Let me fill you in on something, right here. When it comes to the creative process of deciding what game(s) to review for RGG throughout the vast library of historic games there are to choose from, I tend to have three key methods. Firstly and most common is the ultimately random, that's as simple as me tripping over a game on the floor and saying to myself: “heck, may as well review that”. Secondly is from a form of request from friends, fans, etc. saying “you should review X”. Thirdly and most relevant here? I could just be playing something then instantly be inspired to grab the notepad. From Mario & Wario, to Snow Bros, this entirely out of the blue methodology is where this title falls and probably more common than the other two. Anyway, just saying…
Panic Restaurant is a game for the Nintendo Entertainment System, developed by EIM and published by Taito. Originally released in 1992 on the Famicom (in Japan it's known as Wanpaku Kokkun no Gourmet World) and in North America, but didn't make it to Europe until 1994. Panic Restaurant is one of the many brainchilds of the legendary Kenji Eno who is perhaps best known for the later D series, Enemy Zero and Real Sound. For this, it was his concept, but he also acted as a supervisor and composer.
As with many 8-Bit gems that shipped from the Taito HQ, Panic Restaurant is yet another ridiculously charming action platformer that, if you're a fan of the style; will instantly have you falling in love. That wonderfully crafted, cartoonish appeal of late Taito releases on the NES is most definitely on show and in my opinion that is more than welcome.
You, the player; take control of Chef Cookie. He’s a jolly looking fellow whose moustache bounces when he runs. The game is set up with a small cut scene, where Cookie enters and is attacked by a barrage of food, bonkin’ him on his noggin. The antagonist enters, a dodgy rival chef named Ohdove (yes, pun fun!) informs you he’s forcibly taken over the titular restaurant. Cut scene over, the action starts…
That easy factor may well be at play in putting off the more experienced Nintendo die hard who might be seeking a tougher challenge. I’ve mentioned this sort of thing before in reviews, but it is of my opinion that we need a more chilled game every now and then, one that isn’t gonna make sure our muscle memory hasn’t skipped proverbial leg day. If you share that mindset, or perhaps are a relative newcomer to platform games and the like, Panic Restaurant would be a recommended appetizer, as it were.
The overall presentation is great here and a true strong point. While the main level design, to use two blatant examples, is a cross between Super Mario Bros. and MegaMan, just a little less taxing. But more specifically, it’s the things like the fact the restaurant is called EaTen and is the locale that the game focuses on, with each stage and their sub-rooms being based inside, etc. It’s the fact you have enemies such as sentient ovens, onions that take two hits because onions have layers (YES) and so much more. In between stages, you see they’re listed like a menu – as in an actual restaurant menu – so you go from the appetizer through to dessert! How awesome is that, seriously? Perhaps I’m easily amused, but I love it. Even on the Game Over screen there’s an open/closed sign depending on choice, with an apple falling on Cookie’s head to wake him up and continue. I can’t be the only one who loves this stuff…
Graphically speaking, the game is lovely; as I’ve pretty much alluded to. EIM make great use of the NES' colour palette and deliver nicely drawn sprites a plenty. It somewhat resembles a newspaper comic strip, which is probably the best I can describe. But let the screenshots speak for themselves here. I've played plenty of ugly looking NES games in my time, this is so far removed from that and holds its own with the likes of Super Mario Bros. 3 rather nicely, I feel. The character designs and backdrops are half of what makes the previously mentioned charm hook you from moment one. For example, the intro as the chef has fruit land on his head, the cartoony grimace breaking the fourth wall is instantly an appreciated touch. In short, I adore the look of Panic Restaurant. Simple as that, to be fair.
Of course, this is a NES game. That means you will get the occasional bit of flicker, particularly noticable while paused (oddly). There's no real slow down or anything tiresomely annoying as such. It's certainly one recommended for playing on a CRT TV (or monitor), for the best look possible. But, that kinda goes without saying. If you're emulating anyway, you can always faux-overclock it where any flicker issues becomes null and void.
This being a Kenji Eno game of which he composed the music for, you know you’re in for some quality compositions. Never out of place, it’s another point to the Panic Restaurant that’ll score highly come the time for me to score this one up at the end. There’s an ultimately captivating mix of dreamlike tones and typically Nintendo beats that are just so close to perfection it’s unreal. If you take nothing else away from this review, I’d at least recommend giving the OST a spin. The often childlike wonderment that Eno manages to convey is absolutely mesmerizing and perfectly suited to this utterly whacky game. Check it out.
Controls wise as with practically every platformer by this point are drilled into what you know and/or have already experienced. A to jump, B to attack, etc. No amount of double tapping a direction though will have Cookie running his socks off. The game is played at a somewhat relaxed pace (even the manual asks for your patience for your own good), which the controls suit to that end. But the most important thing is the responsiveness, which will obviously be tested fairly soon on, such as just slightly moving out of the way of a kamikaze self-sliced apple on the second stage, or quickly getting ready to swot something with your pan by hitting attack when it comes at you on screen (be it a bouncing baguette, a pizza (which rolls, coz y’know; pizza rolls)). Panic Restaurant is a game that wont leave you questioning the input, that’s for sure. Which is a plus, as anyone who’s played a crap platformer will tell you. The hit boxes within the game are just right, too. Another bonus!
The key functions of Cookie besides the obvious is his ability to duck, to which he pulls on his hat ala Mario but with added “oh face” and shifty eyes; directional jumping (as to how high he jumps is pressure sensitive) which may sound a no-brainer by the early 90s, but you’d be surprised how much poor game design that refused to evolve still made it to systems especially 8-bit wise. Other abilities come through power ups. These are collected in little item form, you’ve got the spoon (which’ll give you a larger ranged attack), plates (slightly arched projectiles), the fork (which Cookie rides around like a killer pogo stick, ala DuckTales), the eggs (another projectile, rarer item and with reason) and the pot which Cookie puts on his head and spins around with a short burst of invincibility. Each item isn’t throwaway and are beneficial for certain enemies/bosses, some even to a degree being a necessity while others not so much, which is where good ol’ trial and error comes in. Or a walkthrough, if you really feel the need. Other collectable items include candy (which restores a hit/heart), the lollipop (which adds a heart/extra hit) and the chef hat will give you an extra life.
Panic Restaurant is essentially six stages, presented in the form of a mapped journey from the streets to the basement of the titular restaurant. Included within, is a few mini-games. The first and most notable mini-game as it takes place between main stages is the slot machine which gives you an opportunity to spend collected coins (enemies turn into coins). The other two that I encountered and am aware of is one where you’re catching fish (by way of extended Inspector Gadget like arm/hand) for bonus points and the other being a Kaboom-ish screen which has you controlling Cookie’s frying pan to catch eggs.
The game is far from being the hardest on the system, so far from it in fact. But it is that charm level being turned way past eleven and the fun factor being so high that it’s just so damn enjoyable. It’s a credit for being a game that doesn’t really smash any boundaries of design, yet rather comfortably sits in the zone of “tried and tested”, but the positive side of said zone. I mentioned the relaxed pace, so to fill further on that just as a pre-warn; there is a timer. Thing is though, you’ll hardly ever notice it. I’m honestly not sure how many continues you get, I’d literally have to assume they’re infinite because whenever I got to that point on replays just trying to get the most out of it for review, I honestly couldn’t tell if I was using up any sort of counter. So, yeah. There’s that. There’s also checkpoints indicated by entering doors and from the very off you have two hits before losing a life, with coin/point tally increasing lives, too. Basically, you’ll very likely be set from your first go.
Now, I would be remiss not to mention the games notoriety when it comes to the collecting side of the retro video games scene. Big time American YouTube personalities in particular will consistently talk about Panic Restaurant as an example of a rare, hard to find title. Indeed, it is one of those that goes for absolute silly money on the marketplace sites that you'd expect. I tend to shy away from the collector based side of the scene myself, which I understand sounds as if it’s in conflict with itself considering I quite clearly do collect in a sense.
Purely speculation on my part, but I would say that if you were seeking to buy a copy now of the PAL B release (there is no PAL A version that I'm aware of, which presents its own issues for us Brits), the inflated hipster tax will be in full force with resellers making sure you pay a pretty penny. As I have done with rarer titles in the past, I recommend emulation, using an NES flashcart or getting a reproduction of sorts. It'll still be the same game, without destroying your bank account.
The long and short of it all is this…If you’re out there and desperate to play a title you may well have overlooked as it’s not Super Mario Bros. 3 (yeah, I really have SMB3 on the brain with this review, but it is an absolute set standard so deal with it!), then I present you with Panic Restaurant. No matter how you get your hands on it, that parts honestly irrelevant to me and entirely up to you; just please give it some time in your day.
This really is the sort of game you can fire up one Sunday morning, with a big bowl of cereals by your side, in your PJ’s (or joggers, or whatever you lounge in) and just get transported back to a lighter, more hopeful place than perhaps you’re in. Even if you beat it in half hour, that’s a half hour that will set you up for the rest of your day. Panic Restaurant is like wearing a poncho, it’s impossible to be in a bad mood. A must play, even if it doesn’t get such an “official” stamp on here.
Verdict:- There goes Olly023 recommending a game that will break the bank if you're to go out and buy it now, but as always there is solutions as mentioned within the review. That's a hint.
It's a hint you should all take in stride, too. I highly, highly recommend this. It's one of those rare but worth a play titles and another example of the pure brilliance that was Taito in their prime. They really were one of the greatest publishers the gaming world has ever known.
Go give Panic Restaurant a go. Hopefully you'll find the scores fair, with the only downer being the likelihood of longevity, as it's not one full of branching paths and super awesome unlockables. Heck, it doesn't even have a difficulty option!
But don't worry about what the game is or isn't, take it at face value and in the right mindset, you'll be in for a very fun ride. Highly recommended play, this.
Second Opinion:- Transbot thinks the reviewer should just play Super Mario Bros. 3 and get it out of his system already...Bzt..
Any how, Transbot isn't at odds when it comes to backing up said fleshbag in recommending Panic Restaurant. It's no two level, looping card game from Sega, but it's pretty good nonetheless.
A well crafted snapshot that showed the inferior System still had some legs at a time where it was all but dead and buried in the Euro zone.
Well played, Taito!
Transbot Scores:- 8 out of 10