Released on: October 27 1995 (Panel De Pon)
Available Platforms: Super Nintendo (Super Famicom), Game Boy, Nintendo Switch
Price: Free (With Nintendo Switch Online Subscription)
As mentioned in my Crystal Crisis review, I played a lot of puzzle games as a kid. My mom’s favorite game genre was puzzle games, which is why she and I played so many of them. One that my family and I always came back to was Tetris Attack. Many other puzzle games came and went, and while there are many fantastic ones out there, Tetris Attack ingrained itself into my memory. Unbeknownst to kid Sergie, Tetris Attack was a reskin of a Japanese Super Famicom game called Panel De Pon. The most significant difference between Tetris Attack and Panel De Pon is the characters. Panel De Pon has fairies, and Tetris Attack has characters from Yoshi/Mario characters. With Nintendo Switch Online, including Panel De Pon in its line-up, I figure this was an opportune time to revisit the puzzle game that made me fall in love with the genre. Is Panel De Pon/Tetris Attack as good as I remember? (For this review, Panel De Pon will also refer to Tetris Attack, except when pointing out version-specific differences.)
Welcome to the world of fairies! The sun is shining, nature is prospering, and the animals live peacefully. In this world, everything runs on fairy magic, which is why there is a fairy governing every element of life. One fairy, in particular, Lip, is in charge of keeping the peace in Fairy World. Since she is still new to her role, she has a magic wand that helps cast spells (called Lip’s Stick). Suddenly, monsters start wreaking havoc on the fairy world and cast evil spells on the fairies, threatening their friendship and causing conflict. It’s up to our neophyte fairy Lip, to restore harmony to the world, and save her friends! Panel De Pon’s world is colorful, but its significant threat is dark, and I love it. Tetris Attack has a similar story (except replace fairies with Yoshi characters). With Panel De Pon not being tied down to a pre-existing universe, it’s free to have the player face off against all sorts of interesting characters.
Bright, colorful, and pleasant: those are what one would expect out of a puzzle game revolving around fairies, and that is what it delivers. Both Tetris Attack and Panel De Pon have fantastic background art that helps set the stage for their appropriate character. If I had to chose which version of the game has better presentation, I would go with Panel De Pon. Tetris Attack’s Yoshi characters are charming in their own right, but I love the designs of Panel De Pon’s fairies. I feel like the fairies fit into the universe better than the Yoshi characters of Tetris Attack.
The music in Panel De Pon forever holds a special place in my head. I will often think about it randomly, look it up on Youtube, sit there, and listen to it. As I’m writing this, Panel De Pon’s soundtrack came rushing back. The tracks they chose perfectly match the stages they represent.
Panel De Pon’s gameplay is similar to modern “match three” games like Bejeweled or Candy Crush. Where Panel De Pon/Tetris Attack differs, though, is in gameplay speed. Players move a cursor around, trying to match three of the same colored blocks. If the player matches more than three blocks, they will get more points. Players can also create cascading chains of matching blocks. In Panel De Pon, however, players only lose control of their cursor when one of them loses. That means if players react fast enough, they can continue their chain until they no longer have blocks on their screen available. The larger the chain, the more points the player will get. In versus mode, huge chains will send garbage blocks (blocks that only disappear when matching three or more adjacent blocks) to the opponent in hopes of making them lose. In single-player modes, the player loses once their stack hits the top of their play-area. In versus mode, players have a few seconds of leeway to stay in the game. The continuous chain making is what I love most about Panel De Pon. Raising the stack as high as I am comfortable with to create the biggest chain possible never gets old. There is a unique thrill in playing against an opponent of equal skill in Panel De Pon.
Panel De Pon’s controls are immaculate. One would think, “it’s just moving a cursor around, how hard would that be to achieve?” Even though it may seem simple to perfect, I would argue that it would be just as simple to be a little bit off. What makes puzzle games so enjoyable for veterans and new players alike, is precision. The cursor in Panel De Pon has just enough of a buffer to register the player holding a direction to move quickly but stops on a dime when releasing the button. If the player feels more confident in tapping the button repeatedly to move the cursor, Panel De Pon responds instantly to each button press. The brilliant approach to the controls is what makes Panel De Pon easy-to-learn, but hard to master.
Panel De Pon also has several modes to enjoy. Endless Mode is perfect to practice long chains and handling the increasing speed of the stack. Stage Clear mode has the player clear every block above the clear line to advance to the next stage. Puzzle Mode tasks the player with clearing every block on screen in a limited amount of moves. Versus 2P Mode has two players play against each other, and Versus CP acts as Panel De Pon’s Story Mode, having the player play against a sequence of computer-controlled characters. Panel De Pon’s amount of modes is what I expect modern puzzle games to include. Anything less than what Panel De Pon offers here is lacking.
If there is anything to nitpick with Panel De Pon, it would be getting the true ending of versus mode. To get the best ending, the player has to play on the hardest, secret difficulty setting (on the versus mode difficulty select screen, highlight “hard”, hold Up on the directional pad and the L button, then press A) without losing ONCE. Even for those familiar with Panel De Pon, that is no small feat.
On the subject of the versus mode, when the player reaches a certain point in the story, they will be able to select which fairy they want. The catch is if the player loses while playing as any fairy other than Lip, they lose that fairy forever! For those aiming to get the true ending, I suppose this is irrelevant, but anyone just going through the game casually should be careful when using the other fairies.
Panel De Pon is my favorite puzzle game. Excellent controls, beautiful music, and fantastic presentation, no matter what version the player decides to play. Those that missed their chance to play this underrated gem of a puzzle game should make it a point to check it out.