If you've been itching for a new, fun side-scrolling shooter, Postal Panic is a game you don't want to pass up. Developed by independent designer Isaac Williams, Postal Panic takes the side-scrolling action of an arcade shooter and throws in some upgrading, a wacky storyline and an even wackier set of enemies. Instead of the typical outer space setting, you play the role of a postal worker (in some crazy alternate dimension) who pilots a fully-armed, mail delivery ship. Your goal? Deliver mail to citizens despite rain, sleet, snow...and in this case, an onslaught of mutated, Cthulhu-looking (yet somewhat cute) monsters gunning to burn you out of the sky.
The plot in Postal Panic is a bit thin: deliver some love letters back and forth here, serve as a communique for a mad scientist there...all that typical jive. Controls aren't groundbreaking either, although in this case, that's a good thing. Use [arrow] keys or [WASD] to move and [space] to shoot. Where the controls do get a bit interesting is when it comes to aiming your cannon, which is controlled by the same keys as movement, although the cannon is locked in place when you're firing. At first, it can take some getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, this mechanic proves useful and unique. Most side-scrollers limit your firing trajectory directly in front of your enemy, and once that enemy passes above or below you, it's out of your reach. In Postal Panic, you can pivot your cannon a full 360 degrees, aiming at enemies above and below you, and even behind.
Game play is pretty straight-forward: advance from stage to stage (delivering letter after letter) with a slew of enemies between you and the finish line. Once killed, enemies drop coins or gems that you can pick up to add to your score. At the end of each level, you can access a "blueprints" menu and use your winnings to upgrade your ship. Spend points on your engine to move faster, buy better armor to increase your resistance to attacks and pick from a buffet of weapons. As you advance through the game, you have a total of eight different "slots" that you unlock each time you buy a new weapon. (Each slot also represents a firing angle from your ship.) You can place different weapons in different slots for a variety of strategies, such as rapid-fire bullets shooting in a narrow cone, with missiles firing in a wider-angled cone.
Analysis: Once you get past the minor learning curve and slow start of the first few levels as you build up some cash, Postal Panic starts getting really addictive, mostly because of the upgrades. It's fun to see what weapon combos are just around the corner. The graphics are more than sufficient for this type of game and the wacky-looking enemies, environments and storyline provide a nice vacation from the norm. Difficulty progression is tuned perfectly and you'd be hard-pressed to find any bugs, controls or otherwise. If anything, the game ends too quickly (one hour or so), sometimes before you'll be able to unlock that last weapon. Sadly, a difficulty setting is missing but there is a survival mode if you get bored with the story mode. Overall, this little game packs a big punch, especially considering it's designed by an indie developer.