For a start, it’s jammed with play modes. The single-player mode alone gives you seven options, including the straight ‘endless’ mode, a series of ‘clear mode’ challenge levels where you have to clear all the blocks above a line, a two minute ‘time attack’ mode and a series of puzzle stages. For added trickiness, you can play ‘garbage mode’, where solid blocks fall from the top of the screen, only turning into linkable colour blocks when in contact with a newly made link or chain. If you want competition, you can play a two-player game against the computer, and this takes the form of a ‘time attack’ or line-clearing battle, or a ‘garbage battle’ where making blocks disappear in your stage makes blocks appear in your computer opponent’s. There’s also a daily mode, where you play three games daily and the game tracks your scores on a graph.
Needless to say, the game throws wireless play on top. Four players can compete using a single cartridge in score attack, clear mode or garbage battles. The latter proves particularly fast and furious, as garbage is sent to all opponents. Finally, it’s also possible to duel with online rivals over the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. Beginners can take on other beginners in a restricted mode especially for them (the game refuses access once you have achieved certain conditions within the single-player mode), it’s all against all in the Free Play Battle mode, friends can play friends using the now familiar friends code system, and – bizarrely – you can play ranked matches against other players who share the same birthday.
Now all the content and play modes in the world wouldn’t matter if PPL didn’t play well, but the fact is that it’s an almost perfectly constructed puzzle game. Playing single-player, it seems at first that just surviving for a reasonable time will net you a decent score, but the fact is that the game picks up so much speed by the time you hit the fifteen minute mark that you won’t have a hope. Instead, the skill is in maximising your time, lining up the blocks as rapidly as possible, while still thinking far enough ahead to build higher-scoring chains and combos. As a result, it’s a game that demands quick reflexes and long-term strategy, plus the sort of mysterious intuition that you can only build through longer periods of play. I thought I was getting good, but then I watched my wife play. She’d been sneakily playing PPL on the quiet for the last week or so, and watching her construct chains and combos with frankly nauseating speed and precision showed me that I wasn’t even close to mastering the game.