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Polar Panic

A chilly puzzler that leaves us a little cold

Polar Panic's like Bomberman. Let's get that out of the way. It's basically Bomberman but with a Polar Bear. But to get into some kind of overly critical comparison here would probably be the wrong move.

Polar Panic is an independently developed Xbox Live puzzler. It's basic, it's light, it looks solid and it's colourful (okay, mostly blue and white).

It'll cost you 800 points (£6.80) on Xbox Live and will last for a couple of days sustained play, if that. Expect anything more than a bit of light-hearted fun with this game, and you're going to be disappointed.


The only real question then is: "Is it fun?" The short answer is yes, but only for a while.

As Polar the Polar Bear, you take it upon yourself to save your family, friends and general habitat from the evil Mr. Biggs, who wants to pave your winter paradise and put up a parking lot.

Each level consists of a maze of ice and snow blocks and handful of Bigg's 'Trappers'. The Trappers are armed with clubs, guns, flamethrowers and freeze-rays and are out to get you.

The objective is to get Polar from one end of the maze to another, but the exit only becomes available once all the Trappers are dead. To make sure this happens you have to bash through soft blocks of snow, which act simply as obstacles, and either smash blocks of ice or slide them across the ground into the enemy like a massive hockey puck of death.

The fun comes in racking up combos; kill a long line of Trappers one after the other, or better yet with the same block, and you'll get more points - and it is immensely satisfying.

In later levels you'll also have to take out complete igloos or huts, which the Trappers keep emerging from. Darting around the ice, dodging clubs and dispatching icy vengeance will eventually start to flow, making you feel like a winter ninja. Couple this with crates of dynamite which explode upon impact and you could be on the way to a nicely varied game.

The problem is that the surprises run out fast. Even after the first few levels (there are 50 in total) you start to realise that there's very little progression. One map is very much like the other and the concept never really evolves.

The game's difficulty spikes rather than builds only adding to the frustration: One level could take half an hour to beat - with only a flash of God-sent ability (read: luck) getting you through on your 11th try - while the next might fall into place in a matter of seconds.

On each level there are a number of opportunities to gain extra points by rescuing fellow bears trapped in cages, but you'll find yourself rushing through stages, doing just enough.

Polar Panic is fun at the very start and there's no denying that developers Eiconic have created something strangely compulsive.

The basic mechanics are addictive, then - and make for decent XBLA fare.

But, eventually, the repetitive level design, single narrow objective and difficulty curve like a mountain range will freeze your enthusiasm for this icy puzzler.

The verdict

A fun, lightweight puzzler that's lacking longevity.

Xbox Live Arcade