Review: Pang (Atari ST)

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ST Format Review (Issue 18)

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Equipment Used/Recommended

  • MiSTer box running the Atari ST core – a 1MB STE running TOS 1.62 – you can replicate this with the Steem emulator.
  • Any of Automation 427B, Flame Of Finland 48, Pompey Pirates 65, SuperGAU 473/805, Vectonix 35/112/801
  • Speedlink USB Joystick

My Review

I’ll start with a confession – before playing it for this review I had never played Pang. That should probably get me ex-communicated from all things retro gaming, but just in case it doesn’t, here are some thoughts.

On the surface Pang is pretty simple. I’ll give a quick idiot’s guide for those who, like me, had never played it. Feel free to skip this bit if you know this part. So Pang is a game in which your little chap at the bottom of the screen can only move left and right, and if there are ladders he can go up and down, but he can’t jump. A couple of deadly but large and slow balloons are released, and your mission is to shoot those balloons. Each successful shot nets you some points, but more importantly creates two smaller balloons – 4 sizes in total – which will be faster than the previous ones.

You start with a simple harpoon which will fire vertically and stick to the roof, or a tile, stay there for a second or two and vanish. If a balloon hits the harpoon (including its trail) the balloon will split. The harpoon is not the only weapon however. You might get the double or power harpoons, or the Vulcan Missile which functions in a more traditional shoot-em-up manner. You might get the clock, which stops balloons for a bit, or the hourglass which slows them down. If you’re really unlucky you might get the dynamite, which blows everything up and thus sends a load of small fast balls onto the screen, with the chaos proving hazardous to your health.

All those rules sound pretty simple and the game starts simply enough, giving you two balloons in a nice open space, and plenty of time to catch your breath. And then it slowly ramps things up with platforms for balloons to bounce off, and various other clever ways of keeping the balls in smaller more dangerous areas.

When playing the game is always a work of tension between order and chaos. You can lay the best plans, focusing on a single ball at a time and pinning it into a corner to dissect it, but a stray shot might hit the other ball, or you might find that a dynamite power up drops between you and where you need to go to escape an oncoming ball, or a ball might get stuck in a small dangerous area. It’s rarely straightforward, and in a way resembles Tetris in how its simple rules collide with each other to create a certain chaos.

Visuals are solid – the arcade original is hardly known for pushing visual boundaries but this is a perfectly serviceable home conversion, the most important thing being that its presentation is clean and its animation smooth. Audio is your standard chiptune stuff. There is one peculiar little thing – it uses a trick most often seen from pirate disk menus. Notice how in many of the screenshots the scores etc are in what is usually a big border? Strictly speaking you’re not supposed to be able to put graphics there but back in the day some clever souls did, and this is one such game that does that.

Verdict

So is it any good? Absolutely. It’s a simple set of rules that come together to create a brilliantly addictive game, always demanding one more go. You can dip in and out easily with its short levels, and it weights difficulty just right. It won’t win any prizes for technical brilliance but let’s face it, you’re reading this because you care about fun, not graphical willy-waving. This one gets gold.

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Resources

Manual: https://www.gamesdatabase.org/Media/SYSTEM/Atari_ST/manual/Formated/Pang_-1990-_Ocean_Software_Ltd..pdf

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