Nintendo delivers the definitive version of the classic puzzler.
Puzzle League has gone by many names. In addition to its current name, you may also know it as Tetris Attack, Pokémon Puzzle Challenge, or its Japanese name, Panel de Pon. Whatever version you choose, you're in for a great puzzle game. Planet Puzzle League, however, is by far the best version out there.
The premise of this puzzler is simple. You are presented with a playing field filled with blocks of various colors. These blocks can be moved horizontally to create sets of three. If you manage to set up more than three blocks, you'll earn combo points. Once a set is created, it disappears, and any blocks above the set fall down. These two mechanics create a chain system. If a falling block, or blocks, land and form more sets, chain points are scored. Additionally, the pile of ever-rising blocks stops rising momentarily, giving you precious time to set up and trigger more chains and combos. If the blocks touch the top of the screen, it's game over. The end result is a game that is easy to learn, and incredibly fun to master.
In prior versions of the game, moving blocks was done with a cursor. Players lined up the cursor (which is two blocks long and one block high) and pressed a button to swap the two highlighted blocks. Doing this in rapid succession, while moving the cursor, players could slide a block across the whole playing field. It works, and it worked well, but it wasn't perfect. On the DS, the cursor is no more. Those stuck in the old ways will be happy to hear it is still an option, but is easily outclassed by the touch screen. Now, moving blocks is as simple as touching them and sliding them left or right. This new control method lends itself much more to Puzzle League's gameplay than the previous method. Not having to think as much about control frees up your brain to concentrate more on the task at hand: clearing blocks and making chains. In my case, the touch controls instantly made me a better player. I started thinking less about the area immediately surrounding the cursor, and more about the whole playing field.
There's another reason I've gotten better at the game, though. Planet Puzzle League is very friendly to the beginning player. In addition to offering multiple difficulty levels, the game will assist players if they so wish. A help option aids players during gameplay by showing them blocks that can be moved to create chains. It's not going to show you that moving Block A three spaces to the left and Block B five to the right will trigger a massive chain that will crush your previous high score. It only shows you chains that can be triggered or continued by moving a block one space to the left or right. Previous games in the series offered tutorials that explained the chain and combos systems, but the option to have on-the-fly help in the middle of a match is an amazing way to help players learn how to truly master the game.
Mastering the game is important too, if you ever plan on venturing online with it. Planet Puzzle League lets players compete with each other via Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, and the competition is fierce. While online, four different modes are available. The first, Novice Battle, is only available to beginning players. Once you get good, the game locks you out of this mode. Free Play is a standard one on one match, but is unranked. Friend Battle lets you play against other players who you have traded Friend Codes with. In this mode, item blocks can be added in to mix things up, and players have the option of enabling live voice chat during the match. Finally, the Birthday Battle mode is a standard ranked match. Matchmaking is used to set players with comparable skill levels up against each other, and players are ranked against others who share their birthday. It seems odd an overall ranking of players is not available. Local single-card multiplayer is also supported for up to four players, with or without item blocks and garbage.
Garbage is the most important element of multiplayer Puzzle League. Instead of competing for the highest score in a certain amount of time, in multiplayer matches, players compete to crush their opponent(s). This is where all that time spent practicing chains and combos in single player mode will come through. In multiplayer matches, the same chains and combos that give you a massive score will also send blocks of garbage to the top of your foe's stack, pushing him closer and closer to oblivion. Garbage is turned into normal blocks simply by clearing a set of blocks that is touching the garbage. Thicker chunks of garbage will take longer to clear.
In addition to a wealth of multiplayer options, Planet Puzzle League also has a very robust single player experience. A standard Endless mode lets you play forever, until you get a game over. Three time attack modes give you two minutes to get the highest score, clear as much garbage as you can, or lift the stack as high as possible. It's worth noting that in the Score Time Attack, you can save movies of your best runs and share them with friends over Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. Garbage Challenge is similar to Endless, only garbage is constantly being dumped on you. Clear mode is an intense option that challenges you to clear down to a certain point on the stack. A Vs option lets you play against a computerized opponent. Finally, there's Puzzle mode.
Puzzle mode is a little different. Instead of focusing on high scores or time limits, Puzzle mode gives you a pre-defined set of blocks and a limited number of moves to clear them all. There is no stack rising from the bottom of the screen. This mode is much more deliberately paced, and will really make you think about how to move the blocks properly. It's also a great way to learn the chain mechanics.
There is one more single player option available in Planet Puzzle League, and it's called Daily Play. This mode offers three variations that are exactly the same as the three Time Attack modes, except that you can only play them once per day. The reason for this is because in Daily Play, your scores are saved and graphed over time, so you can hopefully see how you've been improving.
Planet Puzzle League is easily the best iteration of the venerable series. Like all great puzzle games, it is very easy to learn, but offers something for players of all skill levels. Top tier players will enjoy facing off against each other online and sharing videos of their best games, while beginners will find an excellent help system to get them started. The new touch-controls alone make Planet Puzzle League far superior to its predecessors. A wealth of single and multiplayer options simply push it over the top. The icing on the cake is a slick presentation with multiple skins and block designs that let players customize the game. This is without a doubt the definitive version of the series and a must-own for any fan of puzzle games.