For some reason Nintendo chose to release Panel de Pon DS (aka Planet Puzzle League) on the same day as Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings and guess what got all of the attention. Nintendo’s DS puzzle game deserves a shout out because it’s a fantastic remake. Instead of having Yoshi, Pokemon or the fairies Panel de Pon DS has a chic look with ten swappable backgrounds, but it’s online play really gives new life to the series. For the past few days I’ve been hooked on Planet Puzzle League alternating between online games and playing the single player Vs. CPU mode to improve my skills.
The most notable change in Panel de Pon DS is the style where you have art deco skins with electronic music to listen too. Yeah, the change sounds minor, but having ten different songs to choose from instead of the awful background music in Puzzle League for the GBA is a major plus. When you play Panel de Pon DS you hold your DS in book form and everything is played on the touch screen. A column of multicolored pieces crawl up from the bottom of the screen to the top and you have to match three or more pieces to clear them from the growing tower. You can drag pieces with the stylus, but unlike other match three puzzle games you can only switch pieces horizontally. The addition of touch screen control significantly changes how Panel de Pon DS plays compared to the older releases. You can do new moves like rapidly sliding a piece across the screen by dragging it horizontally. When you match three pieces you have a brief second to move another piece, so you don’t have to line up all your combos right away. If you clear three red pieces and a gap opens up you can drop a blue piece in the newly formed hole and keep your combo chain going. These little additions make Planet Puzzle League a much faster and more aggressive game than any other title in the series.
While you can spend your time in puzzle mode where you have to clear pieces to a set point in the growing tower, Panel de Pon DS is really about the versus modes. Similar to Puyo Puyo or Super Puzzle Fighter when you match more than three pieces you drop disturbing pieces on your opponent’s screen. The annoying garbage blocks created by your opponent in Panel de Pon DS are long bricks that can only be cleared if you match three pieces while touching one of the large bricks. New to the Puzzle League series are optional items that appear on the tower. One item makes your opponents tower “shake” by randomly shuffling the pieces on the tower, reflect panels send a garbage brick back to your opponent’s side and if you grab a fire panel you automatically chain any pieces you match. I like having items in Planet Puzzle League because they add an element of randomness to battles. When you think you’re opponent is about to win by making a mega-sized garbage block from a four chain combo you can quickly grab a reflect item and repel it back to their side.
The icing on the Planet Puzzle League cake is online play, with little to no lag even when you’re playing against Japan from North America. When you engage in multiplayer battles you can choose to fight a random opponent (fastest!), pick someone on your friend list, fight fellow newbies in “beginner” mode or face off against someone with the same birthday as you. The beginner mode is sort of an anomaly because few people play it and supposedly it gets locked once you get to a certain play level. If you really want to get a beginner match expect to wait a much longer time compared to nearly instant action when you choose to challenge a random player. However, be warned that the people playing online are real good and unless you’re a pro at chaining pieces matches expect to lose… a lot. I guess that’s just more incentive to keep practicing.
Just in case you were wondering what the skins look like there are photos of the ten skins spread out on the next two pages. Enjoy!