While the last open-world puzzle adventure I reviewed had the torches and pitchforks out for me, I do love the concept of like, a Metroidvania style puzzle-adventure. Take Pan-Pan ($3.99), a weird little game that has you crash-landing on a strange planet. The parts of your ship that can be used by your crew to repair your jalopy and get back into flying are scattered all about. So, you have to set out and discover just what’s going on, solving weird puzzles along the way in an open world. It’s a game that is rather charming, and can be a bit frustrating due to some design decisions, but it’s a fun experience to check out.
In Pan-Pan, you start off with nothing. You can trigger switches, and pick up a few objects, but that’s about it early on. The puzzles in Pan-Pan can be rather esoteric, and a big reason for that is because the game is very much centered around having zero speech whatsoever in the game. So, there’s no text hints or dialogue to check to solve the puzzles. There are in-world hints, but because they’ve all been represented visually, you have to interpret them for yourself. And often, that’s a challenge. At least localization was easy!
The developers had to do a bang-up job on figuring out how to get characterization out of just sound effects and animation. This game is rather charming, with lots of little animation touches and a gorgeous, vibrant landscape, that helps make this a world worth experiencing. Control-wise, I thought it was interesting to make this a portrait game, considering this was on PC (so walkthroughs do exist already!), but it makes sense for iPhone play in particular. It would be nice to have landscape on iPad, but it’s not a dealbreaker. You tap to move to the designated spot, and topping objects picks them up or manipulates them in whatever available way. You can pinch to zoom, or use the magnifying glass option to zoom in. There’s also a one-finger zoom option you can use. Overall, a solid mobile port.
One puzzle solution that’s frustrating to deal with is when you have to help get a robot from one place to another. You solve the puzzle, and get the robot up and boring through a wall. And then it’s just kind of stuck there. The solution is to leave the area, and then come back when it has made its way through. Which, I guess if you just leave in frustration that you can’t find the solution, and then return, is the solution in and of itself, but it is also rather annoying to deal with! Some of the puzzles make sense, but another, where you have to match colored blocks to a particular switch, and there’s no obvious clue as to how to line them up. Experimentation, or peeking at walkthroughs, is the key. Or maybe zooming in really close. This game is brain-breaking for a long time.
Pan-Pan really starts to open up once you get the stick. Yeah, pretty much just a stick. But it gives you a new form of interaction with the world that at least makes any point where you might be stuck on a puzzle feel a bit more accessible because you can possibly solve your problem by hitting it. Also, thwacking stuff with the stick feels really good. Like, it’s amusing to go around to people in the world, and just smack ’em out of nowhere for no good reason beyond it being amusing. And oh it is amusing.
It also leads to a puzzle that is hilarious and kind of horrifying. So, you come across a bird with three eggs in a room with four switches. The solution, spoiler alert, is to put the eggs on the three switches and then run and stand on the fourth. The problem is that the bird will come and take the eggs back, all set to comical music. This puzzle seems difficult to solve before you have your trusty whacking stick. Then, you obtain the stick, and solve the puzzle by whacking the bird upside the head, giving it a freaking concussion, in order to steal its unborn young in order to solve a puzzle. It’s somewhere between horrifying and amusing.
Regardless, once you have an interaction option that’s more than just doing one thing with anything in the game, it feels like solutions are a bit more in grasp. You can experiment, see what needs to be hit and what isn’t. The second half of Pan-Pan is almost easier because it’s just more encouraging to have more options in your grasp. That, and because the game is open world, you can go back to puzzles that seemed unsolvable and give them a good whack.
Pan-Pan is technically non-linear. There are some elements where you need elements from other puzzles to open up the world, or you need the stick for whackering, but you otherwise aren’t forced to do much. So, even if you do get stuck, there’s perhaps something that has happened in another part of the game world that allows you to go and explore that. Though this can be frustrating if it feels like you should be making more progress on a puzzle than you should be. Once you collect all the items in the game, in whatever order you acquire and place them in the base, the game ends. It’s a bit anticlimactic, but not to a souring degree. If anything, adding more to do would feel tacked-on, I bet. Still, I’d loved to have seen more of Pan-Pan.
This is an interesting game that I had a good time with. Also, there’s a lot of whacking stuff with a stick, which is especially satisfying. Heck, the joy of whacking stuff with a stick justifies much of the experience. I recommend Pan-Pan, and hope Spelkraft has more mobile titles planned in the future!