I remember back in primary school when Neopets suddenly became big. While the meat of that game was about taking care of your virtual pet, you could play a variety of simplistic games to earn in-game money to buy items with. One of those games had you protect a bank by watching a set of doors and hammering a button if the person coming through one was a criminal instead of a customer. It wasn’t until I read 1001 video games you must play before you die that I learned this was based on an actual arcade game!
Your paycheck is on the line
Like that old Neopets minigame, Bank Panic has you guarding a set of 12 doors with 3 in sight at any given time. You scroll across the doors looking for customers that bring in money, except criminals can come through the doors as well. When this happens you have a brief window of time to act and shoot the dastardly bandit before he shoots you, which you do by clicking the button corresponding to that door. The buttons are mapped to the left, middle, and right doors that you have in view at any time, so no need to remember twelve different keys.
Each round has you man your posts until each door has had a customer pass through that successfully dropped off money, marked on the interface by a dollar sign below the door. You can also see which doors have visitors ready or approaching, but if you have already had that door, then any extra customers are just for bonus points. Then again, ignoring a door (which only open if you deliberately stop scrolling when it’s in view) can result in a thief making off with the money stored there. It takes a bit to get used to if you go into it without any instructions, as I first thought the victory condition was earning a specific amount of money.
The challenge lies in the quick reaction time needed to gun down a robber when it shows up, which is complicated by how visually similar they can be to regular gentlemen that come in. Shooting a civilian will lose you a life, as does reacting too slowly and being shot yourself. Later rounds add additional struggles, like civilians being pulled aside by robbers, bombs that are planted on doors outside of your view, or enemies that dodge around, so you can’t just fire & forget. It helps that you rarely need to worry about the doors you aren’t currently looking at, everybody will politely wait for you to face the right doors, but that doesn’t make this game any less tricky.
Still, when you get good at it, this arcade game has a really nice flow to it, demanding quick wits and rapid decision making. It also helps that you can start at harder stages from the main menu if you feel the earlier ones don’t offer enough challenge anymore.
Gameplay score: 9/10
Why do we even have so many doors?
Bank Panic enjoys a nice, rustic Wild West setting and as such uses a lot of browns in the design of the bank itself. Plank floors, a wooden counter, brown houses in the background, sand. It’s a recipe for failure, but it manages to make everything look distinct and remarkably detailed for the era it was made in. The characters you meet are also nicely colorful and expressive, like the ladies that throw you a kiss if you save them from a hostage situation or the various cartoon-like animations that play out.
If I had to raise a complaint, it’s that the interface isn’t particularly clear. The top half of the screen has this long bar on it with all the doors and a checkbox for which ones had money delivered, but each door also has a bar above it counting down to the next customer or criminal appearing. I tried paying attention to this, but sometimes it would hit the bottom and nothing would happen for at least another ten seconds, whereas at other times the same door could suddenly yield three encounters in a row. There is not really a reason why players should know this stuff, so I would rather have had more screen space than these vague bars.
The main theme for the game isn’t an arcade classic by any means, but it’s fun a little tune that fits the setting and doesn’t distract from the gameplay much.
Presentation score: 8/10
Bank Panic is a game I found annoying to get into, yet wholly rewarding once I got the hang of it. My first session ended within minutes, as I kept shooting innocent civilians or got shot myself whenever I hesitated to take a shot. It was frustrating, but I figured out what to look for and became familiar with the game’s tricks, after which it became one of my favorite arcade games. Not a title I’d want to sit down with for a whole hour, but definitely one I’ll keep firing up for short sessions from time to time.