Planet Puzzle League (DS) review
"Once upon a time, Panel de Pon (and its American counterpart Tetris Attack) ruled supreme over the puzzle gaming genre. At first glance, the game didn’t seem like much; what’s so great about switching a bunch of rainbow-colored blocks around the screen while a gang of fairy kids cheered you on? While it had a presentation childish enough to send insecure male gamers running for the nearest gore-heavy fighter, Panel de Pon had an ace up its sleeve: pure, unbridled addictivene..."
Once upon a time, Panel de Pon (and its American counterpart Tetris Attack) ruled supreme over the puzzle gaming genre. At first glance, the game didn’t seem like much; what’s so great about switching a bunch of rainbow-colored blocks around the screen while a gang of fairy kids cheered you on? While it had a presentation childish enough to send insecure male gamers running for the nearest gore-heavy fighter, Panel de Pon had an ace up its sleeve: pure, unbridled addictiveness. There was something captivating (if not absurdly fun) about guiding rows of block by color and making them vanish. Weathered Tetris veterans were left drooling slack-jawed at their television screens with a SNES controller gripped firmly in their hands. After a few facelifts and re-designs, this juggernaut of a puzzle game has returned as Planet Puzzle League, ready to work its magic on the DS.
That’s right, boys and girls. Panel de Pon is back, albeit with a few things missing. Older fans may not like the lack of the game’s heroine, Lip, and the rest of her pixie pals. Planet Puzzle League ditches the generic good versus evil plot (because moving blocks to defeat a supervillain makes so much sense) and focuses on the core gameplay that made the title such a success. The premise is simple: you have to eliminate an unending wall by sorting its blocks into groups of three destroying them. Each block is marked with symbols and colors, be it red hearts, gold stars, dice pips, etc. Armed with your trusty stylus (or the DS’s pathetically slow buttons, if you like to live dangerously), you can switch the positions of two blocks at a time, allowing you manipulate rows, slice through columns, and create combo chains. Since the wall will rebuild itself at an ever-increasing pace, you’ll have to work frantically to keep it from overflowing the screen. In the end, all you can do is pray that you last long enough to beat your high score.
Once you’ve gotten your fill of the Endless challenge, Planet Puzzle League offers several other one-player modes to keep you coming back for more. The Garbage Mode builds upon the usual gameplay by crushing the wall under a bunch of metal beams. In order to clear the screen, you’ll have not only have to group the blocks together, but get them to touch the beams (and thus convert them into more blocks) as well. Upon entering Clear Mode, you’ll have to clear all of the blocks above a predetermined marker before the wall becomes too tall to handle. Aside from allowing you to play both of these challenges under a set time limit, the Time Attack section also grants you access to the Lift Mode. In a gameplay style almost counterintuitive to the rest of the game, you’ll be scored depending on how many rows of the wall you can get on the playing field. All you have to do is keep shaving off the top layers and hope the screen doesn’t get too crammed with blocks. There’s even a Daily Play Mode, which allows gamers to temporarily quell their cravings by providing brief challenges that can only be accessed once a day.
And that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
Aside from these minor twists on the basic gameplay, Planet Puzzle League offers a slew of puzzle challenges and missions for you to conquer. You’ll be presented with a certain amount of blocks, and then asked to eliminate all of them using a set number of moves. Other times, you’ll have to time your switches to create combos and get a high score. The game doesn’t spare anything when it comes to these awesome (if not occasionally headache-inducing) puzzles. Between the Basic, Advanced, Active, and Mission Puzzle Modes, you’ll find that the list of challenges ranges by not the dozens, but by the hundreds. Since the challenges steadily increase in difficulty, you’ll eventually start relying on the optional hints featured in each puzzle. Thankfully, the game is lenient on failure; even if some of the stages have you banging your head against your DS in frustration, you’ll be allowed to backtrack and restart whenever you wish. Oh yeah, puzzle game fans are going to be very happy.
But if you feel like getting your competitive groove on, Planet Puzzle League provides an extensive array of multiplayer options. AI opponents (which can be utterly insane on higher difficulty settings) aside, you’ll be able to take on up to three of your other friends via the DS’s Wireless Download feature. The real contenders, however, are waiting online. You’ll be able to challenge random gamers worldwide, hone your skills in Novice Mode (until you start kicking too much ass and get thrown out, anyway), exchange friend codes, and even battle users who share your birthdate. While the basic gameplay is tough enough, the multiplayer can leave you sobbing over your defeats. Aside from the blistering pace and the opponent’s frequently cutthroat tactics, you can opt to include a small arsenal of powerups to up the stakes. You’ll be able to fling garbage onto your enemy’s wall, paralyze its blocks with a bolt of lightning, and even leave it lost in a fog. Needless to say, this is no Tetris.
That doesn’t mean that the game looks much better than its classic contemporary. While Planet Puzzle League doesn’t skimp on the gameplay options, it makes little use of the DS’s graphical abilities. Sure, it has a nifty little feature of letting you hold the DS on its end like a book (as if holding it correctly wasn’t awkward enough) and playing sideways, but nothing on the screen is particularly impressive. The blocks come in a wide variety of colors and symbols, but they have no textural features or details. As opposed to the flashy explosions in Meteos (aka another outstanding DS puzzler), there’s nothing dramatic or eye-catching. The game tries to distract you with a flurry of fireworks, streaming arrows, laser grids, spinning wheels, lotus blossoms, and other lively works of art, but they come off as simplistic at best. At least the pulse-pounding techno/jazz soundtrack keeps the gameplay flowing smoothly. Though the presentation is dated, it ought to satisfy gamers of any age.
That’s really the point of Planet Puzzle League: to provide an awesome gameplay experience to anyone willing to give it a chance. Fans of the original Panel de Pon may be put off by the adult-oriented presentation and lack of a story, but the sheer amount of options make up for it. You’ll be able to tackle an endless wall of blocks, complete countless puzzles and challenges, master combo techniques to maximize your scores, and endure some of the most brutal online competition ever seen. So the game isn’t as visually appealing as Meteos. So it’s not as popular as Tetris. Big deal. Planet Puzzle League is one of the most addictive games on the DS. Puzzle game fans, you know you want to get this. Everyone else, give it a shot. You just might like it.
Community review by disco (June 10, 2007)
Disco is a San Francisco Bay Area native, whose gaming repertoire spans nearly three decades and hundreds of titles. He loves fighting games, traveling the world, learning new things, writing, photography, and tea. Not necessarily in that order.
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