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AGS takes the hold-and-respin bonus to new levels with Panda Empire

By Frank Legato


Slot supplier AGS is known for clever, often funny characters that inject an interactive feel to the games. These characters make encore appearances in any number of game families, usually throwing wild symbols, extra spins or some other special bonus into an otherwise familiar game feature.

The newest AGS game family checks all these boxes. Called Panda Empire, it weaves an Asian-themed game around that most popular of game features—the hold-and-respin bonus. Central to the theme is a collection of panda characters that each add something extra to the main bonus round.

The game is in casinos now, and so far, players love it, says Jackson Floyd, vice president of slots for AGS. “As far as player reception, it couldn’t be better so far,” he says. “I myself have spent a lot of time playing the game, both in our showroom and on casino floors, and it’s not a mystery to me at all why the game is performing so well.”

It all starts with the cabinet. Panda Empire is the launch title for the newest entry in AGS’ Spectra family of cabinets, the sleek Spectra UR43 Premium, with its 43-inch portrait monitor under regal, billboard-style displays. The platform was built to deliver high-quality graphics, with synchronized animation overhead, and with features like improved 3D imaging. In short, it is designed to deliver a compelling video slot experience.

Panda Empire takes full advantage of all the capabilities of this particular cabinet, and the result is an engaging play experience.

“The first thing that strikes you when you sit down at this game is that it looks like it can be really exciting and fun,” Floyd says. “But when you start to play it, the colors, the animations, the sounds, all of these things, you can tell they were just painstakingly curated and obsessed over, to really create the most engaging feel for the player.

“It’s got great math, it’s got great features, but all of those things really help drive engagement. As a player, I’m just immediately engrossed in this game.”


Hold and Spin with a Twist

The base game in Panda Empire is a five-reel video slot available in three different payline configurations, each tied to denomination—50 lines in penny and 2-cent denominations, 25 lines at 5 cents and 10 cents, 10 lines at 50-cent and dollar denominations.

The game features frequent bonus events, with the main panda character and all the themed versions of the panda adding punch to the bonuses.

Three or more fireworks symbols trigger five free spins. During the free spins, the panda character on the large main screen will dip into the bowl of coins he is holding and throw them down to the middle reels to add either wild symbols or cash-on-reels symbols. Landing another three or more fireworks on a free spin retriggers the feature with five more free spins.

“But the real chase in the game is the Panda Empire bonus,” says Floyd. In either a primary game spin or during the free spin bonus, lining up any combination of six (for .01, .02, .05 or .10 denomination) or five (.50 and 1.00 denominations) cash-on-reels symbols and/or “Panda Upgrade” symbols triggers the Panda Empire feature. It starts out with what you would expect from a hold-and-respin bonus. The cash-on- reels and Panda Upgrade symbols lock in place, and the reels respin, starting with three respins. Every time another of the triggering symbols lands, the spin meter resets.

“It’s very classic in that sense, but this is where the innovation starts,” Floyd says. During the hold-and-respin feature, those Panda Upgrade trigger symbols become several unique bonus triggers. “There are several Panda Upgrade symbols that are all unique characters, that each do something in the game,” he says. “Each of these panda symbols has its own unique colors and animations and interactions with the players, and does different things with the reel array.”

There are six panda symbols that can land during the Panda Empire bonus event. The Empress Panda and the Super Empress Panda add credit values to some or all of the reel spots. The Villager Panda expands the reel array by one row, up to a maximum of eight rows of symbols across the five reels, creating more chances for cash-on-reels and other awards. The Emperor and Super Emperor Pandas repeat the wins for one or all spins. The Warrior Panda adds an additional base spin value to the feature—from three to four, four to five, and so on.

There are two other possible symbols that can land in the hold-and-respin event, and these symbols unlock the game’s four jackpots—Mini and Minor static jackpots that scale with denominations, and Major and Grand progressives that reset at $1,000 and $8,000, respectively.

These jackpots are triggered by landing one of two treasure chest symbols during the Panda Empire bonus. The “8” treasure chest contains all four jackpots, and the “Super 8” treasure chest contains only the Major and Grand progressives— the two top prizes.

“When you land them, they have a number on them, and the number is how many spins you have to survive for those treasure chests to be unlocked for you,” Floyd explains. “For instance, it may say ‘5,’ and then, if you survive for five spins in the hold-and-spin bonus, that unlocks the treasure chest and awards you one of the jackpots.”

Floyd says the multiple possibilities during the bonus round are easy for players to grasp. “There’s a ton going on,” he says, “but it’s very clean and simple for the player to understand. And to make it even more simple, the LCD button deck clearly and concisely spells out what each Panda symbol does for your bonus rounds—which, for me as a player, is really nice. I don’t like to play games where I don’t know what I’m rooting for and what I’ve won. With this game, there’s no mystery.”

He adds that the free-spin and Panda Empire bonus events are very frequent occurrences. “That’s important,” says Floyd. “They didn’t make it so far [between bonuses] that you don’t get to experience all the different characters and their interactions. And it has the potential to pay a lot, which is very unique.”

After successful launches at the new Durango and other Station Casinos properties in Las Vegas, the game’s footprint is spreading quickly, and according to Floyd, AGS is racing to keep up with the orders.

He says it’s because of what the game offers the player. “If you’re looking for a really engaging experience, this game is very entertaining,” Floyd says. “This game really expertly balances the frequency of this bonus—that has a lot going on in itself—with the volatility that you need to really keep you engaged from a gambler’s perspective.

“Those things together really make this an experience that you just don’t want to have once or twice, but one where you’ll keep on coming back again and again to play this game.”



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