Getting Shafted was Never This Much Fun

In, Mechanic Panic, you're an elevator maintenance guy on his worst and, inevitably, last day of the job. You will die. The question it poses is how will you choose to spend it? Saving your own skin? Or trying to save others?

Maybe that gives a little too much narrative credit to the game, an infinite wall-climbing sprint similar to Gravity Hook (or Canabalt, played vertically.) But every time I get wiped out by a piece of debris or a falling elevator car, I blame the fact I was trying to save a civilian plunging to his doom. Each time I skitter up the shaft and beat my old distance, I think about all the victims —who are given names, mind you—that I ignored.

Jeffrey Yim and Bernie Wong's Mechanic Panic is a one-touch game that has you ascending a never-ending elevator shaft after a repair goes wrong and sets of a huge explosion. You ascend somewhat parkour style, each tap catapulting you up diagonally to the opposite side. A giant fireball boils up from below, forcing you to keep moving. Debris and elevator cars fall from above; electrical wiring, steam pipes and fuel tanks on the sides of the shaft provide hazards and other course variables.

The point is to get as high as you can, with additional goals being either your score, or the experience points you acquire for doing things along the way. The top side job is rescuing falling civilians. As you're clinging to the side of the wall (provided you haven't been slicked with oil) you'll see a little exclamation point icon atop the screen, growing brighter as the victim nears. Time your jump right, and you'll intercept them as you leap to the opposite side. It's really not that hard.

Not in a single case it isn't. Long term, you can fall in love with your ability to time jumps and it takes patience to know when you can't make one. Die once and you are back to the start of the game (with an opening animation that, in Mechanic Panic's only shortcoming, needs to be skippable just so I can get back to the action, dammit.)

Hanging onto the side of the wall requires you to battle your own impatience. The fire coming up from beneath isn't always lapping at your toes. In the early goings I found myself waiting on a falling civilian, only to jump headlong into the path of a falling car just because of the hair-trigger instinct the game conditions in you. Mechanic Panic throws a lot of visual information at you suggesting that you move, move, move! but the real key to beating it is knowing that you have more time to make a decision than you think. And, sometimes, you can't save everyone.

In addition to falling obstacles, the hazards you face include exposed junction boxes that can knock out the lights, fuel tanks that loosen your grip and cause you to slide, and steam pipes that knock you loose. However, sometimes elevator cars will ride up. If you can latch on to the side of one, safely, you can hitch a ride up for a huge distance boost. Just pay attention to the hazard timer counting down from 10 so you know when to leap off.

In addition to the distance and score goals, the game will reward you with experience points that can be used for skill perks. You can also buy experience points outrights to boost your character, including a breathtaking $100 purchase of a million XP. I'm not sure I have ever seen an in-game purchase that large in a $1.99 game.

But by no means is buying XP necessary. You can have plenty of fun with repeated 700-meter escapes and multiple deaths and end up at level 20 in no time. The game is served by charming minimalist visuals and a driving techno soundtrack.

Mechanic Panic is very well suited for its platform and offers a winning, endlessly replayable game design that will help you kill a lot of time on your commute or a flight. For me, it evokes the days of the 1980s arcade games, when hardware limitations forced developers to surround simple short-burst gameplay concepts with some really zany premises. This one pulls it off very well and costs eight quarters.

Mechanic Panic [iTunes]