Fruits and vegetables versus meats and cheeses. It’s a bitter and caustic rivalry – if Organic Panic developer Last Limb is to be believed. In this action puzzle platformer you are firmly on the side of the five-a-day mob, no matter where your personal preference may lie, and must navigate a series of increasing tricky levels to defeat your tasty, tasty foes.
We love action platformers – they generally offer the kind of lightning-reflex-powered twitch gameplay so reminiscent of the challenging gaming experiences of our youth. This is a genre distilled so perfectly in Super Meat Boy, a tough-as-nails 2010 platformer that found fame through documentary Indie Game: The Movie, and by being brilliant.
We love, too, puzzle platformers. Braid is one of the finest games of all time, not just one of the finest platformers – and it’s gentle time-bending mechanics had us stretching the old grey matter.
Put the two genres together and you have the perfect platformer, it would seem. Quite possibly, but Organic Panic is not that game. It is, though, cartoonish and fun and devilishly hard on occasion – a fun distraction for a few hours.
In the Organic Panic universe, a rebellion has begun. Quashed under the despotic rule of meats and cheeses, now is the time for our vitamin-packed friends to fight back. Taking control of four fruity heroes – cherry, carrot, kiwi or coconut, you must rampage through over 200 levels (across multiple game modes), destroying enemies, grabbing jewels and escaping each level through the purple portal.
Billed – during its original 2013 Kickstarter – as a cross between Worms (we can see that) and Little Big Planet (err…) Organic Panic features destructible environments and realistic fluid dynamics – both traits you’ll need to master to gold-star every level. Gold stars are awarded for escaping every level having collected the (usually) hard-to reach purple jewel and vanquishing all enemies to boot.
You’ll need to dispose of your meat and dairy foes in a variety of interesting ways – direct combat won’t always go well for your vegetable vanquishers, but each has a special ability that will come in handy. The cherry can fire a stream of seeds that can chew through scenery elements – perhaps felling a tree on your hapless enemies, whilst Mr Kiwi can fire a jet of water. Meats and cheeses can’t swim, obviously, leaving the slightly disturbing sight of a ribeye steak struggling for breath and then drowning. The carrot is a master of flame, whilst our nutty coconut buddy can move objects with the power of his mind.
Your enemies aren’t exactly defenceless. They’re a boxing-glove wearing, shotgun wielding, rocket launching, Uzi toting motley assortment.
These powers must be used sparingly though. As if a world of walking, talking, running, jumping vegetables wasn’t enough of a hint, your protagonists are powered by magic, and each level has a finite supply to collect. Every now and then you’ll come across a larger cache of magic which enables a time-limited special power. Cherry can burrow through the scenery of example, or Kiwi can turn himself into water and flow around the level to reach previously inaccessible areas.
It’s the combinations of powers – and the finite resources used to power them – that gives Organic Panic its puzzle element. You can’t just flood an entire level as Kiwi, for example, and then swim to the jewel and the exit. Instead, you must make use of the scenery and your limited magical supply to carefully pick your moments. Run there, jump over that patrolling pork chop, turn, blast a hole in that overhanging basin and watch the water flow into the reservoir below, drowning old porky. Get it wrong, though, and you’ll find yourself mobbed by meats, or stuck in an inaccessible location. Time to restart the level, and try a different approach.
As well as working out solutions to progress, you’ll need to make sure your leaps are pixel perfect and your timing spot on. It’s no use knowing where you need to be and what you need to do on each level if your attempts are thwarted by your own ham-fistery. It’s here that, for us, the game doesn’t quite gel – we’d have loved for the action element to be toned down a little and the puzzles (mostly easily solvable) to be beefed up.
There’s real scope here – Last Limb’s DAFT (Destructible and Fluid Technology) Engine is a powerful tool and we would have liked to have seen how it fares in creating some real mind-bending puzzles rather than just casual conundrums. Later levels up the challenge by forcing you to switch between characters (and so their abilities) on the fly – it’s the action element that gets trickier, rather than the puzzles. In doing so the developers have in no way opted for an easy path – this is absolutely a valid design choice – but we can’t help feeling that failing to explore some of the options DAFT opens up is a missed opportunity.
This slight incongruity aside, Organic Panic is still an enjoyably quirky and fun experience. Presentation is stylish and cartoony, and each of the protagonists has real charm and personality. It’s not hard to warm to your fruity friends and you’ll feel genuine – though brief – sorrow when they’re pummeled, squished, or plunged to their doom. An instant (no loading!) restart is only a button press away, though. If you get truly stuck on a level, you can skip and move on to the next. You have five skips to play with, so use them sparingly. Complete a previously skipped level and you’ll get one of your skips back.
With over 200 levels across all the game modes there’s a solid 8-10 hours of game here – more if you’re an obsessive gold star collector. With a range of different environments – forests, beaches, lava words – things never get stale visually, but the game can feel a little repetitive in nature at time. But throw in some co-operative (couch) multiplayer and a challenge mode to beat once you’ve cracked the story and there’s certainly bang for your buck.
When things get repetitive it’s the character and quirky story that will see you through. With comic book frames fleshing out the narrative between worlds, Last Limb have taken every opportunity to inject humour and food-based puns into every aspect of the game. The emergent nature of the gameplay will provoke real laugh out loud moments, too – usually when best laid plans go awry and your poor fruit and veg are squished in some comical, yet realistically physical, fashion.
Smoothies all ’round, then.
Organic Panic is available now in the Xbox Store priced £11.99.
Last Limb provided us with a copy of Organic Panic for review purposes.
Wit and charm will see you through in a game that doesn't always gel perfectly.
If you are looking for a fun platformer that will test your reflexes as well as your brain Organic Panic, fruits of developer Last Limb’s labour, should certainly be on your short list. Cartoonishly fun and ridiculously over the top, Organic Panic‘s quirky story and cutesy characterisation will see you through those moments that don’t quite hit the spot.
Special mention has to go to the dynamic physics effects – especially when liquid is concerned – that help lift this game above many of its peers. Good job, Last Limb.