Downstream Panic Hands-On
Lemmings and LocoRoco collide as we check out this colorful PSP puzzle game from Eko Software.
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Currently scheduled for release early in February, Downstream Panic is an environmentally friendly puzzle game in which you assume the role of a conservationist attempting to guide fish and other small sea creatures back to the ocean. The ocean can be found at the bottom of each level, the aquatic life starts at the top, and there are all manner of puzzles and predators in between the two, which makes it impossible for gravity to simply do your work for you. We recently had an opportunity to play through the first 20 or so levels of Downstream Panic, and we're pleased to report that its blend of Lemmings-style gameplay and LocoRoco-style visuals and audio really sucked us in.
Every level in Downstream Panic kicks off with 100 small aquatic creatures being poured gradually from one or more goldfish-bowl-like containers at the top of the level. The water that the creatures are trapped in moves quite realistically as gravity attempts to pull it down to the ocean, and you'll have only a very limited toolset with which to attempt to control the flow. Exactly which tools you'll have at your disposal, and how many, varies with each level, and to date our arsenal has included only four different items: bombs, plants, fans, and harpoons.
Bombs are used to blow up chunks of the landscape, plants grow instantly into vertical walls, fans are used to blow away clouds (we've yet to encounter these) and to activate wind-powered switches for bridges and the like, and harpoons can be thrown at predators. The upper echelons of Downstream Panic's food chain are home to birds (which will fly away if they get too wet), sharks (which are often beached at the outset, but are deadly if they end up in your water), and what we think are piranhas (which, needless to say, are also best avoided).
In addition to your small arsenal of tools, many of Downstream Panic's level designs incorporate objects and switches that you can interact with. Windmills and waterwheels are often used to activate bridges, while seashells act as faucets with which you can turn the flow of water on or off at certain points. Furthermore, these objects come in a variety of flavors as indicated by their color. For example, you can turn some seashells on and off simply by pointing at them and pressing the X button, but others are programmed to switch on and off at regular intervals.
To beat a level you'll generally be required to rescue between 75 and 95 of your 100 fish, and we've found that there are typically a number of ways to approach doing that. Risk-versus-reward gameplay comes in the form of gold and silver coins scattered throughout each level. Collecting any of the coins, let alone all of them, often means taking a more risky route through the level or at least carefully timing parts of your creatures' descent so that pools of water fill up enough for them to reach the coins. That sometimes means waiting around for a while with nothing to do, which is presumably why Eko Software went to the trouble of letting you speed up time simply by holding down the triangle button.
In story mode, which is the only mode available the first time you play Downstream Panic, the coins that you collect aren't really used for anything. Once you unlock the free play mode and can revisit levels that you've beaten, though, you can use your money to purchase additional tools that will make it easier for you to improve your score or collect the remaining coins from those levels. Downstream Panic also boasts a survival mode, but at the time of writing we've yet to unlock it, so we're not entirely sure how it works. Expect some information on that in our full review next month.