Back in 1995, Intelligent Systems developed a new puzzle game for the Super Famicom called Panel de Pon. It featured fast gameplay, a cute aesthetic, and some novel ideas. When it was released for the SNES the following year, it was rebranded Tetris Attack (despite having nothing to do with Tetris) and Nintendo substituted Yoshi characters for protagonist Lip and the other anime fairies, assuming the latter wouldn’t go over well with a North American audience. Other titles followed, most of which were Pokemon-themed in the west. But there hasn’t been a Panel de Pon or Puzzle League release since 2010’s Puzzle League Express for the DSi. Except, that is, when Nintendo published the original Super Famicom title on the SNES Online service about a year ago.
I finally picked up Panel de Pon on a cross-country flight last week while idly browsing through the SNES offerings on the Switch. I’m not a puzzle game person, so I missed out on Tetris Attack and Puzzle League as a kid. All I knew about Panel de Pon was from the Lip’s Stick trophy in Super Smash Bros. Melee. But I was immediately hooked. Panel de Pon is one of the most charming, frantic, and visually appealing puzzle games I’ve ever played, and it’s time for it to come back.
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Produced by the legendary Gunpei Yokoi, Panel de Pon is similar to tile-matching titles like Column, but with a twist. Rather than controlling the tiles as they fall from the top of the screen, the player instead controls a cursor which allows them to swap the positions of two pieces while the tiles rise from the bottom. Matching three tiles will clear them, but matching more than that produces huge combos which drop “garbage” blocks onto the opponent’s screen. There’s a wonderful risk-reward element to Panel de Pon, too, in which players can manually control the speed at which the tiles climb upwards — giving them more material to work with, but also increasing the risk that the stack will collide with the top of the screen and end the game.
It’s an engaging formula, one that gives Panel de Pon the fast-paced feel of a one-on-one fighter. And with Nintendo’s successes in the battle royale genre — Tetris 99, Super Mario 35, and now PAC-MAN 99, there’s never been a better time to reinvigorate a puzzle game for a new audience. Panel de Pon is already best played in a head-to-head mode, so shifting it into a 99-style format would be pretty straightforward. Plus, the game’s original aesthetic would work just fine in the west now. I mean, even a rerelease of some of the older titles in the series for modern hardware would be nice.
Lip is ready. The world is ready. Tetris Attack‘s 25th anniversary is this August. Nintendo, you know what must be done. Do it for Lip.