When I first saw the digital box art for Organic Panic on Xbox One, I wondered what the hell I had let myself in for.
Admittedly the bright and bold colour scheme was delightful to look at, but I had absolutely no idea what to expect. Carrots, cherries, cheese, coconuts? They certainly weren’t the first C words I was thinking about! I’ve been gaming for the best part of 40 years and am seriously struggling to ever recall having to take charge of such a madcap group of fruit and vegetables, putting them into battle across various puzzling scenarios in order to come out as top dog to the meat and cheese empire.
I mean, who the hell comes up with this stuff? How much alcohol did they need to down in order to think this was a good idea? Were Last Limb on something immensely stronger?
But hey, perhaps we’ve all got to try something a little different at times.
And boy am I glad I did as Organic Panic is a lovely little game that brings some great puzzling action to the table.
The story goes something along these lines (if you can call it that); the evil Baby Cheese has total control over the meat and cheese empire, giving orders to technologically advanced weapon bearing meats as they attempt to rid the world of the lovely fruit and vegetables. It is up to you, as Commander of the fruit and veg squadron, to help the good guys make their way past the evil doers, get to safety and to save the world. At least it’s something like that.
Your team of fruit and veg consists of four characters. Cherry is the leader of the bunch and quite possibly the best all rounder. Small and fast, as long as she picks up the required magic points along the way, can blast her way through whatever she stands on. Destruction is where she is in her element and with a special tunneling power, can create havoc at will. Kiwi comes to life whenever the delightful water physics in Organic Panic come into play. Filling the screen with the blue stuff, drowning enemies in the process is nothing short of brilliant and allows for a huge degree of strategy in your quest of reaching each level’s portal. Whilst the early levels will see both Cherry and Kiwi take charge, once they’ve found and rescued Carrot, all hell breaks loose. Kitted out with a fire ball, Carrot will happily turn everything that he touches into fire, breaking it down into a smouldering wreck as he attempts to remove the meat and cheese from his life. Finally, the fourth member of our heroic team is Coconut. He’s a much more passive character who prefers to spend his time flying around, levitating things and using gravity control as a way of helping the other fellas out. As individuals, Team Fruit and Veg are solid workhorses, but combine them together and you’ll come across a team that compliments itself brilliantly and allows for various methods of ‘success’.
In their way though are the evil meat and cheese. The baddies will come with rapid fire uzis, throwable TNT sticks, powerful rocket attacks and more as they prowl the land looking to wipe out any fruit and veg that they happen to stumble upon. It is up to you to help your team reach the safety of the level portals, earning as many points and medals as you can. Whether you spend time just concentrating on making it to the end, or prefer to fight it out and ridding each stage of the evil before you do so, it is up to you. The more actions you complete though, the shinier your medal will be.
Now, if it was just a case of trying to help your team make their way to the nearest portal and scarper out of there, then things wouldn’t be overly interesting. Thankfully, Last Limb have filled each and every stage with a ton of environmental hazards which will, depending on how you look at them, get in your way, or help you out massively. Not only is each and every part of each stage fully destructible (dependent on gaining the requisite special powers of course), but the inclusion of mushrooms ready to spring your guys into action, portal disrupters, laser guns or land mines ensure that each playthrough could, in theory, be completely different. Of course, you’ll also find a ton of handy switches ready to be pulled throughout – but what will they do? Well, you’ll only find out by hitting them but chances they will be able to help you play around with the environment to suit.
Include the main gameplay elements of fully physical water, lava lakes which will set things on fire, acid pools to help disintegrate even the most stubborn of materials and highly flammable oil and you’ll quickly see that Organic Panic isn’t the cutesy puzzler that you first expect. In fact, it’s much deeper, and a lot more wicked, then it would have you believe.
And whilst the puzzles that are in place will have you racking your brain for the optimum strategy, there is also the added complication of needing to use weapons to help you get through. Unfortunately this is where Organic Panic falls short as the control system is just way too erratic. With the right stick used for moving your team around AND deciding on where your guys fire their magical weapons, all to often you’ll find that Team Fruit plummet to their death or the wayward shooting causes destruction in the least prime positions. A simple change of control scheme would have been very beneficial and it is a strange call by Last Limb to try and combine both mechanics onto the one stick.
Strangely, for something that so heavily relies on a great physics engine, there are also times when things go a bit astray. You’ll find your fruit pinging themselves off of iron girders for no known reason, and wooden branches that have fallen into water will happily spring around like a jack in the box. Now, at times, these slightly dodgy elements will help you in your quest, but at others? – well, it all becomes a little annoying to say the least. It’s obviously great when the physics engine goes nuts and takes out a piece of meat or cheese, but similarly all too often these strange matters see the end of your fruity guys… normally at the most inopportune moment.
If you find yourself completing everything in the standard campaign, and that includes everything in the Twisted bonus mode (believe me, if you want to gold medal everything you’re going to be there for some time), then it could well be time to grab a friend, plonk yourselves on the sofa and check out the wide range of co-op puzzles in place. Whilst many of these work for two players, there are also options in place for three and four players to keep busy. There are a ton of levels for you to get working together on and it’s good to see the developers paying as much attention to the cooperative side of things (albeit local co-op) as they have done with the solo adventure.
However, whilst the puzzling cooperative side of things is welcome, I’m not entirely sure the versus mode is needed quite so much. Personally, I would have preferred Last Lamb to have concentrated fully on the puzzle mechanics but they’ve given a versus deathmatch system a go and it does the job which is intended of it – if you like that kind of thing. It’s fast paced and all a bit manic as you fight it out to the death against local friends in levels that are full with multiple pickups bringing special powers, invincibility and more. Scanning the lay of the land in order to try and work out the best way of killing your opponent is essential, but hang around for too long and you’ll be nothing more than a crushed cherry. Versus mode has quite obviously been put in place as a bit of a tacked on addition, but if you’ve got some local friends to hand and want to move away from the brain taxing elements, then you may as well check it out. It’s not on anywhere near the level of the single or multiplayer puzzle challenges though.
After first being shocked at the whole idea, Organic Panic turns out to be a somewhat delightful game. Yes there are issues, but if you are in the market for a new puzzler and want something that is clever, original and pretty taxing, then it is quite clearly the game for you. But you’ll have to be ready to put up with the occasional strange physical problem and a fair amount of frustrating shooting inaccuracies whilst you do so. Resetting a level isn’t the end of the world though.
Still, Organic Panic may just be the one digital game you didn’t realise you had to play…if only for the brain teasing elements that make up its backbone.
Cherry, Kiwi, Carrot and Coconut demand it.