Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Long Hard Look at - Bank Panic

Featuring another arcade game today - a really nice one that I discovered quite some time ago on MAME and then actually got to play in person for the first time when I went to Funspot last year - Bank Panic!

Bank Panic! was developed by Sanritsu Denki in 1984 and manufactured/distributed by Sega/Bally-Midway. You've probably heard of the other arcade game that Sanritsu developed that same year - Appoooh.  Stop lying, you've never heard of Appoooh.

Bank Panic! is simple to pick up but quite fun and gets challenging quickly. Gets the blood pumping after a while like a good game of Robotron or Chicken Shift. Tastes like a video game version of hot hands (anyone?), the gameplay is similar to Hogan's Alley but more sophisticated and a far superior control scheme. Hogan's Alley apparently came out the same year but I assume production on Bank Panic! predated it. Anyway, I would say it's a bit like the love child of Hogan's Alley and Tapper if you will. Or don't. It's entirely up to you really.

You are the town deputy and you are stationed inside a huge, apparently circular, bank where it is your job to protect the good townsfolk and their hard-earned money from the no-good scallywags who approach the teller windows with pistols drawn and the intention of absconding with the bank's loot.  The fiends!  The bank has 12 doors leading to the outside and you are looking directly at 3 of them at all times. You can change which doors you are facing by pushing the joystick left or right to position yourself accordingly.

Every so often a bank door will open and most of the time it will either be a customer with money who will make a deposit or a no-good bank robber that you must fill with lead by hitting whichever of the 3 buttons - left, middle, or right - corresponds with the doorway in which the robber is standing. But you have to be sure to shoot him before he shoots you or, quite obviously, you are dead. You can shoot the baddies on sight, but that is considered "unfair" so you get extra points for waiting until they draw to shoot. But don't be too trigger happy because you don't want to accidentally shoot one of the kind patrons who sometimes, Lord knows why, like to dress and act a little like one of the robbers when they open the door to apparently see if they can fool you into blowing them away by accident - but oh do they let you have it if you do! AND you lose a life to boot. When you lose 3 lives the game is over.

At the top of the screen there is a status line/HUD that shows all the doors, which 3 doors you are facing, which doors have already taken in money, and how close the next customer (or robber) outside is to approaching each door so you can quickly position yourself to meet them if you like. Once you take in money from every door at least once the level is completed and you go to the next level which is the same except faster.

They do mix in other stuff too to trip you up - some robbers hide behind a customer and shove them out of the way to shoot you, some bob and weave to make it harder to shoot them, some robbers takes 2 shots to kill instead of 1 so you have to make sure they go down after the first shot or else they can still plug ya, sometimes a kid (or little person?) shows up with a bunch of hats on his head and you rapid-fire shoot all of them off for bonus points, sometimes customers are tied up and you have to shoot the ropes to release them, and sometimes the evil-doers set a bomb on a door and you have to get over to and shoot the fuse off before it blows up. All variations on the same theme really but they add a nice variety to the play. A few other tidbits here and there too like if a robber gets to the door and you don't get there to shoot him they can sometimes steal back money that has previously been deposited, but if you get there in time and shoot him he'll drop it and you get it right back.

I like the unique but simplistic shooting controls and the twitch gameplay. The only real drawback is the music which is a simplified arcade version of Dixie that just drones on and on - that gets a little annoying after a while. Oh yeah, another thing that annoyed me a bit - when you are playing two player they don't display your opponent's score while it is your turn so you don't know exactly how many points you need to beat them until your turn is over - that seems like a stupid oversight.

My high score on MAME is 161,900 if anyone cares to challenge it, but if you're not a MAMER-type Bank Panic was ported to the Sega SG-1000, MSX and the Sega Master System. I tried the Master System version and it is an excellent conversion. I've never owned a Master System but I must say that when I try an emulated game on it I'm almost always impressed with the quality.

There were also a few clones made such as Silver Gun for the ZX Spectrum (Spanish) and Bang Bank for the Atari XL/XE (in Poland).

But the more well-known clone was West Bank.

West Bank was released for the MSX, ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, and Amstrad CPC. Since my personal preferences of those 4 systems generally runs to the CBM side of the street I tried the C64 version and it was indeed a very nice clone.

It played more or less like the original with a few exceptions - notably it didn't have the little radar for each door showing when customers/baddies were approaching outside and it added a nice little bonus round where after every bank level you are called out by a trio of banditos that you must face down in a gunfight. The timer at the top of the screen counts down from 5 to 0 then the 3 baddies will draw their guns on you in random order and try to plug you. You have to wait for them to draw (fair play and all that) and then you gun them down. Has some nice animations too and provided a few new colorful characters - here are a few from the instructions screen:

"Jack Vicios, the sponging swindler of the West. Don't hesitate - shoot whenever you see his face.

Julius, the dandy. He is a box of surprises; he may give you a bag of gold or he might shoot you. Take things very careful with this one.

Bowie, the dwarf. He is a constant practical joker. Make holes in his hats, but take care that the bottom hat doesn't conceal a bomb or you will lose a life."

I even came across a magazine advertisement in the February 1986 issue of Crash where Gremlin Graphics was running a contest to see who could invent a new baddie. Winners received a free West Bank sweatshirt!

My only real complaint with West Bank is an area that I usually enjoy on the C64 - the soundtrack. The whiny old west music really started burrowing into my skull.

And clones are still being made today apparently - there is an updated version called Westbang that has been released for the iphone. I've never played and probably won't but it looks nice.

But updated graphics or no, standing in front of the original cabinet banging away at the 3 buttons is the way to go. Unfortunately I haven't seen one outside of New Hampshire so you might have to make do with one of the ports or West Bank which is OK because are all solid games for a bit of quick-hit old west fun with the same flavor. I still enjoy coming back to the game on the MAME cab from time to time. I give it a 7.6.

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gnome said...

Well, hats off to you sir! Another excellent and indeed comprehensive retrospective. And I did love the Speccy port too; a simple, easy on the eye and incredibly addictive game it was.

Mik said...

That's what I call a deep analysis! I used to play Bank Panic on Master System a lot as a kid, and it was one helluva game, despite the sometimes slow pace. Unfortunately, the game was borrowed so I don't own a copy anymore (but I plan to catch one as soon as I can). I was totaly unaware of other versions, maybe I'll track them down.
Great work, MP!

MadPlanet said...

@gnome: Thank you sir Gnome. I didn't get around to trying out the Speccy port but I did like the look of it. Sharp and detailed and no problems with the sprites and background color being the same like I've seen on a few Speccy games. And yes - addictive!

@Mik: Grazie Mik. Gotta love that SMS. I'm convinced I would have been a Master System guy back in the day instead of a NES guy if I had bought one or the other. You're right the pace can be a bit slow - at least in the beginning levels. I think if they had just sped up the movement from doorway to doorway that would have helped a bit. Even if you just got through with a quick 1-2-3 shootout you then had to look at that slow scroll to the next set of doors.

mínima expresión said...

One piece of trivia about the Spectrum version of West Bank: it was single handedly created by a spanish programmer. The game was commisioned by spanish developer Dinamic, who later ported the game to CPC. The Commodore 64 version seems to be the only one that Gremlin themselves developed. More info (in spanish) here:

Also, cover artist is none other than Alfonso Azpiri, one of the greatest spanish comic artists in the eighties and nineties.

MadPlanet said...

Thanks for the comment and link minima expresion. I did read that the Speccy version was created by a Spanish programmer/company but didn't know about cover art by Alfonso Azpiri. Actually I've never heard of him but I need go no further than a sentence or two into his Wikipedia entry to see that I need to check out his work - "His early work was published in the 1970s and was mainly aimed at the Italian market which then welcomed stories containing a mixture of horror, sex and nudity. Azpiri's work, drawn in a comical style, featured amply breasted women getting involved with werewolves, mummies, vampires and the Frankenstein monster."
yep - I gotta check this out!