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DS  header logo

Planet Puzzle League (aka Puzzle League)

For: DS

One block too many

Product: Puzzle League | Developer: Intelligent Systems | Publisher: Nintendo | Format: DS | Genre: Puzzle | Players: 1-4 | Networking: wireless (adhoc), wireless (network) | Version: US
Puzzle League DS, thumbnail 1
Easily beating out Captain Planet and the Planeteers for the crown of dorkiest association of brainy do-gooders, Planet Puzzle League calls forth worldwide puzzle fanatics for a crusade against boredom. Alongside Picross DS, it's also the latest addition to Nintendo's Touch! Generation series of games that attempt to extend the DS's casual appeal with simple puzzle gameplay beefed up by online multiplayer (at least it is in the US, as the game's not yet confirmed for Europe).

Flipping your Nintendo DS on its side to play, the goal in Planet Puzzle League is to clear blocks on the touchscreen by aligning three or more of the same colour, after which they disappear. You can only move one block at a time, sliding it horizontally. Blocks of six colours (red, yellow, green, blue, purple, and gray) push up from the bottom of the touchscreen and once the six by 12 block screen fills up, your game ends.

As you'd expect, each time you successfully clear a group of blocks, you halt the progression of new blocks from the bottom of the screen. You can then use this brief pause to line up additional blocks and enable chains, which occur when the process of removing blocks means the blocks above fall down, creating more coloured groups. Extra points are awarded for lines of four, five and six blocks removed, as well as chains that clear different groups at the same time.

The game also lets you move blocks while others are being cleared from the board. Called 'action chains', these give you the chance to create combos and wipe large numbers of blocks out, as well as keeping things moving in an otherwise slow-paced game. Active chains are also the sole innovation in a rather familiar-feeling game. After all, Nintendo's been releasing versions of this type of game since the mid-1990s, under names such as Tetris Attack and Dr. Mario / Puzzle League in the US and Panel de Pon in Japan.

Perhaps it's unsurprising therefore that little in Planet Puzzle League can be called original. Much of what's here can be found in other, more enjoyable puzzle games. Part Tetris, with a dash of Meteos (which uses exactly the same horizontal block move gameplay, and is much prettier), and just a pinch of Bejeweled make this something of a puzzle stew. Unfortunately, such borrowing is likely to leave an awfully derivative taste in most mouths.

The saving grace is multiplayer, in particular online matches via the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. Four modes are available: Free Play, Novice, Friend, and Birthday Battles. Novice battles are intended to ease you into the online experience, and so are open only for your first couple matches. Friend Battles requires entering a buddy's friend code, so if you're without said number your best bet is Free Play.

As its name implies, Free Play matches are unranked duels against a player chosen at random. You can also try out Birthday Battles, which pit you against other players with the same birthday, but you're much less likely to find someone to play. Neither Free Play nor Birthday Battles feature decent matchmaking options, so expect to sit a long time waiting to run into another player that's significantly better than you. There's an adhoc wireless mode, too, so up to local four players can share on copy of the game.

Whichever way you play though, it's clear only the online matches provide a real challenge. None of the single player modes come close to offering a comparable level of difficulty. There is plenty of choice though, including Endless mode, Versus, dozens of static puzzles, Score Attack, Time Trials, and even a Garbage Challenge that puts immovable blocks on the screen for you to deal with.

Perhaps best of the lot, in terms of thoughtfulness, is the Daily mode, which provides a two-minute session, once a day, Brain Training-style. Play it consistently and the game will track your scores on a line graph so you can see your progress.

Planet Puzzle League certainly isn't a bad game. But it fails to distinguish itself as anything more than being derivative, even though ironically its lineage predates some of those other more well-known games. Compounded by a lack of personality, offset only so much by the wealth of different game modes, it's easy to play but hard to get very excited about.
Planet Puzzle League (aka Puzzle League)
Reviewer photo
Tracy Erickson | 18 June 2007
Aside from its online gameplay, Planet Puzzle League has little new to offer over more engaging rivals
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