Panic Restaurant
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • NES
  • Developer:
    • EIM
  • Publisher:
    • Taito
  • Released:
    • JP 04/24/1992
    • US October 1992
    • UK 05/26/1994
Score: 80%

This review was published on 01/18/2017.

Panic Restaurant is a side-scrolling platform video game developed by EIM and published by the Taito Corporation for the Nintendo Entertainment System and Famicom. It was originally released in Japan on April 24, 1992, North America in October 1992, and Europe on May 26, 1994. This is another one of those games released when the NES was past its prime. By 1992, 16-bit consoles like the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Genesis, and TurboGrafx-16 were already around and blew the NES' 8-bit visuals and sound effects completely out of the water. Due to this, most NES games released during this period went ignored by the masses, and many review publications of the time would bash anything that wasn't on more current hardware. Despite that, the early 1990s saw some of the best NES games ever released, as developers had mastered the system's hardware and also were far more experienced in the fundamentals of game design. Don't let the silly title fool you, because this game is not to be overlooked.

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Resembling Chef Boyardee, Cookie is an old chef with a tasty name who runs an establishment for eating known as the Eaten Restaurant. Despite its name, the restaurant hasn't been eaten, and probably couldn't be eaten even if anybody tried. One day, Cookie is brutally assaulted by an assortment of falling fruit and is knocked out cold. The initiator of the attack is none other than Ohdove, an evil rival chef who has a thing against Cookie, and likely despises cookies in general. Listen, I'm no expert on this, but I think his name is a pun on Hors d'Oeuvre. Anyway, Ohdove informs Cookie that he took over the Eaten Restaurant, then whisks away with an umbrella as if he were the chef version of Mary Poppins. Cookie gets up off the ground and then begins his mission to take back his restaurant. A lesser man would have called the cops to do this, but Cookie is one tough cookie. Let's get cooking.

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Since it was released very late into the system's lifespan, Panic Restaurant pushes the NES to its metaphorical knees with amazing graphics. The graphics are reminiscent of a future NES title, Kirby's Adventure, in that they're very bright and colorful. So bright and colorful, in fact, that it's sometimes hard to believe that this is actually running on a bona fide NES. Sprites for characters, enemies, and bosses are large, detailed, and extraordinarily well animated. Some cute animations have Cookie turn black with soot upon being burned by fire, or being frozen solid when hit with coolant. Another neat animation can be seen when the doors between areas fling open, which is awfully similar to Castlevania. There's also some impressive use of parallax scrolling during a few portions of the game. The music adds to the game's overall cheery feel with some upbeat tunes. Unfortunately, the soundtrack doesn't quite pack the same punch as the graphics, being that it lacks any real memorable music, but it's far from bad.

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You control Cookie, who's no cookie cutter protagonist. To control the chef, you press left or right on the d-pad to walk left or right, up to climb ladders, and down to duck. Pressing the A button will cause Cookie to jump, and hitting B will make him attack. By default, Cookie is armed with a frying pan as his primary weapon. However, he can acquire other weapons throughout his quest, like a long spoon that slightly extends his reach, a fork he can bounce around on like a pogo stick, plates he can throw as projectiles, and a pot he wears on his head for temporary invincibility. He'll keep most of these weapons until he is injured or killed. Speaking of, Cookie starts out with a measly two hearts for his life meter, but is able to replenish lost health by getting candies and extend his maximum via lollipops, plus chef hats give him extra lives. When fully upgraded, Cookie can have up to a maximum of four hearts, but reverts back to two after getting a Game Over. On that note, this game has unlimited continues, so it's far more forgiving when compared to most NES titles.

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Stages are all linear and the goal of each one is simply to beat the boss at the end, provided you make it there alive. This game really goes all out with the restaurant theme. For example, the map comes in the form of a menu, listing each stage as a meal course, like Appetizer, Soup, Salad, Fish, Meat, and Dessert. Enemies mostly consist of food items, such as headless cooked chickens that run after you, sentient carrots that pop out of the ground, entire pizzas that roll around like tires, onions that peel apart after being struck, gelatinous flan served on dishes with legs, jumping sausages, and more delicious denizens. The environments also reflect the restaurant theme, being that they are literally different parts of a restaurant. You start off in the garden, then move into the dining room, kitchen, freezer, and eventually end up at the basement. There are six stages in all, and they're all rather delightful. The game is a bit on the short side, but the last two stages are tough enough to make up for that.

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The bosses also go along with the food motif, like a large pan filled with popcorn that bursts after being hit a few times to toss popped kernels your way, a microwave that opens up to shoot microwaved chickens at you, a wok with legs that showers you with live shrimp, a chilling ice cream cone that drills into the icy ground beneath you, and a giant hamburger that attempts to squish you with its massive buns. It's kind of cheesy, pun intended, but also charming. The final boss fight is also worth mentioning, because it plays differently from all the other battles. Both Cookie and Ohdove will take to the skies aboard aerial pans and you must throw eggs at the balloon holding Ohdove's pan aloft in order to pop it for victory. It's a tough battle, but provides a nice change of pace from the rest of the game.

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Every enemy you kill will drop a coin, and these can be used at a Super Mario Bros. 2 styled slot machine bonus game in between stages. You simply insert a varying number of coins for a chance to win wonderful prizes, like candies, lollipops, and 1ups. Inserting more coins will increase your chances of winning, but for the most part, the slot machine is totally random. You can press the select button to exit prematurely if you're not in the mood for gambling, but doing so will relinquish all your coins. There are two other types of bonus stages in the game, but they're in the stages themselves, located in optional branching paths. The first of these is similar to that fishing mini-game from Mario Party, wherein you use a fishing rod with a hand attached to the end of it to catch as many fish as you can within a time limit, all the while avoiding the explosive black fish. The other one has you catching eggs with a frying pan whilst avoiding bombs. Both of these mini-games only give you points, but points do eventually add up to extra lives, so they're still worth doing. More importantly, they're fun.

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Originally, the Japanese version of the game had a different protagonist. His name's Kokkun, and he's much younger looking than Cookie, being that he has black hair instead of gray. Instead of clobbering people with a frying pan, Kokkun uses his head to bash things into submission, though this functions identically to the frying pan, making it another purely cosmetic difference. It's not exactly clear why Kokkun was changed into to the significantly older Cookie for audiences outside Japan, but it is what it is. Ohdove was also literally named Hors d'Oeuvre in the Japanese game, though he looks the same. Additionally, the Japanese version is slightly easier due to there being more power-ups and less dangers. The Japanese, North American, and European versions of the game all have different box arts, too. By far the worst cover belongs to the North American version, which looks absolutely nightmarish in comparison to the other two. Besides that stuff, all three versions of the game are mostly the same.

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Essentially, Panic Restaurant answers the question of what would happen if you took the arcade classic, BurgerTime, and turned it into a fully fledged side-scrolling platformer. The game might not stand out as much if it weren't for the unique theme of killer mutant food, but the controls, level design, and bosses are solid enough to entertain once the theme loses its novelty. It does take a while for that thematic novelty to wear off, though, because the game consistently throws new stuff at you from beginning to end. While it didn't get much recognition back in the day, Panic Restaurant did get a full walkthrough feature in issue #38 of the Nintendo Power magazine. By the way, this game was designed by Kenji Eno, who also founded EIM. Panic Restaurant was EIM's final game before it ceased to be, but Kenji Eno later went on to found another company named WARP, where he developed the D series of survival horror games. It's weird to think that he went from a cartoony platformer to brutally violent horror games.

Word Count: 1,588

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