EIM’s action platformer might be cute and bubbly on the outside but still offers a relatively exacting yet simple experience. In this edition of Retro Game Anamnesis, we will be taking a bite-sized peek inside the kitchen to see how this chef serves up cuisine fit for a gamer.
Title: Panic Restaurant (Wanpaku Kokkun no Gourmet World)
Release Year: 1992 (April 1992 JPN / October 1992 NA)
SIMPLE AND UNEXPECTED FUN
One of my favorite things about video games from the 80’s-90’s is that they are simple in scope and concept. Instead of having heroes lineup on a quest to save the world or a team of badass soldiers bringing wanton destruction wherever they roam, you can also have tales of some guy just trying to get his restaurant back. In this case, the protagonist Cookie gets knocked unconscious by raining foodstuff and now must traverse his own restaurant and break it free from the clutches of Hors d’oeuvre and his curse. Quick to give it a “C” for effort, but an “A+” for the concept and overall quirkiness, the immediate gratification makes itself apparent from the minute you leave the opening start menu. After all, someone has to get this restaurant back in order as I imagine the Yelp reviews for cursed food walking around is not at all favorable. Surprised the gaming equivalent of a health inspector hasn’t shutdown the joint.
As a platformer, Panic Restaurant is about as plain and basic as it gets. That’s not to say it is boring. If anything, the plain and uninspired nature is it’s the greatest strength: luring unsuspecting players into a mildly challenging gauntlet of obstacles once their guard is down. Predictable enemy placement, wild boss attack patterns, and dire power-ups seemingly out of reach are all apart of the menu as with most games of the era. With plenty of working against you, Panic Restaurant still wants you to enjoy yourself and does make sure you are ready for whatever comes your way such as spawning power-ups to help you get through stages (if you don’t lose them from taking damage) as well as recovery items before bosses or various junctures where they might be needed. The result is a creamy yet flavorful soup that is adequate enough to satiate a roaring stomach and kill the boredom tastebuds are subjected to through everyday meals. Translation: It is a fun game like any other so you should go play it. How is that for a review?
TURN ON THE CHARM
Let’s just get something out the way: this game is cute. From the generic looking enemies being the stuff of nightmares to someone on a diet to the dopey looking main character, it would be hard to say otherwise. While it doesn’t ooze charm like Bubble Bobble or Zupapa (I will be covering both, especially the latter in the near future), it still has enough lingering around to feel it. Stage design is another fairly accurate example: colorful and thematic levels that pour every ounce of allure into vibrant death traps as set dressing in disguise. Heck, even the death animation for Cookie is humorously unsettling as he spins around before falling on his back with an upturned leg twitching. It probably won’t be nearly what it takes to tame the feelings of more discerning eagle-eye players, but for me, the game just screams delightful and pleasant tidings. After all, how many times can you say that you died to flying toast in a game?
Of course, the design isn’t the only part of the charm offensive. Stiff and imposing in size, Cookie is not exactly a platforming hero. Heck, he has Mario beat and that guy has more girth than a school bus. However, once you get into a rhythm of systematically taking down foes and progressing, the moment-to-moment gameplay just feels right. And with mini-games after and hidden in stages, that calculated and steady style of play is still rewarded as much as the speed and score obsessed. All things considered, Panic Restaurant is not a one size fits all game, but serves up amusement to anyone seeking it out regardless of skill level. Just make sure you come in on an empty stomach and your game face on. Are these food analogies getting a bit stale? Sorry, I simply couldn’t resist doing that…
A LEGACY UNFORTGOTTEN
Granted that Panic Restaurant will probably never be mentioned alongside its other platforming peers and most likely be forgotten as time marches onward, it is still a game that has much to be proud of and indicative of a time where such titles are becoming increasingly more common, yet lacking the quality and polish. Much to the credit of lead designer Kenji Eno, best known as the survival horror game “D” and few other projects that shifted the paradigm of gaming, while I wouldn’t say the genre is his wheelhouse, he still did a marvelous job giving this one the attention it needed to keep away from the many generic options that had run of the market. According to some sources, this also appears to be EIM’s last project with Eno forming the company WARP and fyto much later. Unfortunately, Eno passed away on February 2013 from heart failure.
~Stay Tuned! Coming up in the next two weeks, Retro Game Anamnesis will be covering “Zupapa!” a game with interesting beginnings and even more telling signs of changing world.~