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Planet Puzzle League

Posted July 7th 2007 by Ben Wood.

I always thought that Tetris Attack for the Super Nintendo was the best puzzle game out there. The only thing that slowed me down with that game was the frame rate drop the, thanks to the SNES' lack of processing power A few years later, this Panel de Pon experience lost its Yoshi's Island branding to all things Pokémon, but it was still top notch. Puzzle League then had brief stints as part of the Japan-only Nintendo Puzzle Collection and in a GBA compilation with Dr. Mario. Finally, thanks in part to the success of the Touch Generations line of "gaming for everyone", the classic puzzler gets to have its own unique identity on the Nintendo DS as Planet Puzzle League. They may as well have called it "Sex on a Handheld" because this newest iteration not only surpasses its predecessors in every way; it is arguably the best handheld puzzle game yet.

Just like all the great puzzle games, Puzzle League is easy to learn but hard to master. For the uninitiated, Puzzle League is a game where rows of multi-colored tiles rise from the bottom and can be eliminated by flipping them horizontally to line up three same-colored tiles together. Clearing more than three tiles at once creates a combo, and a chain is created by successively eliminating sets of tiles. An active chain is a special kind of chain where tiles are moved while another set is still exploding. These advanced techniques are the keys to racking up high scores and defeating computer and opponents in multiplayer battles; creating a combo or chain sends blocks of garbage to the opponent's stack, which are transformed into standard playing tiles by eliminating a set of tiles that touch the garbage blocks. The game is over when the stack can no longer rise.

As the stack rises faster, the difficulty increases in that you have less time to make matches. New to Puzzle League this time around is a gravity component, or lift as it's called in some settings. For beginners, the blocks above where a match was made fall slower. Advanced players might enjoy the challenge on the higher difficulty where gravity pulls the blocks down faster, leaving you less time to create a chain. Having this option might help newcomers get a hang for making chains, but as someone who's been around the block, the classic middle-of-the-road setting felt the most balanced.

The major difference between Planet Puzzle League and every previous game is the stylus control. Up to the point where I opened the game, I swore against using the stylus to slide tiles back and forth because the D-Pad and A button set-up worked perfectly fine – and that control is included if it suits your fancy. Believe me when I say that the stylus control propels Puzzle League to a whole new level. Not only does it work, there's no going back. Making chains is easier than ever, and you can slide tiles around just as fast as you can picture them. Holding the system book-style is really comfortable and makes the playing field that much larger and the tiles easier to slide. It's honestly the best thing since sliced bread.

Like all those that came before, Puzzle League comes with a variety of single-player modes to keep you entertained: Endless (play until you lose), Time Attack (play for high scores in two-minute sessions), Vs. Com (play against a computer opponent), Clear (eliminate all the tiles above a specified line), and Puzzle (clear all tiles with a given number of moves).

Nintendo has thrown in even more options to these already existing modes. Time Attack offers the ability to lift as many rows as you can, net a high score, or deal with an endless amount of garbage until the time is up – or the game is over. Both Vs. Com and the local multiplayer component offer a similar choice between a standard garbage battle, a clear line battle, and a high score battle. The puzzle mode offers basic and advanced puzzles, as well as the new active puzzles where you have to clear the field using active chains. Also new to the single-player set of modes is the Garbage Challenge, where you play with near-endless garbage piling onto the stack, and Mission, like the mode of the same name found in Tetris DS, tasks players to clear a number of tiles in a specific manner.

The newest addition, however, is the inclusion of Daily Play. Like Wii Sports and Brain Age, Planet Puzzle League encourages you keep playing everyday; the scores obtained in Daily Play are saved and beautifully graphed so that you can track your progress (or lack thereof) over time. Each challenge, be it high score, garbage clear, or stack lifting, lasts a mere two minutes.

All of this is more than enough to keep any one person occupied and satisfied for a good while, but when it comes to an active puzzle game like this one, competition with others is really what fuels the need to constantly play and improve. Fortunately, Planet Puzzle League excels when it comes to multiplayer support. Only one cartridge is required for up to four players to duke it out locally. The big addition to multiplayer is that there is now the option to host item matches. Items help to level the playing field several ways, including scrambling the opponent's stack, paralyzing his or her rows, and by changing all your blocks to three colors.

However, if your friends are still struggling with the demo that you can send to their DS, you can look online to find some real competition. Planet Puzzle League supports garbage battles for you and a stranger to over WFC. When connecting with a friend, a couple of options open up: voice-chat during matches and battles with items. There's also an odd but fun Birthday mode where you can rank yourself against other players who share your birthday.

The Wi-Fi component for Planet Puzzle League is one of the best that I've seen on the DS thus far. Connecting and finding opponents is really fast. Your opponent's movements look a bit lagged with or without voice-chat, but it has no effect on the flow of gameplay or the outcome of the game. It's always a plus to be playing with friends and hearing them complain about a mistake they made or the sheer amount of garbage you dump on their stack. Surprisingly, there's no online mode that pairs you up with similarly skilled players – something almost needed for a game where advanced players can take out novices and solve algebraic equations at the same time.

The only multi-cart support comes in the form of movie trading. The game saves up to 12 replays of the two-minute Time Attack mode, which can then be sent to other Planet Puzzle League carts. It's a sure way to impress your friends, but a shame that they cannot be transferred online.

When you were fighting against Bowser in Tetris Attack or Gary in Pokémon Puzzle League, it felt as if you were actually competing against Bowser and Gary respectively. Because Planet Puzzle League doesn't personify the CPU with any characters, playing against the computer isn't as exciting as it was in previous iterations. However, the online voice-chat adds that sense that you're actually competing against a person.

Planet Puzzle League has a slick, slightly futuristic, universal presentation with a flair for the international. Each of the animated backgrounds comes with their own style of block and music theme. Unfortunately, there are only about 10 different sets, and each music track is a bit on the short side. Noticeably missing from the game is the ability to have several player profiles on one game. There's no way of competing with others, knowing who attained the high scores, or to track other's progress in Daily Play with one game cartridge.

Unlike Meteos, a similar tile sliding game that Nintendo published in 2005, Planet Puzzle League doesn't do a great deal of stat tracking. The game tracks some stats like highest score and number of games won and lost against other people, both online and off, but it doesn't keep tabs on things like highest chain, record Endless time, and Puzzle completion time and the number of hints used. And while you can send dazzling gameplay clips to a friend's game, there's no stat trading whatsoever. These are the kinds of options that, while not necessary, help to intensify the single-player side of things.

Heartstopper - Nintendo lines up another must-have puzzler

The Panel de Pon series continues to offer some of the tightest and most satisfying puzzle action; Planet Puzzle League ranks up there with Tetris DS and Meteos as the best puzzle games available for the DS. The stylus control freshens and speeds up the gameplay while new modes give players that much more to do when there's nobody else to play against. And when there is someone else, Puzzle League's expanded multiplayer options offer more ways to compete. The online component is seamless and is perfect for those looking for some real competition, but it might be unfair for those still learning the ropes. The only real downsides to this otherwise flawless package are the lack of stat-tracking and individual player profiles, neither of which are deal breakers by any means, but are disappointing omissions for the hardcore. Planet Puzzle League is a must have for any puzzle aficionado, and if you aren't a fan of puzzlers, this just might just turn you into one.

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Game Info

Planet Puzzle League Box Art
  • Genre: Puzzle
  • Developer: Intelligent Systems
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Players: 1-4 offline, 1-2 online
  • Release: 06/04/07

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