Think back to all the head-scratching and beard tugging that surrounded the DS launch – what’s the point of two screens? Why the stylus controls? Shouldn’t there be more 3D horsepower? – and it now seems so obvious that Nintendo’s vision was absolutely spot on. While Sony seemed hell-bent on recreating the home console experience in a mobile format, Nintendo had its sights on the wider market, and through a string of polished, mainstream-friendly titles, it has succeeded in taking games to people who would never have bothered with them before.
I’m not certain whether this was always the plan or whether it is something that has just evolved with time, but it’s an approach crystallised in Nintendo’s Touch Generation series of titles. From Brain Training to Nintendogs to 42 All Time Classics, these are games that strike a chord with people looking for a little casual fun, and which fit into lives too busy for the sort of long periods of dedicated gameplay that more hardcore games demand. On the face of it, the new game from Advance Wars developer Intelligent Systems fits this mould perfectly. But be warned: while you can play it in little chunks, or restrict yourself to the Daily Play mode, Planet Puzzle League is one of the most addictive ‘casual’ titles I’ve ever had the misfortune to come across. It’s so simple that anyone can pick it up, but it takes an immense act of will to put it down.
On the face of it, PPL is just another block puzzle game, and one not a million miles away from Zookeeper, Meteos or last year’s Pokemon Link. In the most basic mode, you have a screen that slowly fills with coloured blocks from the bottom. Using the stylus, you select and drag blocks across the row, attempting to connect a line, horizontally or vertically. Link three or four together, and the blocks disappear. Cause chains (one link leads to another) or combos (where two lines disappear at once) and you get more points, and you can also form ‘active chains’ by moving a block while others are vanishing, so creating another link. Your aim is generally to get the highest score possible, and if the pile of blocks hits the top of the screen, it’s game over. I know what you’re thinking – seen it, done it, got the T-Shirt – but wait. There’s more to PPL than just another clone.