capsule review

Pangea Arcade

At a Glance
  • Pangea Software Pangea Arcade

    Macworld Rating

After years of platform action and adventure games, puzzle games and other fun diversions, Pangea Software has returned to its roots with Pangea Arcade, a value-priced collection of three arcade-style action games inspired by classic coin-op offerings and available exclusively for purchase through Pangea’s Web site. Combined, they’re definitely worth the low price, unless this type of gameplay doesn’t appeal to you at all.

Pangea Arcade includes Nucleus, a game that plays like Asteroids mixed with the Periodic Table of Elements; Firefall, a 3-D redux of one of Pangea’s first releases, and Warheads, which unabashedly borrows from Missile Command for its inspiration.

Based on arcade games that are, in some cases, more than 25 years old, it may come as a shock that Pangea Arcade demands pretty hefty system requirements, comparatively—a G4/1GHz or faster, 512MB RAM and 64MB VRAM. But once you take a look at Pangea Arcade you’ll understand. This is no mere homage to those classic games—it reinvents them and adds the sophisticated 3-D graphics, particle effects, physics and even 3-D audio (if your Mac is so equipped) that today’s gamers expect. Each game is beautiful to look at.

In Nucleus, you find yourself in the cockpit of a triangular spaceship floating amongst the debris of an asteroid field. You’re there to blow up the asteroids, sure, but there’s a method to your madness: You’re actually trying to assemble elements by grabbing stray electrons that appear after you’re done blowing up the space rocks. The electrons will automatically fall into your spaceship’s gravitational field and follow you around the game screen like an obedient puppy until you locate the glowing nucleus—get close enough, and the nucleus will attract the electron. Get enough electrons (one for hydrogen, two for helium, three for lithium, and so on) and the nucleus will collapse into a singularity—a black hole. Then it’s time to get out of Dodge, because the singularity sucks up everything in its wake—including your spaceship.

Nucleus

That’s essentially the end of the level—you keep building bigger and bigger atoms, and you’ll find that the shapes and conditions of the space rocks change with each progressive level. There are bonuses you can grab—you’ll find Powerup Pods floating in space that will give you additional points, new weapons, a free life, a “Supernova” that blows up all the asteroids on the screen, and more. A heads up display makes it easy to locate the nearest nucleus with a friendly arrow showing you the right direction to travel. You’ll occasionally have to dodge oncoming comets, which will blow you up if they get too close.

Warheads follows the classic Missile Command format—you have three land-based missile launchers that are protecting a series of power stations. Incoming warheads threaten both the power stations and your missile launchers. You use three different buttons to fire missiles from each individual launcher (either keys on the keyboard or buttons on your mouse, if so equipped). You have a limited supply of ammunition so you have to make each shot count—particularly when the enemy missiles begin to break off into individual warheads and take multiple trajectories towards your power stations and missile launchers.

Warheads

To step that old game idea up a notch, Pangea now puts you in charge of four different sectors, each filled with missile launchers and stations. A quick pan of the camera to the left or right will bring you to the new sector, so you have to lose four separate times in order for the game to be over. That can happen in a flash, though, so you have to stay on your toes.

Your task isn’t impossible, however, thanks to the presence of powerups that descend on parachutes. You can collect bonus points, increase the explosive force of your missiles, create a “mega boom,” or reload your missile launcher’s magazine with fresh ammo.

Firefall is an homage to Centipede with a touch of Galaga thrown in for good measure. You find yourself in a ship restricted to the bottom of the screen, on a playfield filled with round barriers that look like a cross between donuts and life preservers. Worms descend from the top of the screen, while other hazards such as buzzsaws, screws, and more appear. Your goal is to shoot each individual segment of the worm before it reaches the bottom of the screen.

Firefall

Six worms appear on each level. At the end of the level there’s a bonus round where bonus drones appear, flying all over the screen in intricate patterns. If you blast them all before they jet off screen, you’ll be awarded a bonus of 10,000 points. There are three waves of bonus drones on each bonus level.

In addition to blowing up the worms, you can also shoot barriers to get them out of your way and secure a clear shot. Occasionally you’ll see a pill-shaped powerup descend from where a barrier used to be—powerups include triple-shot, which makes bullets come out of either side of your ship, worm-seeking bullets, freeze, which freezes everything on screen, and more. There’s also a powerdown that you’ll want to avoid—the green shortshot downgrade.

Of the three games, Nucleus was the one I liked the best—blowing up the asteroids was challenging enough, and the addition of building atoms is a fun diversion. Warheads is certainly a nice refresh of Missile Command, though there really isn’t anything spectacularly new about it. Of the three games, Firefall makes the roughest transition to 2006—I remember the original Firefall well. (It first bowed in the early ’90s.) While this Firefall is prettier than the original and the bonus stages are fun enough, I was still left wanting—Ambrosia Software’s excellent Apeiron far exceeds it in terms of production value and fun.

As we’ve come to expect from Pangea, production quality is top-notch. The games feature great music and sound effects, and if you’re lucky enough to be using a Mac that has a 3-D audio card or FireWave adapter from Griffin, you can even hear the audio effects in 3-D (since Pangea Arcade uses a technology called OpenAL to manage positional audio).

The bottom line

All in all, Pangea Arcade is a competent and mostly fun reinterpretation of classic arcade games; Firefall left me wanting, though.

At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    Pros

    • 3-D audio
    • Great special effects
    • Three different games in one

    Cons

    • Firefall game proves to be a lackluster Centipede clone
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