adventure mode. If you die there, you just restart. Here, you get lives directly based off how many large crystals you collected throughout Adventure mode. For every 10 you’ve collected, you get 1 life. So, now knowing that, those secondary objectives don’t sound so secondary, huh? You should also know that this fight can take a while to finish, because that ship is a tank and has a crazy health bar. You’ll die. A lot. Now, as I said, you can swap between any character at will, but I didn’t really find any but one to be effective. I’ll let you figure that one out on your own, because who knows? Maybe I just couldn’t figure out the best method. The point I want to make with this level is that it feels very out of place. It’s mechanically different than what you’ve spent over a hundred levels previously doing (to this extent), and it’s not like there were boss battles littered here and there, to train you on what to expect. This is the only one, and as such felt weird to end on. I appreciate what the devs were trying to do here, it just unfortunately didn’t work for me.
As for the rest of the downsides or nitpicks? Here they are, in all their glory: I noticed some slowdown and frame rate issues at the start of a level, sometimes continuing throughout, especially if coming back after a few minutes of waiting at a menu or coming back from one of the system’s rest modes, but it happened more so on the XB1 version than PS4, though it was there for both. Never noticed any screen tearing, though. I also wish you could zoom in a bit more on some of the levels, especially the big ones. It would help out on not only maneuvering throughout the level, but also being able to see the power up timers a bit better. They aren’t super tiny, but when things get really hectic, I found it hard sometimes to focus on the timer, costing me precious progress or causing me to die. Another thing that can cost you? Random angles within the level. Being a physics game, of course getting crushed by something should hurt or kill you, but when you’re climbing or making your way through a tight squeeze, hitting an angle or crevice in a wall shouldn’t instantly kill you. It happened more than I’d have liked, so that was disappointing. The final boss fight’s music and sound effects would disappear and reappear at random. If it was designed to do this, because in space there’s no sound, it didn’t work in the game’s favor. It was more annoying than anything else. And finally, the controls, while not bad by any means, were sometimes a hassle. This was more apparent on the PS4 than XB1. It just felt like the sticks on each system moved the characters a little bit differently than on the other. Not a huge difference, but I felt something was off switching back and forth. If you don’t plan on doing that, you likely won’t find much issue in that department.
Aside from any of the nitpicks and unfortunate realities of the game, I did have fun with Organic Panic! and everything the game had to offer. The load times were good, the colorful graphics kept things engaging visually, and the fun lasted to the end, wanting to punch a wall sometimes, included. You’re likely not going to find your game of the year here, but you certainly won’t find a dud, either. If you’re into physics based games or just puzzle games in general, you’ll find fun playing with your food, even though we’re constantly told as kids not to.
Organic Panic! is out now for $14.99 on PlayStation 4 and will be released on Xbox One 4/1/16. Codes were provided by Last Limb Games for the purpose of this review.