This not only made sense of my better half’s frequent disappearances during the past week, it also made me suspicious that the single-player game was ludicrously addictive. And so has turned out to be the case. Last night, a disastrous period of ‘just one more go’ caused me to miss the first half hour of House MD (a programme I’d normally cross hell and high water to see) and then a relapse kept me going from the minute House finished to nearly 1am. I can also report that it’s the sort of game that then infests your dreams: a feat previously only managed by the likes of Tetris and the original Doom.
If it’s compulsive in single-player mode, PPL is fiercely competitive in multiplayer. I’ve been humiliated in ‘score attack’ at home, and internationally through the magic of the NWC, and yet I’m still coming back for me. Once again, Nintendo’s service proves that matchmaking and game setup don’t have to be nearly as difficult as most online games make them, and I find that the lack of voice in anonymous matches (you can enable it for friends games) helps soften the sting of crushing defeat.
Yet I don’t think Intelligent Systems’ real achievement lies in merely making such a superb puzzle game, but in making one that you’d swear the DS was built for, and one that’s designed with the widest possible audience in mind. The fact that you play holding the DS like a book, Brain Training-style, makes perfect sense given the vertical structure of the play area, and it’s hard to think of another puzzle game that uses the touch-screen quite so well. Anyone from a five-year-old to your gran could pick it up in a matter of minutes, and as you play the controls just seem to melt away in a smooth flow of rapid drag and drop manoeuvres. What’s more, you get a choice of ten different visual themes and soundtracks; all clean and stylish, but embracing different feels from a techno-style soundtrack with neon blocks to cheery symbols and a breezy, easy listening tune. While the cutesy graphics of Pokemon Link or Zookeeper doubtless put some players off, it’s hard to imagine anyone finding none of the options here to their taste. I can just imagine Nicole Kidman playing it now…
Some people might see this kind of game as a watering down of existing styles for mass-market tastes, but if Nintendo’s inclusivity keeps producing games this good at such bargain-basement prices then I’m all for it. For all that it’s just another puzzle game, Planet Puzzle League is still one of the most substantial puzzle game packages I’ve ever come across and it’s comfortably up there with Lumines as a high water mark of the genre. For £20 or less, it’s an absolute steal.
A new titan of the puzzle game genre, Planet Puzzle League is everything that’s good about the DS. It’s accessible, beautifully presented and totally addictive.