It is time to admit that, whether you were six or six hundred, when you first booted up Super Mario 64, you had the most fun of your life stretching and contorting Mario’s polygonal mug.
And then you actually played Mario 64, and it didn’t have a single bit that even tangentially referenced the excess pinching of the Nintendo 64’s introduction to the masses. What a bait and switch! Here is an interesting, totally new use for an all-new technology, and it’s little more than a tech demo that was soldered onto a completely different game!
But, if you could wait for five years, you’d finally be rewarded with a new adventure that fully utilized the stretching and pulling first seen in Mario 64. That game would be Stretch Panic, and the chief reason you might not want to play it would be… well…
… Yeah… Uh… I don’t think we’re going to get that Mario 64 universal audience with this one.
But Stretch Panic is more than just gigantic breasts! Like… uh… There’s a reason for the boobs! See, it’s all a parable about vanity! That’s right! Our heroine is Linda, the youngest of twelve sisters. Since their father passed, the sisters have inexplicably become obsessed with their appearances, and Linda is the last woman standing that isn’t going to swoon over botox injections. Unfortunately, this makes the whole gang ripe for demonic possession, and Linda’s family is almost entirely consumed by a bevy of vanity demons. Fortunately, Linda is naturally resistant to the vanity demons (because she’d rather focus on other things, like an unhealthy obsession with the last gift she ever received from her father), so her personal demon is absorbed and controlled within her signature scarf. And now Linda has to use said demonic scarf to defeat and hopefully exorcise the demons from her dear/homicidal sisters.
And the stock boob ladies are there because those are other vanity victims, duh.
But the real sisters are interesting! The meat and potatoes of this is game is basically a boss rush, and each of the bosses are one of the possessed sisters. And I can nary recall another Playstation 2 title that shows this much innovation and variety with its bosses. You’ve got giant robots next to siren babysitters next to spinning birds. The only connecting tissue here is a desire for something vaguely threatening, so you’re equally likely to encounter an enormous gray (cyan) alien or a malevolent pile of slime. There’s even a backstory reason for each sister and why each one became an appropriately themed ogre (though, granted, Miss Fay Soff becoming a malevolent Mr. Potato Head was foreshadowed from birth). And, appropriate to the variety of designs on display, each monster also possesses wildly different offensive capabilities and defensive vulnerabilities. Every boss fight is significantly different from the last, and there isn’t a “color swap” battle to be seen across the Museum of Agony.
Except all those giant boob ladies. Just oodles and oodles of color swapped balloon breast babes.
But the aesthetics are otherwise interesting! Not only is every boss its own monster, but every arena is appropriate to its demonic occupant, too. And the overall look is that sort of Halloween-punk that has made Tim Burton a buck or two in his day. This is a very distinctive title, and not just because the heroine is rocking an iconic, sentient scarf. In much the same way Psychonauts or even Earthbound is never going to be mistaken for any other title, Stretch Panic establishes itself as singularly unique from its box art straight through to its ending. And a special note should be made for the fact that this was a Playstation 2 game, which places it firmly in the trenches of the “everything must be realistic” generation. Did you see what Mega Man X looked like during this generation? It wasn’t pretty. Stretch Panic dared to be its own unique animal. Stretch Panic was pretty.
Except Stretch Panic’s main grunt was a giant boob lady that could have originated from any other misogynistic Playstation 2 title. The innovation of “jiggle physics” was likely a significant reason for a particular half of the population abandoning AAA titles on the PS2, and this kind of nonsense was part of the problem.
But the gameplay is why you need to try Stretch Panic! The camera sucks in a predictably Playstation 2 kind of way, and what is traditionally the “camera” stick on your dualshock has given way to the scarf control stick. And that’s okay! After some practice, you’ll be skillfully and naturally controlling that demonic scarf like a second limb. And that’s important, because every boss battle requires precision to repel missiles, steer sandstorms, and conquer a Godzilla-sized problem. Everything in Stretch Panic can be stretched and contorted, and these seemingly simple motions are used in a variety of ways across Linda’s twelve big battles. Each boss has a secret weak point (well, it’s not very secret when the game eventually gets bored and throws up a pulsating “hit here, stupid” arrow if you’re taking too long), and discovering exactly how to utilize your stretching to hit that weakness is the preeminent challenge of Stretch Panic. But don’t worry! The majority of these weak points are based on real-world physics, so, like snapping a rubber band, you’re likely going to naturally discover how to stretch back a drinking bird’s head and slam its usual inertia into the concrete. Stretch Panic’s gameplay isn’t just a gimmick, it’s a fully realized experience that relies on creative solutions.
Except with the boob ladies. You’re just snapping bras on those grunts.
Look, I get it. The boob ladies are supposed to be grotesque, and the whole point is the excess. This is mocking other titles at the time (I want to say this was right around when Xbox units were being sold on an advertising campaign that boiled down to “Come jerk off to Dead or Alive”), and, frankly, we may have needed such a mirror then (and now). The innovation of realistic graphics led to a number of games leaning into vaguely pornographic visuals and justifying it all with “oh, she has to be next to naked for the story”. It was gross. It is always gross. And one silly game poking fun at that flimsy and oft-repeated justification seems appropriate, particularly given the entire plot and moral is unmistakably “an obsession with looks is bad”. You can easily see how the “boob ladies” are deliberate and another important choice in the gestalt that is Stretch Panic.
But that decision unmistakably skews the entire experience. The breast monsters are the first creatures you encounter. They’re the most frequent creatures you encounter. They exist in multiple levels, and are the only non-boss characters across the game. Considering there are four “ex” stages and twelve boss stages, they essentially populate a full fourth of the game. Everything else barely amounts to a sixteenth. And, if you don’t defeat the various bosses properly, you will need more stars, which will require grinding for more stars on (you guessed it) the boob monsters. This all leads to one very basic conclusion: you’re going to remember this game for the boob ladies. Whether you only played the first level or played straight through to completion, you’re going to have one, very spherical memory jiggling around your mind.
So everything Stretch Panic is… every aesthetic choice, every interesting battle, every flake of unique gameplay, even its obvious social commentary: it all boils down to “the game with giant boobs”.
Stretch Panic: It’s that boob game.
… And that’s why Super Mario 64 got a DS remake.
FGC #477 Stretch Panic
- System: Playstation 2, and only ever Playstation 2.
- Number of Players: I can’t even imagine how a two player mode could ever work in this game. Co-op boss battling seems like the obvious answer, but I can’t envision this camera AI working with that at all.
- Favorite Sister: It was already mentioned, but Fay Soff has the dumbest, biggest reach of a name in this or any other medium. That said, battling a malevolent Mr. Potato Head is fun, and arguably the least expected battle I’ve ever seen a videogame (give or take that time a dude from Frozen turned into a wolf monster capable of using a spirit bomb).
- So, did you beat it? Yes, but it took a lot of practice to (as the kids say) get good. And I have no idea why I did such a thing. Maybe I thought there would be more to this game that has so many interesting qualities? Maybe I thought it would bring meaning to my existence to be one of the few people that wholly completed “that boob game”. Or, maybe, just maybe, I was a broke college student, and I had to justify blowing hard-earned cash on this tech demo of a game. Maybe I’m still doing that!
- Come to think of it: If you assume the demons to be genderless, every character in this game is female. How often does that happen in a videogame that does not involve horse adventures?
- Not Canon: Some of the sisters have very established backstories. Jelly-Chan is a blob of jelly because she thought being bigger was better, and she recklessly indulged in sweets. Cyan is now a giant because she was the shortest sister, and her ideal form includes skyscraper stature. But the human model for each individual sister is randomly chosen, so Jelly-Chan can be a wee little girl, or Cyan can be literally the tallest (human) woman in the game. Each playthrough appears to be different, so I suppose it’s possible to get the randomizer to get it right across the board every once in a while.
- What’s in a name: Stretch Panic wound up with a different name (and box art!) in each region. North America got Stretch Panic, but Europe saw Freak Out. Japan got Hippa Linda, presumably because underage heroines are more popular than stretching and/or freaking over there.
- Did you know? Stretch Panic was created by Treasure, and published by Conspiracy Entertainment. This duo was also responsible for a certain N64/Dreamcast game by the name of Bangai-O. The difference between these two games is… significant.
- Would I play again: Nope. Boob game is going bye-bye.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Popful Mail for the Sega CD! Mail call! Please look forward to it!