Review: Planet Pachinko (WiiWare)

Can you really ever have too much of a good thing?

You have to admit, a shooting/platforming game that takes place inside of a Japanese pachinko machine is indeed an original concept. Not only do you get all of the chaotic action of the pachinko balls dropping down through the various pegs in each level, but you find yourself smack dab in the middle of it all, armed to the teeth with just about every type of firepower you can imagine. On paper the idea is appealing -- especially for those who like their games really intense -- but once you dive inside of Planet Pachinko you quickly learn that you have to be careful what you wish for. While sometimes less is more; sometimes more is too much.

There are basically two modes of play in Planet Pachinko. The single player campaign is fairly straight-forward and allows you to progress through each level one right after another in a solo effort. If you want to spice things up a bit, you can even bring in a second player in a co-op type mode that allows the two of you to play each level together. If you thought the single-player mode was intense, wait until you get a second player in on the action. The co-op mode doesn't bring a lot of new ideas to the table, but it does make clearing the levels a bit easier in the long run. The game also features an "Extra" selection where you can go in at any time and view the animals, ship parts, and high scores you've accumulated throughout the regular game.

The gameplay is about what you'd expect from a game like this. You take control of a host of interesting robotic characters, each with their own unique firepower and melee attacks, and begin the game with three available characters. As one character loses their entire life bar, the next character will drop down for you to assume control of. Each character has two basic types of projectile attack. You can unlock new types of firepower as you progress through the game and then you can switch your character's weapons to find the one that best suits your current needs. Each character also has a special unique weapon that is more powerful, but generally more difficult to effectively use. You can even make use of various combinations of regular and special weapons to form even more varieties of firepower called "Combo Weapons." Part of the strategy is experimenting with the various combinations to find the one that works best in each situation. Each character even has a melee attack than can be triggered with a quick shake of the Wii Remote for those times when those shiny pachinko balls get too close for comfort. Three different control schemes are available, including holding the Wii Remote sideways, using the Wii Remote and Nunchuk combo, or hooking up the Wii Classic Controller. The control system you choose depends entirely on personal preference.

Your goal in each level is to eliminate a set number of pachinko balls. While this might sound fairly easy, this objective has a few catches. For starters you'll have to avoid the exploding pachinko balls as they fall down towards the bottom of the screen and the cup that's randomly located in each level. If the balls make it into the cups, they'll turn into robotic enemies that will then try to attack you. This makes it important to try to take out the pachinko balls as quickly as possible before they have a chance to hit the cups and morph into foes. As you destroy these balls, they'll give off yellow and green Space Jelly that you can collect, some of which will even replenish life on your health bar. So while your ultimate goal is to destroy the barrage of pachinko balls in each level, you'll also have to allot some time to collecting the green Space Jelly if you're to have any hope of surviving the later levels. It's this mounting list of things to do in the already insanely intense action that begins to inject a few complications into Planet Pachinko's gameplay design.

Even in extremely intense games like the bullet hell shooters, there's always that very slight semblance of control among all the rampant chaos going on around you. It's that sense of command that seems to be missing from Planet Pachinko's often overwhelming system. Just when you start to get in the slightest groove, the game throws something else at you that brings everything crashing down. It tends to make you feel detached from the game itself, almost as if you don't have control over what's going on around you. The loose controls don't help matters much either; while the game offers up a huge amount of firepower variety, many of the special weapons don’t feel particularly "special" and they often prove to be fairly useless in the overall scheme of things, especially given the limited range of many of the different types of firepower. Even the melee attack that you can pull off by shaking the Wii Remote do not provide much additional help; you'll spend the majority of your time just aimlessly shooting in the faint hope of actually hitting some of the tiny pachinko balls before they come dropping down on top of you. In all honesty, the gameplay system could have used some tightening up here and there, especially given how hectic the action is.

The visuals in Planet Pachinko are as odd as you'd expect from a game with its title. If you've ever had experience with a Japanese pachinko game, you'll instantly recognize the layout and design of the levels (or "tables" as they could be called). Each basically takes place inside of what looks like a pachinko machine. In each stage you'll find pachinko balls, pegs, platforms, and the cups that catch the pachinko balls. There's quite a bit of colour variation in each level and the designs tend to change quite a bit from level to level so you’re unlikely to see the same layout twice. The flat 2D look of the game might turn some gamers off who are expecting a little more visual flash like that found in other WiiWare titles like World or Goo or LostWinds, but given the overall theme of the game, it's hard to fault its visual design.

The music would have to be Planet Pachinko's strongest asset. Many of the tracks sound like they were plucked straight out of a 1970's television show. All of the trademark disco-like sound effects and thumping drum beats are intact and as silly as it might sound, they all seem to sound right at home among the pachinko-themed levels. If you're lucky enough to own a good sound system, you'll immediately hear the benefits when you begin playing this game. About the only complaint that could be levelled against the game is that these catchy tunes tend to fade into the background during the levels and become inadvertently drowned out by all of the gunfire and explosions going on. A setting adjustment would have been nice to allow the player to adjust the volume of the background music and sound effects.

Conclusion

Planet Pachinko isn't necessarily a terrible game, it just has too many balls in the air at once. The pachinko theme is unique, and you certainly can't fault the developer for trying to make the game as intense as possible, but there's a fine line between intense and out-of-control and Planet Pachinko seems to have crossed that line. If you can round up a second player to go at the game in co-op mode, you'll certainly have an easier time clearing the levels in the game, but if you decide to go it alone, you'd better gear up for the fight of your life. Planet Pachinko is a nice attempt at something unique and different for the WiiWare service, but most gamers are likely to find the gameplay a bit too overwhelming to get any type of long-term enjoyment out of the game.