Planet Puzzle League
The League of Extraordinary DS Puzzle Games has a new member.
Marriages don't last long these days. The divorce rates are skyrocketing, and superstar couples are all over the tabloids as they marry, remarry, divorce, separate, and all but murder each other. Luckily, the world of gaming isn't quite so trite, and marriages tend to last a little longer than a few months. Take for example, the most pristine marriage that seems to have become a foundation in the handheld community, the marriage of puzzle games and touchscreen functionality.
Like soulmates the two first came together in Meteos, and the tryst continued throughout Gunpey, Picross DS, Quickspot, Tetris DS (not so much on the touchscreen), Magnetica, and a slew of other titles that were all benefited by a little touching (like most marriages). Most of these games existed in one way or another before the touchscreen wiggled its way into the relationship, which makes it all that much better to see how the DS is actually changing traditional puzzle gameplay. Sure, we've known that for a while now, but it's often nice to, you know, stop and take in the winds of change as they're still blowing strong.
In the case of puzzle games, the winds are definitely still blowing, and Planet Puzzle League is the latest gust of fresh air. Or, in this case, not-so fresh air that's been given some new jazzed up scent, like potpourri or the smell of someone's backyard barbecue. The smell is familiar, but each time it reminds us of our own last backyard barbecue, the one with all the insects and small house-fires and not so tender steak. Yeah, maybe I should drop this analogy, it's painful to remember.
The point is that Planet Puzzle League is a fresh take on an old concept. Gamers have seen the model before in the classic Tetris Attack on SNES, Pokemon Puzzle League and Pokemon Puzzle Challenge on their respective systems, and the GBA compilation cart Dr. Mario/Puzzle League. Obviously there's some history, but even still, Puzzle League never commanded the same popularity as a game like Tetris, so there are going to be some newcomers this time around. Nintendo's actually banking on it, as Planet Puzzle League is the latest game to be included in the Touch Generations lineup, hoping to sway over even more non-gamers and new-gamers to the already filled to the brim DS fanbase.
It shouldn't be that hard a sell, as the gameplay is simple and makes for a wonderful introduction into puzzle gaming for those who haven't previously had the opportunity. There are various kinds of tiles present on the playing field, each with a different color and featuring a different shape (hearts, stars, triangles, etc.). The tiles rise, unlike Tetris, from the bottom of the field and push the stack towards the top. Players are forced to use the stylus to drag tiles together in hopes of forming a combination of three similar tiles, which will then be removed from the field. Clearing more than three panels results in a combo, for extra points, and when panels drop after a set has been cleared, if another match is then made, this results in a chain. Even the combo and chain mechanics have all been part of the series for years, and they're relatively common puzzle game concepts, so they shouldn't be foreign to many players.
What might feel a little foreign though, is playing Planet Puzzle League in the vertical storybook style similar to Brain Age. Meteos: Disney Magic proved that this resolution could be beneficial to a puzzle setting, so it seems Nintendo decided to run with the ball and include that as an opportunity for players to explore.
Players can also explore the various gameplay modes that are included within the game. Single player offers games of the regular endless variety, akin to most puzzle games, as well as a stage clearing setup with occasional "bosses," or levels that have life-bars to deplete through combos, and a garbage challenge which forces players to deal with garbage blocks dropping while they attempt to clear their stacks. There is also a vs. computer mode, a time attack mode, a puzzle mode with specific challenges that must be entirely cleared, a daily play mode with a time attack challenge specific to each day, and the real champion of Planet Puzzle League, a multiplayer mode available in local wireless through shared cart or single-cart download play or through the Nintendo Wi-Fi service. Not only are there that many modes included in Planet Puzzle League, but there are even smaller subdivisions of each mode, such as something like Birthday VS., available through Wi-Fi, in which a player can build a competitive ranking against someone else with the same Birthday.
With as many gameplay types included as are offered in Planet Puzzle League, it's genuinely difficult to suggest that Nintendo has anything but another hit on their hands. The inclusion of Wi-Fi play and the Touch Generations branding are going to make this game a big splash when it drops on June 4th. Expect a review from us in the next few weeks, and just between you and me, here's hoping Nintendo got this one right, and follows quickly with Picross DS to fill my puzzle dreams!