One of the slightly forgotten arcade classics from the 80’s is Pang. The arcade classic which I spent hours on as a child let you shoot vertically upwards and split balloons into smaller multiple balloons upon each hit. Occasionally, a modern take of Pang pops up every few years. The latest of these is Max and the Book of Chaos.
Whilst not a direct copy of Pang, Max and the Book of Chaos certainly borrows the main features from the game. Aliens have replaced the balloons and now they attack from all sides of the screen en mass. You’ll move Max with the left stick and instead of aiming only straight up, now you have five directions of aim at 45 degree angles. Moving into position to make the most of your aim is key to your success.
Levels are a juggling act. As aliens come in quick waves in short succession, you’ll use the warning arrows to line up your shots to take out what you can. It then becomes a dodging act as the aliens bounce around, occasionally shoot at you or crawl towards you from the ground. Powerups help occasionally but its spacial awareness that will be your biggest asset. This is because you need to work out where the bounce trajectory will send the alien to next so you won’t get hit. Then you will line up the shots and get out quick. Thankfully, the controls are responsive enough to enjoy the challenge although sometimes the collision detection feels a little bit fuzzy.
Each level has a time limit that is not very forgiving and that’s because its not just alien shooting that determines your success level. In most levels you’ll also have three targets to break free hanging from the ceiling. They may be hostages or hit points for a giant monster – but you’ll need to clear them to get your star ratings. Otherwise, you’ll only be treated to a clear screen – which is fine but won’t give you that satisfaction you need. It also won’t help you unlock any gun upgrades or additional load outs. You can unlock other weapons which have slightly different bullet arcs and over time you’ll settle on one that works for you.
Max and the Book of Chaos has five worlds with bosses at the end of each one. In each world you’ll have eight levels but you only need to clear 5 of them with three star ratings in order to unlock the world end boss. The bosses add some needed switching up of the shoot and dodge mechanics. Whilst they aren’t inventive, they do have tricky patterns to navigate and are well made. If you want a real challenge, hard mode will absolutely hand your bum to you on a plate. It is very unforgiving. I instead stayed with the normal difficulty which provided me with ample challenge. Arcade enthusiasts will truly appreciate the challenge.
Max and the Book of Chaos is a good arcade shooter. Borrowing from Pang but then giving it some needed quality of life improvements and placing it in a cartoon alien world are all good and positive design steps. It isn’t going to change your world, and it may not quite hit the dizzy heights of the best Pang clone The Bug Butcher, but this is much better than I expected and deserves credit.
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