Hey, have you heard the news? “Panel de Pon” has arrived on DS!
What’s “Panel de Pon” you ask? You mean you’re not familiar with the game ‘Panel de Pon”?
Yeah, me either.
Before we go any further I will share with you what I learned about the game- “Panel de Pon” was released in 1995 for the Super Famicom (the Japanese version of the Super NES).
It was soon released in the U.S. under the name “Tetris Attack”. In Japan the game included lots of pink fairies and such. The multiple fairy characters in Panel must have been seen as too “girly” for the U.S. because they were replaced with characters from Yoshi's Island. A few years later, the game was revived on the N64 as “Pokémon Puzzle League”. This time around they’re calling it “Planet Puzzle League” but from what I have read it’s basically the same game, new name.
No matter what title it goes by, however, this is easily hands down one of the best handheld puzzle games I have played.
At first glance this game didn’t seem like much; what’s so new and exciting about switching a bunch of rainbow-colored blocks around a screen anyway I said to myself. Yawn, been there done that.
But I am a die-hard puzzle fan and it had elements of Tetris and Meteos (a similar tile sliding game), two puzzlers that I love playing on my DS so I figured what the heck and picked it up. I went home and played it and guess what… magic happened! Within minutes, I was completely hooked!
The game is simple - each stage consists of blocks that need to be cleared off a field before they touch the top of the screen. You must line up 3 or more blocks in a row, horizontally or vertically to remove them.
You can only slide blocks left and right, swapping two at a time. You do this by using the stylus, and you play it holding the DS sideways like an open book instead of the usual way, but for those of you out there who are button mashers you can play using the traditional D-pad buttons.
SideNote: The developers had the good sense to blow up the size of the playing area if you're holding the DS like a book. Most games wouldn't bother.
And guess what the stylus controls actually work! They are responsive and fluid; you can drag blocks the whole way along the line in one nice clean, sweep.
New rows of blocks will keep appearing from the bottom of the screen and of course the speed will pick up the longer you play.
Bear in mind that columns are worth more points than rows, as they're a bit harder to arrange, while groups of four or more are also more valuable, and chains are like pennies from heaven. Obviously, you must avoid running out of space while building up your score.
By creating chains and combos you can temporarily “pause” the rows and continue to move blocks to create more chains. Believe me, these pauses are real lifesavers when the pace of the game gets really fast.
“Planet Puzzle League” never gets boring because there are many different modes to play. It will keep even the biggest ADD’s out there happy.
Endless Mode is your standard "play until it's over" Tetris-like gameplay.
Time Attack is the “wham bam thank you ma’am” version of gameplay. Where you must score as many points as you can in 2 minutes
VS. Com Mode obviously this is the versus-mode against the CPU.
Garbage Challenge Mode (my favorite) dumps giant solid, unmovable blocks on you and forces you to work in tight conditions.
Clear Mode is all about getting rid of blocks above a Clear Line to finish a stage.
Daily Play Mode is perfect for those who don’t have much time to play a videogame (no time to play videogames? You poor, poor thing!) Well, good news this allows you to play three 2-minute games once a day.
Puzzle Mode is more of a challenge mode if you will, where you will be given tasks such as “eliminate all blocks within 4 moves”, or "make a 5-chain" with limited blocks available. It's an acquired taste, but it does teach you a lot about how to play the game. Give it a try, you might like it and of you get really stuck there is a "Hint" button to help you out. It’s a bit of a cheat though, but if you absolutely can’t solve the puzzle and can't restrain yourself then go right ahead, I won’t tell anybody.
All of this is more than enough to keep anyone occupied and satisfied for a good long while, I don’t know about you but when it comes to an avid puzzle gamer like me, competing with others is really where it’s at! Hey, a lil’ competition never hurt anyone, right? After playing for awhile, I thought I was good enough to go head to head so I tried a few multiplayer games with some random people. So how did I do? Well, I held my own thank you very much!
Truth is, I got my butt whipped, kicked and licked!
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The thing that makes “Planet Puzzle League” really shine is the fact that it has full Wireless and Wi-Fi capabilities. Through the magic of WiFi, players can now go online and battle other players all across the world! My favorite was Birthday Battle.
Let me now explain Birthday Battle.
Birthday Battle is the mode that lets you play ONLY with people that share your birthday. But how does it know your birthday, you ask, because it’s the date you entered into your DS's settings silly.
I loved playing against fellow Pisces or Pisces-nians (is that even a word?) from all over the globe, even from Japan.
Wi-Fi Battles have three "servers", so to speak: Free Play, Novice and Friend Battle.
Free Play is for friendly matches that won't affect your rankings.
Novice is only for beginners, and more experienced players won't be able to access this mode.
Friend Battle is for playing against people who have shared their friend codes with you. Friend Battles support friendly voice chat or trash talk what have you, so if you have been on the fence about getting a DS headset, this would be a great reason to finally get it. I suppose you could do this without the headset, but no one is going to hear you but your dog and your houseplant.
All this sounds pretty cool doesn’t it? Here’s even more good news, up to 4 people can play against one another with just one copy of the game, a very nice bonus indeed, (even though the fact is the game is so great that the other 3 players will probably end up picking up a copy for themselves anyway!)
Being a puzzle game, “Planet Puzzle League” can get away with having simple 2D graphics. The blocks are bright and colorful and change designs with each level.
If I had one real gripe, I would say it lies in the backgrounds. You see they are so stylish and hip that most times they are a bit of a distraction! No joke, it was hard to keep an eye on the puzzle action going on at times.
There's not much to say on the music side. It’s the usual repetitive sort of techno beat that you can expect from all puzzle games, I mean really why do they even bother?! I muted mine early on.
So what started off like a relatively simple gameplay experience for me soon became quite an addiction! Yes, an addiction! Trust me you won't be able to put it down. When you close your eyes to drift to sleep, you'll still see colored blocks swapping places to form groups of three or more.
Simply put, it's clearly my pick for Handheld Puzzle Game of the Year!
At $35 bucks, the price might seem be a bit steep for a simple puzzler, but when you're still carrying it around three months from now, you won't regret it one bit.Get Planet Puzzle League Here