It’s been well documented both on my blog and elsewhere on the interwebs – usually on Twitter – that the first console I could ever call my own was the Sega Master System, which I believe I managed to get for Christmas in 1987, just after my 10th birthday. This was the console I set my heart on when I realised that so many of the awesome games I’d been playing in the arcade were available in what I perceived to be near arcade-perfect form for the Master System; in reality, these 8-bit versions, while colourful and playable, weren’t exactly on a par with their arcade counterparts, to say the least – but it didn’t matter to 10 year old Jason in the slightest. Just getting to play them away from the time and money constraints of the arcade was enough for me, especially when they were so vibrantly colourful and appealing.
Arcades were so prevalent at the time that they were stacked with games, including some real oddities that you’d see a few times before they disappeared to be replaced by something that would no doubt prove more popular. Bank Panic was one of those oddities; a game that didn’t really seem to fit in any normal genre, with a Wild West theme that was in stark contrast to the then-fashionable sci-fi and fantasy clothes that games so often appeared in. I played it once and then never saw the machine again, but it was a game that, when investigating the Master System, I discovered was available on the cheaper card (rather than cartridge) format – making it ideal as a request on my Christmas list.
In Bank Panic, your Sheriff (mostly unseen, as the game is played from a first person view) is tasked with allowing customers to deposit cash at the bank; in each stage, your goal is to collect at least one bag of cash at each of 12 doors. Your view allows you to attend three doors at a time; a sort-of map at the top of the screen shows you where someone is approaching and or waiting for a door to be opened at any time – and the idea is that, when a door is in view, it opens and the person behind it is revealed.
Often, it’s a customer looking to deposit cash, but it can be an outlaw – who you’ll need to shoot, with bonus points being given if you wait until they draw their gun first (though you’ll need to be quick, so as to shoot them before they shoot you). Sometimes it can be a customer who’s being held at gunpoint by an outlaw; after a second or two, with a slightly different, panicked animation routine, they’re pushed aside and the outlaw is revealed – once again, you’ll need to act quickly in order to dispatch the outlaw.
Occasionally there will be a bonus character – a kid with a number of hats on their head, for example. If you shoot all of the hats without shooting the kid, they’ll deposit money at the bank. Sometimes you’ll see dynamite stuck to a door that you’ll have to shoot before it explodes – you have to act quickly to take care of it or that’s a life lost.
Take at least one bag of cash at each door and the stage is complete. Shoot too many innocents, fail to get rid of dynamite or lose all your lives by failing to shoot outlaws – before they shoot you – and it’s Game Over.
That’s it, across increasingly fast paced and frantic levels; despite its simplicity, Bank Panic remains a really addictive game even today. I think perhaps the fact that it feels unique, as well as the addictiveness of the core gameplay loop, is a big plus here. Though I’m very out of practice – especially when it comes to firing at the leftmost window of the three in view, which requires up or down to be pressed on the control pad, something my middle-aged brain is struggling to process at speed – and nowhere near as good as I used to be, Bank Panic has aged pretty well. Though the visuals are very basic (albeit colourful and perfectly functional), the animation limited and the music pretty repetitive, it definitely has bags of charm and is well worth spending time with.
It’s one of those games that you’ll try out for nostalgic reasons, with the intention of giving it a quick blast – and end up playing for far longer than you expect to, whether that’s to chase a high score or to try reaching some of those super-frantic later stages. An excellent game that still feels like one-of-a-kind, from a time when arcades felt like wondrous places – and bringing those games into the home still felt like magic.
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