What happens when you combine the cuteness of Loco Roco and the gameplay of Lemmings? You end up with Downstream Panic!, a fun puzzler with more than a passing resemblance to both games. Downstream Panic! is an absolute blast for a few hours, but erratic physics make some of the later levels extremely difficult, and there aren't many other ways to enjoy the game if or when you get stuck.
Some of the levels seem easy until you take into account how many fish you have to save.
Downstream Panic's premise couldn't be simpler: Tiny fish are poured out of containers at the top of the 2D level and you must guide them through mazelike levels to the safety of the water below. This is easier said than done. For starters, you're required to save a specific number of the 100 fish with which you start off. This number varies from one level to the next, but the consequence of losing too many remains the same: If you fall below the number, you'll have to try again. Another obstacle is that only a small portion of the water at the bottom of the screen (marked by two buoys) is safe for the fish--the rest is filled with large carnivorous fish that are gnashing their teeth in anticipation of snacking on your little friends.
Avoiding the chomping jaws at the bottom is one problem, but the real challenge lies in getting the fish through the level itself. Because the fish are at the mercy of the flowing water that pours out with them, you don't have any direct control over their actions. Rather, you must use the few tools available to make sure the water goes where you want it to go. You'll start with a bomb, which can be used to blow up parts of the level. Next you'll get a seed, which will instantly grow into a plant that blocks the flow of water. Eventually you'll get a harpoon that can be used to kill enemy fish that sometimes lie in wait, coming to life when water hits them. Later levels introduce clouds, which let you perform tasks without having to worry about where your fish are going because they actually catch and hold fish, as well as rainwater. The clouds can even be blown from one part of the level to another using a fan. Keep in mind, however, that unless you're playing free mode, which is where you can buy additional tools, you'll have to make do with a limited, predetermined number of items on each level, so you'll have to plan carefully.
The first 30 or so of the game's 80 levels are well designed and ease you into the concept of saving fish. Trial and error is the name of the game, but the developer made failure as painless as possible. You can fast-forward at any time--a handy tool when you've figured out the first part of a level and want to quickly get to the next step. Even more useful is the ability to restart at any time and without penalty with the press of a button--this makes the whole experience significantly less frustrating. This gentle learning curve, combined with satisfying gameplay make the first part of the game a blast--you'll really get a kick out of solving the levels and saving the fish.
However, once you pass level 30, things get crazy. You'll need all the tools you can get your hands on because the level designs go from friendly to fiendish in the blink of an eye. Not only do the layouts become more complicated, but more hazards are introduced. There are poisonous mushrooms, spiky chestnuts, teleports, storm clouds, and pesky bridges that can only be moved by spinning flowers with water or wind. Eventually, levels combine most--if not all--of these hazards and obstacles. This is when the experience goes from challenging to frustrating--there's simply too much going on and too much left to chance.