Cute little girls, drugs, and lots of snack food: what kind of message is Nintendo sending?
Although I may not always admit it, I’m a pretty good at video games. However, few know of my Achilles’ heel: the puzzle genre. Even so, I enjoy the occasional puzzler and had been neglecting such games recently, so I decided to give Nintendo Puzzle Collection a chance.
Nintendo Puzzle Collection only contains three puzzle games, but it is still a compilation worth owning, even with its disappointments. All three titles have some things in common. The menu layout is the same for all three games, making the guesswork easier for importers than they might expect. All three games also support up to four players simultaneously, and those who die before a multiplayer Dr. Mario or Panel de Pon game ends can play a separate single-player game while waiting for the final results! Players can also choose to use the analog stick, D-pad, or even a GBA — a GC-GBA cable is included. In addition, all of the games have detailed statistics for each player. The standardized presentation does an excellent job of integrating what would otherwise be three individual puzzle games crammed next to each other.
Dr. Mario is probably the most well-known of the three titles and involves aligning red, blue, and yellow bi-polar pills to destroy viruses of like colors. Many gamers will be disappointed with Nintendo Puzzle Collection’s version of Dr. Mario, as it is little more than an emulation of the warmly-accepted Dr. Mario 64. It is understandable why Intelligent Systems re-used Dr. Mario 64: it features multiple modes, such as Time Attack (get as many points as possible in 2 minutes), an endless Marathon, Flash (target viruses) and 4-player multiplayer.
However, as many who have played the N64 version can attest, Dr. Mario 64 just isn’t interesting. The Paper Mario-inspired story artwork is the only good thing about this game’s visuals. The game runs at an N64 320x240, giving the bland sprites a generic SNES appearance. What’s worse is that since the game must scale everything down in 4-player mode, the already-blocky sprites become even more pixilated and it almost becomes difficult to distinguish among the viruses. Sound effects and voice samples are plain and repetitive, though the old and “new" music is acceptable. Then there’s the gameplay itself, which is utterly unforgiving and honestly quite frustrating for the unskilled puzzle gamer. Perhaps the overwhelming discontent with Dr. Mario 64 lies in the game’s invisible details, such as the randomness of the pills and virus layout, but the same gameplay has always existed in the series. Time has simply amplified this flaw. In short, there are many more enjoyable puzzle games out there—two of which are found alongside the Doctor in Nintendo Puzzle Collection.
Released on the NES and SNES simultaneously, Yoshi’s Cookie is a rarer classic that many have heard of, but few have played. The goal of the game is to shift rows and columns of cookies (with connected ends) like a two-dimensional Rubik’s Cube to make complete lines of matching cookies. This concept is implemented in two very different ways: Puzzle mode and VS mode. In puzzle mode, one player attempts to clear the screen while rows and columns of cookies encroach from the top and right. Cookies “fall" down and left to fill in gaps created by removed lines. Special Yoshi cookies are wild and appear after clearing five lines of the same type. This mode provides an interesting twist, as players must pay attention to the size of TWO dimensions, but it isn’t all that engrossing. VS mode (also used in Story mode) still involves making rows and columns, but players are now confined to a 5x5 grid of cookies. Each player has two meters: one for time and one for points. Clearing cookies replenishes time and adds a point to the meter. You win if you get 25 points first, and you lose if your time meter runs out. What makes this an excellent party game is its competitive nature: clearing a set of Yoshi Cookies (which are no longer wild) triggers whichever event is currently displayed (in English!) above that particular person’s playing field. Not all events are self-productive, though, and careless players will often hurt themselves. The downside to Yoshi’s Cookie is its lack of variety. It's a good party game to have on-hand, but not one that will hold your interest for long sittings.
Yoshi’s Cookie does feature the best visuals of the bunch. Its backgrounds, inspired by Yoshi’s Island (SNES/GBA), have a beautiful pastel look while the GameCube sprites are all pleasing to the eye. The story mode is told not unlike Dr. Mario 64’s, using stick marionettes in an entertaining puppet show setting. The three-frame sprite animations look a little awkward, but overall Yoshi’s Cookie puts Dr. Mario 64 in its place.
Sound effects are fairly neutral, while the game uses recycled voices. The soundtrack is actually based on the NES version, though many of the same songs are also found on the SNES version. The compositions stay true to their original counterparts with rearranged (and higher fidelity) instrumentation. A few songs were arranged better on the SNES, but they’re still catchy on the GameCube and a perfect fit for Yoshi’s Cookie.
Panel de Pon (also known as Pokémon Puzzle League/Challenge and Tetris Attack) is the final game and the real star of the show. Like most good puzzle games, the premise is simple: destroy blocks by aligning three or more blocks in a row. This is done by simply switching the placement of two horizontally adjacent blocks or a block with open space. Blocks fall whenever possible. Its design is perfect for both skilled players and those less gifted, as mistakes can usually be corrected easily with time as the only casualty. As such, just about anyone can enjoy the game, even if they don’t stand a chance in a competition.
Panel de Pon boasts quite a few different modes. A single-player endurance mode sets no limits and lets players test how long they can last before things get too fast. Time attack gives you 2 minutes to gather points. A mode similar to these for Story mode and VS introduces “attack" blocks which dump huge slabs on top of an opponent when cleared. Also included is a stage-based mode, where players must lower the tower of blocks below a certain level marked by a dashed line. These modes can also be played in a 3D form first introduced in Pokemon Puzzle League, where gameplay takes place on a cylindrical plane, though this is limited to one or two people. Also included is Original mode, where players are allotted a certain number of moves to clear every block on screen. This single-player mode is actually very different than the rest, providing brain-teasers, and requiring careful planning. What’s more, players can actually create their own Original puzzles in a level editor and save them to edit or play later! Making a good working puzzle is a fun challenge, and playing other players’ levels could give Original mode some real staying power.
The graphics have some anime influence and feature the original franchise, which involves magical girls and Pokémon-like pets. At first it may look like a tweaked port of the SNES original, much like Dr. Mario 64, but in reality it just borrows some of the original’s graphics. As such, the game sometimes has a slightly pixilated or jagged appearance but looks crystal clean in other places, such as the 4-player mode. Sound effects are also borrowed from the SNES, providing very short and abrupt voice samples with dated noises.
The music, on the other hand, has received a complete overhaul and sounds excellent. Panel de Pon fans’ favorite tunes are now more polished, with richer chords and additional tracks. The MIDI instruments cover a wide range of timbres. Many cover the original tunes with crisp, old-school instruments such as a lovely square wave and Intelligent System’s signature slap bass (not unlike the one found in Mario Kart: Super Circuit). But there are also rich and colorful instruments often used in the more ambient songs. Panel de Pon’s multitude of gameplay variations and excellent music combined with its criminally addictive nature makes it arguably the best puzzle game ever made.
Nintendo Puzzle Collection also holds downloadable single-player versions of the three puzzle games for the GBA. For Dr. Mario and Yoshi’s Cookie, Nintendo has provided the NES versions in all their 8-bit glory, something Dr. Mario fans who dislike the 64 edition will appreciate. Just like in Animal Crossing, the graphics have been squished to fit the GBA screen, which might make things difficult for some. For Panel de Pon, Intelligent Systems made a whole new version, and has graphics and audio quality worthy of a true GBA game. All three are perfect for a puzzle gamer with an addiction, though Panel de Pon is more than likely to be the most often-downloaded of the bunch.
Dr. Mario 64 is pretty bad, and more games would have been appreciated, but Yoshi’s Cookie and Panel de Pon are more than enough to make up for NPC’s weaknesses. Nintendo Puzzle Collection is highly recommended, and hopefully NOA will release it here in the future.