When you see a game where you play as some green jello with big googly eyes, the mind races to come up with all kinds of things this game might contain. Strangely enough though, The Great Jitters: Pudding Panic, despite doubling down on the jello character in its title, has very little to do with the main protagonist’s weird nature. The Great Jitters is a puzzle game, the idea behind it being that you must guide a constantly moving coaster cart through what seems like a haunted amusement park ride. The only real reason I can see for picking a pudding protagonist for this game (besides the obvious cuteness of the character) is how the quivering nature of gelatin looks a little bit like something shaking in fear.
The Great Jitters: Pudding Panic’s puzzle-solving takes the form of navigating the constantly moving coaster cart safely through the levels. Your main means of doing this takes the form of adjusting the track at junctions either by spinning them or changing the type of rail present, but there is another way you can interact with the world. Collect enough pink tokens and Jitters will be able to use a set of power-ups that are primarily used to deal with the enemies you’ll face on the track. The haunted amusement park aesthetic the game employs is charming enough, the environments packed with little horror decorations that are more funny than terrifying. The enemies fall into this category as well, but just like the environments, the game eventually runs out of steam and imagination, falling back on repeating the same few things across the game’s 48 levels. It’s even more egregious that most of the 48 levels all share the same basic music, just retooled slightly depending on which world you’re in. It’s a decent enough song and matches the haunted house vibe, but hearing any song constantly is a good way to kill it. Perhaps the area that benefits most from the game’s choice of theme would be the loading screens, where sketches of the main character, the enemies, and just the game’s designs in general pop up before a level. This isn’t exactly a fleshed out game world, but the loading screens offer interesting pictures that quite often execute the friendly horror theme better than the game world itself!
The levels of the game take two forms. The one that most levels adhere to is the basic puzzle-solving style, where you’ll adjust the track and use power-ups to flip switches and make your way to the end of the level. The second type takes the form of speed levels, where the game rockets you forward and you must adjust the path quickly to avoid being killed by the hazards on the track. There is technically a third type of level, that being the boss battle stages that end three of the worlds, but they hardly feel like a new level archetype since they not only just trot out the same boss each time with minimal changes to the fight, but it basically plays like the puzzle-solving stages but with a more sturdy enemy blocking the exit. Besides the basic goal of completing these stages, there are also VIP coupons to collect that will require you to go out of your way to grab them, the reward being that they serve to unlock the later levels. Most of the time, the coupons can be grabbed with little deviation from the main path, but in some levels it’s an extra puzzle in itself, so the added layer of challenge is appreciated in that it keeps the game from being too simple or easy.
The thing that makes the game less easy that ISN’T appreciated though are the controls. The game is entirely mouse-based, save a few keyboard shortcuts for exiting and pausing the game, and this complicates the puzzle-solving for no good reason. To place or adjust the track, you must click the track icons on the right side of the screen and drag them to their appropriate spots. In the puzzle-solving levels, the world pauses as you do this, giving you time to do it properly, but the speed levels you have to hurl the track changes at the level and hope you did it quickly enough for it to register right. To alter parts of the level you haven’t reached yet in the puzzle-solving areas, you must drag the camera over to look at the area, leaving your little gelatin guy to move about unattended as you try to ensure the path ahead is safe or properly set up. You can pause to look ahead, and the game does give you a preview when the level starts (although it jumps around so much during it that it’s hard to figure out the lay of the place), but you can only edit the track in real time, meaning many levels come down to placing your pudding in a safe loop somewhere as you gradually tinker the track for your needs. These control quirks can be adjusted to, but having a few keyboard shortcuts for using items or being able to move the camera better would help the game along quite a bit.
The levels don’t often have inspired designs, but there is a decent ramp-up for the first three worlds where the game continues to throw new features, power-ups, and foes at you. Compared to some puzzle games, the game is surprisingly generous with new elements, every new level for a while adding something new to the mix instead of giving you time to acclimate to the previous mechanics. Thankfully, nothing is too complicated that it would feel like being thrown into the deep end before you’re ready. The final world serves as the big exam of everything you learned, dialing back the new elements to instead smash them all together in long puzzles for you to work through. Despite the additions of new features though, the central design never really shifts away from pulling levers to open the way to the exit, save of course the speed levels where it’s just about survival. It’s a bit of a shame the game never gets too adventurous with its design, but having a strong focus at least keeps it from deviating into game types that aren’t quite enjoyable. Even the speed levels have their issues with trying to anticipate the right track to take based on barely any vision of the track ahead, so perhaps its for the best there aren’t more game modes that would likely have similar drawbacks.
The way you can lose levels comes in the form of a fear meter of sorts, where if an enemy manages to encounter you, they’ll give the pudding a fright that sends him racing off. Too many scares, and he’ll dissolve into mush, making you restart the level. For the most part you can prepare yourself quite well for it or react with a power-up, and death isn’t too big a punishment here, so the focus is still primarily on the navigational puzzling rather than taking down baddies. One of the most interesting things the game does though is giving you the means to turn baddies on each other, flipping their track paths to cause them to take each other out. A lot more focus on interesting uses of track pathing instead of practical uses could have benefited this game greatly, but once again, it comes up short due to its resistance to being a bit adventurous.
It came as little surprise when I learned that The Great Jitters: Pudding Panic began its life as a mobile game, and that problem with mouse controls suddenly made a lot more sense, as it was simply carrying over the touch-based controls from the iPhone. The PC version also has a boxed in resolution that suggests its origins as well, but instead of trying to make the game better on the computer, the developers just decided to bring it over and make it functional enough to be passable. Strangely, after beating the game, you can see an area off to the side with a message reading “New levels coming soon” if you click on it. More than 3 years after release these levels have not been added, and the mobile version seems to be the answer why. While the original release and the PC release of The Great Jitters: Pudding Panic never got these extra levels, The Great Jitters: Pudding Panic Reloaded on the iPhone did! Sadly, if you want to experience these extra levels, you will have to experience some incredibly greedy game design to get to it. The original levels are all present in this remake, with their visuals touched up a tad but with a new lives system implemented. If you run out of lives, you either have to pony up some cash to keep going, or wait two minutes with the app open to regenerate a life. You read that right. If you close out of the app or do anything on your phone besides leaving Pudding Panic Reloaded open and doing nothing, that time will not be counted. Having the extra twelve levels present in no way justifies this despicable attempt at holding your time ransom for cash. Luckily, you aren’t missing much, as the game, at its core, does not really stand out enough that you’ll be left wanting more. If anything, this already short game might drag a bit in the last few levels as you have to constantly wait on the slow movement of your coaster cart and the enemies to align right for a track change or power-up use. You do get a speed power-up that wastes your precious pink tokens, but a way to speed up the entire game to alleviate the long periods of waiting for things to move could have made things a bit more bearable.
THE VERDICT: The Great Jitters: Pudding Panic, despite the name, certainly isn’t great. In fact, it’s not really bad or good. It has an idea for a puzzle game and explores that for a bit. Unfortunately, the level design often means it’s less about thinking about clever solutions and more about doing a few things to make things work properly, almost like figuring out a schedule instead of solving a brainteaser. A cute mascot and a half-hearted horror theme also mean its not pushing itself further than what the basic game design has to offer.
And so, I give The Great Jitters: Pudding Panic for the PC…
An AVERAGE rating. I walk away from The Great Jitters with a profound sense of ambivalence. Every nice touch was too tiny to like much and every annoyance too minimal to hurt the experience. Most issues, even if fixed, would not make it a good game as its basic components are not so much flawed as they are merely functional. If you are looking for a puzzle game to eat some time, it doesn’t hurt to look at Pudding Panic, but there are many more options out there that can offer longer, more interesting, more challenging, and ultimately more fulfilling experiences. You aren’t missing anything for skipping it, nor are you gaining much or suffering at all for playing it.
Really, if Great Jitters had decided to get a lot more creative, it could have become a puzzle game that was at least worth your time. More interesting mechanics and puzzle designs would be the obvious saving grace, as would having some levels with some style to their design instead of just placing down basic Halloween decorations and pitting you against skeletons and witches. It’s such a shame that Reloaded decided to focus on how best to fleece it’s players instead of trying to improve the gameplay design and evolve it. Feel free to give this pudding a pass.