When does a Sonic parody become so well parodied that it actually follows the original Sonic’s gameplay style closer than some of the modern real Sonic games? In my estimations Panic Porcupine is probably the best example of this in a long shot. The game knows its inspired by Sonic and has no problems sending itself up as a result. Yet get passed those initial jokes and memes and there is an extremely tricky and very playable 2D platformer that I’ve lost a number of hours to trying to complete.
Panic Porcupine has no golden rings – its a one hit death game. For that reason, levels are shorter and often feel more like a chaining of stunts and moves as much as being a fully fledged level but it totally works for this situation. You are tasked to find all the birds in the level and whilst there are smaller collectable eggs to grab along the way, the only way to finish a level is to find all the birds. As you move through various themed worlds you’ll be tempted to speedrun flatout as your running speed can pick up quite a pace. Panic Porcupine will quickly slap you back into place though as it’ll place tricky momentum based platforming to navigate that will polish you off in an instant. Levels seem designed to tease you into running free only to swipe a left away from you and its a lesson for the player to learn the level first and then work out the speedrun later.
The game is hard in places. Whilst jump distances are tied to your speed, making some things only passable when running, its the other things speed does to your platforming that matter. You can run around gravity pulling in platforms as long as you run fast enough but that means timing your jump correctly so you don’t jump the wrong way. You’ll spin around vertical poles too at the pace you reach them meaning you’ll jump off further the quicker you hit them but obviously have a smaller timing window for success. This kinds of things apply to quicksand, treadmills, collapsing roofs and buzzsaw blades and as every level is full of these objects, you’ll need to work out what the right speed is for you. In general, your porcupine friend handles very well and there is a bit of after-touch for you to course correct on bounce pads but most jumps require great timing each and every time. I did run into a few issues where I would fall through the floor though – especially on moving platforms – and this did bring me some frustration. It was one of the reasons I didn’t attempt to 100% the game by collecting all the eggs in each level. I got annoyed and was largely just happy to have cleared some of the more tricky levels after sometimes running up 30 deaths in a row. The difficulty curve is a bit up and down too as some world 2 levels are much harder than anything in world 3 and most of world 4. The game does allow you to skip a couple of levels which I ended up doing in the end to progress which felt a bit odd.
It’s worth noting that the soundtrack is also a great 16-bit styled beauty. Not quite Sonic level but it absolutely evokes that era’s vibe. Graphically, things work well and the whole game has a purposeful discount Sonic vibe but it underplays the speed of the thing. There’s little screen tearing or technical problems with you running at pace through levels, especially when some of them are quite busy. The game sells the 90’s nicely. One thing that was a surprise is how Panic Porcupine tackles boss battles though. Bosses do not directly attack you. Instead they are platforming puzzles where the boss will be moving around a map high in the air surrounded by eggs to smash. You need to work out how to gain enough momentum to run up walls and then smash those eggs and some bosses are quite tricky to time and get right. In a game full of enemies to kill, it did amuse me that the bosses just float around and you seem to be the bully.
Despite some tricky and sometimes unfair looking challenges (seesaw’s across a 30 second spike pit with spinning bounce balls to knock you off anyone?), Panic Porcupine is a delightful surprise. Whilst the Spark series might be the ultimate alternative Sonic game series, Panic Porcupine gets what makes the basic Sonic formula work well and then decides to make it trickier and memeier. An enjoyable romp – just remember to rein yourself in when it comes to the speed gun!
Review copy provided by developer.
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