Michael isn't a very good magician. One day, there he was, stirring up a magical brew in his cauldron (as apparently he has real magical skills, rather than being limited to simple bunny-out-of-the-hat jobs), when something went wrong, and he released a great wrath upon the world. With just one mistake, Michael the magician unleashed a force of limitless evil on an unsuspecting people.
Michael unleashed a plague... of bubbles.
OK, so it's not a Hollywood blockbuster, but Pang! Magical Michael doesn't try to be. With evil balloons (note: the balloons may or may not be malevolent) ransacking the world's landmarks with their stretched, floaty, rubberyness, it's up to Michael, the hapless magician who caused the whole mess in the first place, to pull out his magic wand, and sort the mess out.
When you start each level, you'll be presented with a level that's been infested by a number of balloons of different shapes and sizes. Using the +Control Pad to move around, you'll have to navigate Michael through the levels, climbing ladders, dodging the bouncing balloons, and slowly breaking them down. Press the B button, and you'll fire a magical column into the air, which, when it hits the balloon, will split it into two smaller parts - a bit like a bacterium. It's by doing this, and splitting the balloons, that you'll finally manage to clear the levels - but dodging the countless, small, and faster moving balloon parts that you spill into the levels is easier said than done.
If you're only interested in completing the level, then you'll mostly be able to take the levels at your own pace, by only breaking down the one balloon at a time, and therefore limiting the number of pieces you'll have to worry about dodging. However, if you really want to do well, (and if you have the patience of a saint) you'll be looking to score combos, which you can only achieve by popping balloons of the same colour. Of course, although you'll score double the points every time you burst a balloon of the same colour, you'll also find yourself having to wear the balloons down evenly - and that means you'll be left with a screen of forty plus, tiny, fast moving red balloons to dodge. Not fun.
With 40 levels to play through in the Tour mode, which sees you rescuing countless beauty spots from bubble tyranny as you go (including Shropshire's own Ironbridge), there's plenty to keep you going here, but how long the game lasts you will depend entirely on your ability. While the levels are very short, some of them will keep you occupied for a very long time, simply because they're so damn tricky, as they'll take multiple restarts to complete - even more so if you're interested in getting the highest ranking for each level, as beating the high score takes some precision bubble popping.
The main Tour mode is also supported by a variety of other attractions that vie for your time. When you finish the Tour mode, you'll unlock another set of levels known as Expert mode, which'll have you tearing your hair out if you thought the original set were hard. And the Panic mode is basically a survival mode, which sends 99 levels worth of bubbles your way, but really comes into its own when played in the two player co-operative mode - which fully supports single-card download play, allowing your friends to jump in, even if they don't own a copy of the game.
With plenty to do, and some addictive, reaction based gameplay, Pang is a great game that's well worth the budget-priced investment it'll take to jump in. The fact that many punters seem to be overloooking it at the moment is equally criminal, and for £18 from retailers such as Amazon, you could do a lot worse.
If you've got the reactions of a cat, or you think yours could use some brushing up, why not give Pang Magical Michael a try? After all, those bubbles won't burst themselves.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo DS