This is what the RGCD cart development competition is all about - encouraging new groups with a fresh perspective to code new games on the C64. H Macaroni of Goin' Sideways has been recently keeping me up to date with the development of their debut game project Panic Analogue, which has now reached a stable, near finished preview state (with just a few tweaks and minor bug fixes to go). I know that I've been getting hyped about pretty much every game announced so far, but in this case the excitement is particularly well-deserved. Another title that only just squeezes into the limits of a 16KB cartridge, Panic Analogue is fast-paced game of skill for one or two players, with the unique selling point being that it's one of the very few C64 releases designed around the use of analogue paddles; they're not just supported, they are actually required.
When I heard about this I was initially wary due to the scarcity of C64 paddles, and recommended that joystick support should be incorporated. "Believe me," came the reply, "we have discussed that subject, but are absolutely certain that if joystick support was added it would be a great disadvantage for the game! People would try it, and throw it in the trash. These kinds of games are impossible to play with a joystick when you get to the higher levels, since you really need the speed of an analogue controller. We know that by making a paddle-only game a lot of people won't be able to try it easily, but hey, if we wanted to go for the widest possible audience we would code some iphoneapp. And think about all the (20?) people around the world who are sitting with their paddles and waiting for new paddle-games - we are fighting for them!"
Luckily the game supports the common-as-mud Atari 2600 tennis controllers, so off to ebay I went, and a few days later I became the proud owner of a refurbished pair of analogue paddles. My thoughts? Well, after playing Panic Analogue (and the few other paddle supported games) over the weekend, I have completely fallen in love with them - nothing beats the fun to be had by twiddling a knob back and forth. I see now why H Macaroni and Redcrab designed the game for paddles only, the response you get from them is really unique. It's like the difference between playing a breakout game with a mouse or joystick - analogue is the way to go, every time. But that's enough about the controls - what about the game itself?
Playing either single player (or hot seat competitive two player), the action is centred around the endeavours of Redhead; a poor little chap stuck in a cave. To keep him alive you need to catch falling water droplets in his mouth, whilst simultaneously keeping his torch alight by catching falling fireballs (presumably so he can see the water) - and of course the trick is to not eat the fire or let the water put out your torch. Switch between mouth and torch states (by pressing fire on the paddle) at the wrong time, or letting the droplets hit the floor costs one of your three lives. It's simple, Kaboom! style stuff, but incredibly well-executed and presented, with multiple suitably cute chip tunes during play and Redcrab's arcade quality graphics and characterful animation.
After a good deal of practice, I can now get as far as stage nine without too much effort - and this is where the design shines. Levels one through to seven introduce you to the basics, slowly increasing in speed and swapping between fire and water more frequently. However, at level eight it slows back down again - but instead of easy to follow constant streams of falling elements, they are more randomly placed across the screen with gaps of different sizes between them, resulting in some titular panic gameplay as you rush back and forth trying to catch them all. You really have to get in the zone to beat the game.
Panic Analogue is an amazing quality first game, and well worth buying a set of paddles for. With only a few weeks until the competition deadline, you'd be wise to buy a pair now before it's imminent release causes prices to drastically inflate! ;)