Close your eyes and picture Tetris: those colored blocks falling from the sky, fitting into neat little rows at the bottom of a handheld screen, practically crying out, “Play with me! I’m addictive!” If you get excited just thinking about Tetris combos, you’re already half way to being hooked on Nintendo’s recently re-vamped DS puzzle game, Planet Puzzle League. Planet Puzzle League plays a lot like its high-score-hungry predecessor, but this time, the blocks scroll up from the ground instead of falling from the sky, and the goal isn’t to make full rows, it’s to match blocks of the same color. Line up three of a kind and those blocks will disappear. And since the objective is to keep the screen as empty as possible, not just rack up points, disappearing is definitely the goal.
Unlike in Tetris, players don’t move the blocks around with buttons. Run the DS stylus (the faux-pen that works on the system’s touch screen) over two blocks sitting next to each, and they’ll switch places. The trick to Planet Puzzle League is to figure out how to set sweet combos in motion—matching more than one set of three at one time—with just that simple mechanic. Playing for combos gets you a lot more points. It also makes you feel much more awesome.
Moving blocks isn’t the only thing that works sideways in Planet Puzzle League. Players actually hold the DS itself on its side, like a book. Apart from that, the look of the game is pretty basic: bright colors, simple patterns. The music isn’t much to speak of either: mellow, electronic, videogame land’s very own elevator music. But Planet Puzzle League isn’t about flashy graphics or cool soundtracks. Now that Nintendo is aiming for the even-your-mother-could-pick- up-this-game crowd, big budgets are falling away in favor of shiny, simple fun.
Where Planet Puzzle League really stands out is with its different gameplay modes. Players can set time limits for themselves, or solve preset puzzles. In the spirit of Nintendo’s Brain Age series (played regularly, Brain Age games are supposed to make you smarter), Planet Puzzle League also has a Daily Play mode, which charts your overall progress and growth after each day’s gaming. The mode to top all others: multiplayer. If you do well, big gray blocks pile up on your opponents screen, and vice versa. You can even use the DS’s wireless to go online and challenge players from around the world—or just kick the asses of your family and friends, no extra game cartridges required.
Planet Puzzle League isn’t an amazing game, but it’s a darn good one. As far as puzzles go, it’s refreshingly stripped down: all the block-matching happiness with none of the tacked-on franchise silliness. (Thank the Nintendo gods this didn’t become one more Pokémon puzzle game. You can see it now: Pikachu’s Planet Puzzle League.) On top of the brightly-colored, addictive goodness, it’s the little things that earn the game its hefty rating. Bored? You can rank yourself against all the other international players who share your birthday. Get really good, and you could be the reigning puzzle king of May 17.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 14, 2007