You’ve got to feel for Everglow Interactive Inc, the developers of Party Panic. They started with a solid notion for a party game: take the local-co-op festival atmosphere of Mario Party but skew the games to suit the stereotype of an Xbox gamer – wackier, more adult, perhaps with influences from Total Wipeout and Takeshi’s Castle. And rather than the cuddly characters of the Mario universe, add in some colourful ragdolls that gurn and fly about whenever they’re hit. No brainer, right?
Honestly, I can’t think of a more devastating one-two-uppercut to Party Panic than the launch of Fall Guys and a global pandemic.
It’s not as if, as a reviewer, you can ignore it: so many of the games here are near-direct lifts from Fall Guys, and have been done better. There are games where you jump over an increasingly rapid swingball; where you run over platforms that fall away and leave less room for others to run; where you dodge careening boulders down a cliff. It’s not as if they’ve been copied – Party Panic has been in development too long for that to be the case – they’re just drawing from the same influences and coming up with the same conclusions. But Fall Guys has been a cultural phenomenon and Party Panic, well, hasn’t.
Then you have the pandemic. As reviewers we have struggled to review local co-op games. It’s not easy to grab a room of mates and give games a solid runthrough, at least enough for a fair review. So what does that say about the appetite for local co-op play around the world? Sure, there will be families that will lap this up over lockdown, but the market could only have shrunk for any potential local co-op game.
So we come to Party Panic… poor Party Panic. Let’s try to observe the silver linings: Fall Guys isn’t out on Xbox One (yet), so there’s still a market to monopolise in the meantime. Plus, there are online multiplayer modes available in Party Panic. There is still hope.
The first impressions of Party Panic are great. It absolutely nails the waiting room, for one. From now on, I ONLY want to play games where I ragdoll around a front room while kicking couches into each other players’ faces. Sure, games like Fortnite have done something similar with their waiting rooms, but Party Panic just makes the whole process so silly. I’m not ashamed to say that my family stayed in the waiting room for a good half hour, switching out the hats on our characters and pummeling each other into television sets.
Then there’s the sheer wealth of game modes that are immediately on offer. As a family, we’re converts to Mario Party – it’s almost a weekly religion for us – and Party Panic offers more variety within its game options. Sure, there’s the stuff you’d expect – custom playlists for games, randomised minigames, a Mario Party board game mode – but it’s the stuff we didn’t expect that added heft to the package.
There’s Gauntlet, for one, which plays out like Total Wipeout. The starting pistol fires, and you’ve got to wend your way through a grueling obstacle course of spike traps, spinning pummels and bouncing balls. The best time wins, so it’s a kind of pass-the-pad scenario. This was fun for a go or two, but some sections are so disproportionally punishing that the kids had no chance, and the adults got stuck multiple times (there should have been an option to forfeit an obstacle for a time cost). It’s a shame, as the emphasis should have been on throwaway fun here.
Luckily, fun is in supply in the Adventure Mode. This is an open sandbox of stuff, sticky-tacked together for large groups to explore. You’ll wander from the starting castle into arenas made for emergent gaming – there’s one where the floor-is-lava, while another has platforms that drop away. Then you move further out from these arenas and come across a town. Collectibles are on the buildings, and hoops linger in the sky, begging you to jump/fly/drive through. It’s a playbox, and you’ll be collaborating on what ramp or building will be needed to get them. I appreciate that this section is less a ‘drunk with mates’ good time, and better suited to families – we loved it.
For many, the meat and potatoes of a party game are the minigames, the game boards, and the opportunities to lord it over your mates from the top of the podium. Does Party Panic get these right?
Yes and no, but mostly no. I don’t think there’s ever been a party game that’s managed to have anything more than a 70/30 hit-rate on the minigames it’s included, but I would say that Party Panic falls shorter than most.
Let’s start with the good. There are 33 games here, so there’s no skimping, particularly being something of a budget title in comparison to Mario Party. Almost all of them are worth trying once, and some are killer. Our rotation of good minigames includes Avalanche, where you jump down platforms to avoid a snowy death; Plinko Panic, where you jump around in the bottom of a pachinko machine; and Spike Scramble, which is similar to The Wall, where you’ll have to compete for the limited gaps within spiked barriers. I’d say there are 12 or so you’ll want to play again, which is the lower end of what you’d need for a playlist.
There are a few reasons why the other minigames don’t land. Party Panic is determined to chuck combat into games that don’t really need them. It wouldn’t be an issue if the combat was satisfying, but it absolutely isn’t: mashing X and Y will occasionally generate an attack, and the game rolls a dice to see whether you or your opponent hits. It’s so splashy. More heinously, get hit and you’ll lie there stunned for far, far longer than you should. I counted three seconds before my goober got back up again, and in minigames of 60 seconds or so, it can put you right out of competition. There’s one minigame that’s almost pure combat, and we groaned whenever we got it.
Other minigames play a bit loose with RNG. A game called Wacky Whale lines you up near the mouth of a whale and then asks you to run into the camera, dodging the Klax-like boxes that wend their way towards you. The RNG decided that the first line of boxes would hit three out of the four players, and there was only enough time for one player to squeeze through the gap. Game done.
Controls can be a bit odd and imprecise (Slippery Sprint is Micro Machines on an ice rink, and is less fun than it sounds). I think we’re all done with Track & Field-style button mashing games too, so Ruined Ruins got dumped out of the rotation immediately. Other games are one-and-out situations where you can be dumped out in milliseconds, yet have nothing to do with the remaining time. It’s not unusual to have games like that in a collection, but there was a greater proportion than we’d have liked, and the kids grew restless.
The custom game mode allows you to cull the chaff, obviously, but we would have loved to do the same with the other modes; playing the Mario Party-style board game will use the full rotation, for example. There’s a Drinking Game Mode that asked absolutely everyone to drink after each minigame, which wasn’t quite as nuanced as I hoped it would be. It should also be noted that while online play is offered, I only managed to get one game from thirty-minutes of trying, so it might not be the planned silver lining.
There’s a lot to love in Party Panic. It’s garish and hilarious, and there’s so much value in its many game modes and 33 minigames. But boil away the more ramshackle of them and you’re left with a solid dozen, all of which have been done – and better – in Mario Party. For the affordable price, and for the opportunity to have a mid-tier party game on the Xbox One, that might be enough. For others, it might be worth waiting at the window for Fall Guys to come to the party.