As an uber-geek, I don't just like arcade games, I like geeky arcade games. That's why when it came out, I was a giant fan of Qix. Making all those rectangles and running away from the sparx kept me entertained for many, many quarters. If you aren't familiar with Qix, you drew rectangles with a joystick to capture real estate on the screen while bad things tried to touch you to kill you... you can read a little more about it here...
Well, in 1999, Kaneko gave Qix some L.S.D. and wound up with Panic Street. There have been many copies and derivatives of Qix over the years, and many of them with goofy or cheaply tantalizing backgrounds that you reveal. Panic Street goes the route of amped up Japanese quasi-anime cartoons, and makes the gameplay much more chaotic.
Before describing the gameplay, I have to make a confession, I don't know half of what's going on. There's lots of little details, and it's all in japanese, so much of it is lost on me - and yet, it's lots of fun anyway, quite an accomplishment. In fact at the end of each round it's telling you several things that you don't get to know (unless you know japanese) - so just keep pressing the buttons to continue.
First, the controls... The big difference between Qix and PS is that you have an 8-way joystick instead of four. That makes the drawing and screen-capturing capabilities much more complicated. Also, there is only one button - Draw. You hold down the button to draw and capture real estate (thus adding to the underlying picture). In Qix, there were two buttons, draw fast and draw slow - with more points awarded for rectangles drawn slowly. Interestingly, if you let go of the button while drawing in PS, you quickly scamper back to safety (in Qix, that was not the case, you just were hung out to dry).
Just like in Qix, there are bad guys trying to turn you to dust. And they are myriad. Each level has some main bad guy (metal dragon, red pulsing blob, etc). Not only do you die if it touches you, but the main bad guy also shoots out bombs and other fire - and you die if any of the bullets, bombs or shrapnel touch you while you are drawing. This basic fact holds true for the whole game. You can only die if you are in the process of drawing (capturing more real estate). If you are simply moving around the perimeter of what you have already captured, you cannot die.
Also, like Qix, the round ends when you have captured some predetermined percentage of the screen (usually 80%), but you are given bonuses for getting more.
Where the game greatly diverges from previous offerings is in the chaos on the playfield. First, there are power-ups!! Some make you go faster, some make you explode like a bomb (killing local baddies) and some give you additional power - and I have NO IDEA what this additional power does! There are also power-ups that make you jet around the perimeter faster (as opposed to draw faster) and many other things. You get the power-ups by capturing them like any other part of the screen.
Bad guys also come in all shapes and sizes. In addition to the main baddie and that crap he's shooting at you, there are tons of little floating baddies all over the place ready to vaporize you.
Bonuses abound. There are a million different kinds of items to collect. You collect them by surrounding them while you draw just like any real estate. Except, some of the items are moving - making it a little harder. Some of the main items you can collect are telephones (which ring annoyingly). When you collect them, they show up at the top of the screen to show how many more you need to get for some prize - again, I have NO IDEA what happens when you get them all.
Another cool difference from Qix that really fucks you over is that occasionally the main bad guy roaming around will eat giant holes in the real estate you have already collected. Setting you back a ton. This is an interesting complicating factor that adds to the strategy of the round.
All in all, it's complete visual over-stimulation. Colors and items and bad guys and hints are everywhere. The background being revealed as you collect space is bright and obnoxious. If you are prone to migraines or generalized puking, watch out.
In the end, Panic Street is the first interesting spin-off of Qix I've enjoyed enough to bother to spend time playing. All the items and power-ups and the 8-way movement add a lot. Give it a whirl and be sure to turn down the brightness on your monitor.