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Games time forgot: Panic!

4:00 PM on 04.22.2009
Games time forgot: Panic! photo

Every Wednesday, we highlight rarely-remembered but interesting games for our "Games Time Forgot" series.

As much as most current gamers seem to adore the quirky games from Japan that seldom grace foreign shores, the public at large still don't seem to fall in love with their charms. If a game is inherently wacky and largely influenced by Japanese culture, it is more often than not a financial failure once localized to be sold to crowds such as the Americans. The average person's tolerance for wackiness in videogames has slowly gotten better over the years, but even games like the beloved Katamari Damacy series are not nearly as widespread as they ought to be due to a lack of complete openness to the weird and foreign from many English speaking people.

Panic!, a game for the Sega CD that is known as Switch in its native land, is one of these types of games. Even today, it is still far too quirky for its own good, mostly due to the fact that everything from the Japanese version remained intact in the English version. The game involves sitting through many bizarre cutscenes that feature things like the Mona Lisa turning into a wolfman and a robotic female pig that shoots missiles out of her teats.

This game was released in 1994, a time where the Western localization process still largely involved the process of changing the art and sprites to make them look less Asian. Needless to say, not many Westerners "got" what Panic! had to offer them, making it a fairly obscure title to this day.

Story: In the world of Panic!, a super virus has infected the global computer network service, which in turn spread the virus to everything else in the world. This virus doesn't just wreak havoc on computers, but everything imaginable: washing machines, works of art, cars, and even the weather are infected. The world's only hope for a return to normalcy lies with an anti-virus program known as "Panic!". Unfortunately, this program has an incredibly complicated system that requires someone to activate it via a a button located on or around every single infected item.
As a young boy who becomes trapped in his television after his Sega CD acts up (presumably due to the virus), you will set forth on a quest to push all of the correct buttons in order to get to the computer network server, fully activate Panic!, and rid literally everything in the world of the super virus.

Gameplay: Panic! is a very simple game set in a labyrinth of unrelated, wacky scenes. You enter a scene, pick a button, press it, and watch what happens. Each button you press will give you a different animation as a result. Sometimes, your choice will move you to the next area in the Panic! sequence. Other times, you will be moved back a scene. There are yet other instances where the scene that you get from the button you've pressed is just a funny random thing to watch that does nothing at all.

Like I said, it's a very simple game.

Why you're probably not playing it: The game is perhaps a little too simple. Its minimalistic gameplay makes it questionable as to whether or not this game can really be considered a game at all. It is mostly comprised of watching what happens after you choose a button, which is fun in its own right, but can be considered pretty dull by someone looking for an experience where they can be more involved in what happens to their character.
As stated earlier, Panic! was considered much too weird to be widely successful. The Western world was not quite ready for animals on stilts, snow turning into poop, and Thomas Edison's head on a baby in 1994. Not to mention that it's a Sega CD game, which counts for about a third of the nails in the game's coffin. But the game would have probably still failed if it had been released for a more popular console.

Most of the visuals, although a little crude, are hand drawn. All of the sounds are man made. The game literally offers hundreds of scenes, as can be seen in the videos throughout this post, making each playthrough of Panic! a different experience. The gameplay is simple and not at all immersive, yet somehow interesting. All of these little touches add up to something interesting, but whether or not the game is actually worth digging up from the sands of time is completely up to the individual.
In my humble opinion, most of the best aspects of the game are existant due to the complete lack of Westernization that took place when Data East USA brought the game to the Sega CD. Even the above scene, which has the boy character trapped in the Japanese BIOS for the Mega CD, went unchanged in the American version of the game. Panic! symbolizes just how much of an impact local culture can have on a game's content, and how this can lead to confusion, misunderstandings, and sometimes complete failure when there is an attempt made to market it to people from a different culture.

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