A cute panda, a match three puzzler, and a summery theme with cute accouterments such as picnic baskets and watermelons -- where can Panda Picnic (Free) go wrong? I mean, if you literally think about the idea of pandas out on a picnic together, you immediately start smiling. Or at least I do. I'm assuming the picnic basket is full of bamboo, though -- not my idea of a scrumptious lunch. Maybe I'll hang with the humans after all.
Enough about food: Let's talk about how Panda Picnic works. If you have ever played the notoriously popular Words With Friends, at least one pat of the format here will look familiar, and that's the part where you play with online friends. Panda Picnic has one flaw right out of the gate, in my opinion, and that is that is does not have a single player mode to allow you to practice on your own. Your options are to start a game with a Facebook friend, a random opponent, or a local friend.
There is nothing wrong with any of these options as long as the other player actually takes their turn, which can take ages if said person has gotten distracted from their phone and is dicking around updating their profile or whatever else it is we spend years on the internet doing. With a game as popular as Words With Friends, the waiting is not as bad, but with Panda Picnic, your best bet is to have at least three or four games going at a time. At least that way, you have more chances of actually making a move.
Speaking of making moves, here's how it all works. Each level opens with a slot machine in the bottom of your screen, and the puzzle with the panda curating it for you up top. You'll take a spin, get a series of different fruits, and decide if those are the ones you want for your next turn. If you have some coins accumulated, you may be able to spin again (these can be won or purchased in microtransactions). If not, you may be stuck with what you got. You'll notch each of these in a little slingshot and hurl them up to the top of the board, Bust-A-Move style. There's a little tally on the right side of the screen that shows off how many of each fruit you still need to completely clear the board too, which I mostly just forgot was there in the first place.
The controls are very accurate, and I do like that there is a chat feature in case you want to actually speak to the person you're playing, although I never used it myself. The sounds are fun, and my only small complaint was the panda does this thing where he flicks his tongue in and out of his mouth like a snake and looks a little drug-addled. But hey, his problems have nothing to do with the gameplay, so you really don't have to worry too much about him.
Panda Picnic is pretty cute, and I admit I did enjoy the gameplay. Ultimately, however, I would wander away from it because it took so long for people to make moves. Playing with a local friend was more satisfying for me, as the gameplay could actually flow and I didn't have to do so much waiting. If you're on the lookout for a free puzzler you can play online with at anytime though, you may find the arcade twist to the gameplay hits that sweet spot you were hoping for.
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