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Downstream Panic! - hands-on

As Downstream Panic! begins, a cyclone comes out of nowhere and sucks up all the tiny fish in the ocean, leaving behind a bunch of angry, hungry and exceptionally ugly creatures. As a good Samaritan it's your job to guide the little fish back to the ocean, hopefully without getting eaten on the way. You'll have access to a wide assortment (but limited supply) of tools to accomplish this task, ranging from bombs and harpoons to fans and flowers, and while it might seem easy at first - considering all you really need to do is make sure the fish float happily down odd-shaped hills toward the ocean - it’s anything but.

Each level begins with a stream of fish falling out of a bubble-shaped tank in the sky, gradually making their way down to the ocean. Random obstacles stand in their way, like unwanted plants, creepy flamingoes and other animals that like to eat seafood. As your fish make their way from the top of the screen to the bottom, your goal is to clear and/or create a nice path for them to make it back into the open ocean without falling into the gaping maw of Jaws (although it’s amusing when they do, since each fish lets out a pitiful cry and then explodes in a burst of blood).

Like in Lemmings, your input is limited to moving a cursor around and selecting and activating different tools, which vary from stage to stage. Before each level begins, you can take a look at what lies ahead and try to figure out whether you need to bomb a nook or plant a flower to prevent the fish from spilling over the wrong hill. Even with careful planning, though, you’ll find that the fish can surprise you and swim in the opposite direction you thought they would. And because your fish move a lot faster than your cursor can, it's hard to correct your mistakes in a hurry. The water flows rather quickly as well, and it has a tendency to build up in crevices, so you'll need to move fast to stay on top of things.

Everything about Downstream Panic! is delightful and happy, with a smiling sun, googly eyed fish, fluttering butterflies and blooming flowers rendered in bright colors. The game plays and looks remarkably like a vertical version of Lemmings, right down to the mildly sadistic thrill of watching cute things explode, so puzzle game fans have something to look forward to when the game hits stores next month.

Jan 21, 2008

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