IGN Review of Planet Puzzle League
Planet Puzzle League is a fantastic example of Nintendo's recent evolution to approach gaming in a way that appeals not just to the hardcore gamer, but also to its newest pride and joy: the casual gamer. The title is simple a republishing of the company's addictive Panel de Pon design. Nintendo's finally settled on the branding Puzzle League in the US, and now it's about advancing and evolving the design to follow the advancements of the company's systems. Planet Puzzle League's core puzzle element is just as fun and addictive as it has been since its original NES/Super NES/Game Boy iteration, but the addition of major elements like touch-screen control and online multiplayer -- and even minor inclusions like a "Daily Play" option -- brings a ton more depth. And its classy, subdued presentation makes it even more approachable to the non-gaming crowd.
The incredibly addictive Panel de Pon puzzler is the foundation of Planet Puzzle League's design -- created during the Tetris craze, Panel de Pon (or its more familiar North American names Tetris Attack, Pokemon Puzzle Challenge, and Pokemon Puzzle League) challenged players to flip tiled pairs in a bin left-to-right or right-to-left to form groups of three or more of like colors. Doing so would cause the tiles to disappear and make room for the tiles rising in from the bottom -- tiles stacked on top of disappearing ones would drop down into the gaps, which, in turn, could create additional groupings for big combo scores. If the bin hits the top of the screen, that's the end of the game, so it's all about staying ahead of the speed of the rising tiles.
This is still the case for Planet Puzzle League -- the core gameplay is identical in the Nintendo DS, but the biggest change is its control: instead of using a D-pad to control a reticule in the stack of tiles, now it's a simple matter of tapping and dragging the tiles left or right. While it changes the overall feel of the original Panel de Pon by increasing the pace of the game, that's the only thing that it changes. The puzzle game still has that same enormous amount of strategy -- much of the skill comes from shifting tiles around in a way that'll trigger the stack to fall multiple times for huge amounts of points, a technique that's absolutely important in Vs. play. But now it can be done a lot more quickly and intuitively with the stylus. You can opt for D-pad control for more traditional Puzzle League gameplay, but unless you've got lightning thumbs, you'll never be able to compete against the stylus crowd.
The thing about Puzzle League and its multiple incarnations over the years: it's amazing to see how many fun ideas Intelligent Systems can squeeze out of the original theme. The game has several different game modes to keep players occupied: there's the Endless mode, which is a simple Tetris like mode where players play through the rising difficulty until they fail. You've got Time Attack where you'll need to set a high score before the clock runs down, and Garbage Challenge that presses the gamer to remove dummy blocks by scoring combos right next to it. Additionally, there's also the incredibly challenging Puzzle mode, where the requirement is to shift the tiles in a specifically laid-out bin in a limited number of turns to remove them all -- in the DS version, they've added to it where some puzzles require moving tiles to keep the combo string going.
The game's played out through the Nintendo DS system's "book mode," meaning you hold the system vertically to have the touch screen on the right (if you're right handed) and the non-touch screen on the left. This is the default orientation, but it can be changed if you'd prefer to hold the system in the traditional fashion. It's your choice.
One of the newest features is what's called Daily Play, a simple but very cool option that will most likely make it into more and more Nintendo DS product. In Daily Play, you have three different, specific challenges to complete, and once they're done you can't play them again until the next day...using the in-system calendar to keep track. The game will rank you after each mode, and you can see your progress on a chart to show how well (or poorly) you did compared to the previous day's Daily Play. It's a very basic mode, but yet, it actually does something to encourage frequent play -- and it's an idea that could work for pretty much any game design. This could be the start of something big for Nintendo DS games.
On top of all of these single player modes, Planet Puzzle League offers one of the most robust multiplayer focuses on the Nintendo DS platform. You've got single card download to give players a demo single player version, as well as a Download Play version of the multiplayer. But the real hook is its Internet support; through the use of the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection service, players can compete against other Planet Puzzle League owners all over the world -- as of this writing, most of our matches were against players using the Japanese release, and since they've had the game for a few months now, most of the matches were shut-outs. Time to practice, kids -- the Worldwide competition is already heated. Luckily there's a "Novice" option over the Wi-Fi service that's will only be active on players' systems if they aren't trouncing competitors. If you keep winning, you're blocked out of the Novice mode and will have to compete against the more advanced crowd. Nice touch. You can even play in a "Birthday Mode" where you'll only compete against players who share your birthday. Odd, but at the same time cool.
For those who manage to take the time to trade Friend Codes with buddies, you get one additional feature: Voice Chat. Not only will you be able to talk with your buds through the microphone in the setup menu, but that Voice Over IP function continues during gameplay, too. It works, and works well, with or without the headset peripheral -- it's definitely a step further than Pokemon Diamond and Pearl since Planet Puzzle League's action is a bit more non-stop. While we're still not huge fans of the Friend Code system, it's great to see the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection service continue to advance with these features, and voice chat during gameplay is a very welcome one indeed.
The multiplayer modes add the ability to trigger power-ups in the normal Panel de Pon gameplay. These power-ups are activated as soon as you match the designated tile with the two or more like-colored tiles -- some power-ups will shuffle the opposing players' tiles, or prevent him from shifting tiles above a certain level, or even send garbage blocks up off your screen and back into his bin. Power-ups are only an option, though -- if you're a purist, you can simply choose not to have them come into play. But the power-ups do shake up the action quite a bit, and add a really fun "screw you" element in the battles. And you can watch it all play out on the Nintendo DS system's second screen.
The simple to understand concept and rewarding strategy of Planet Puzzle League lends themselves well to that addictive nature of action puzzlers, and the presentation is laid out in such a way that it's pick-up-and-play friendly -- an important asset in any portable game design. It's a matter of personal preference where you rank the puzzle design of Planet Puzzle League to games of the genre like Tetris and Puyo Pop and even Pokemon Trozei since they all share a lot in common. The touch screen control definitely brings the game closer to Meteos in style, but Planet Puzzle League not quite as rapid fire action-packed as that one. At the very least, the game has an enormous amount of variety in options, and if you grow tired of (or get stuck in) one mode, you can always jump into another.
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