For the past few weeks, I’ve become a bit disinterested in playing video games. I would get home from work or school and look through my library trying to decide which AAA title I would play. They are all stellar games with huge production values and high review scores, but sometimes I’m not interested in the long-term investment required to make progress in them. Thankfully, I came across a little game on the eShop called PAN-PAN: a tiny big adventure. What drew me in was its aesthetic, but what piqued my interest was that it’s an isometric puzzler. After completing the game, I felt completely satisfied with the time I had spent and the wonderful experience I received from this delightful little game.
From a Distress Call, To An Exciting Journey
PAN-PAN begins with the main character crash-landing their ship on a mysterious planet. When the character wakes up from the crash, they discover that a group of local inhabitants are trying to repair the ship. These hooded figures with colorful beards require several tools and items so they can get the ship up and running. Your task is to explore the world, solve puzzles, and collect these parts.
The premise is simple and is presented entirely without dialogue. The creatures you interact with make expressive movements and sound effects with different tones and inflections so that you understand what they’re saying to you (without actually saying anything). I felt it was done exceptionally well in PAN-PAN, as interacting with the unique beings you meet usually yields information that will help you on your journey.
A Pastel-Colored Isometric Landscape Full of Wonder
The visual aesthetic of PAN-PAN is one of my favorite aesthetics in video games. The solid, pastel colored world with clearly defined shapes in an isometric space is simply beautiful. Everything seems to fit in place and, even though it’s design is simplistic, there seems to be so much wonder in its world. The game stands on its own as a visual treat, and can be a relaxing experience when exploring its landscapes.
The sound design of PAN-PAN is great too. Like I stated earlier, the game does not have any dialogue whatsoever so it’s important for the game to tell you what to do in whatever way it can. Characters speak in different tones and inflections to convey their meanings. Interacting with puzzle objects gives sound feedback to let you know if you’re on the right track. The music fits the visual aesthetic well by being simple, and quietly beautiful.
I’m glad to report that I experienced no performance issues in either docked or handheld mode. The game also makes use of the HD Rumble on the Switch in tiny ways such as rumbling lightly when walking through bushes. The presentation of PAN-PAN stands out so well because of the tiny details it pays attention to.
Shifting the Landscape to See the Solution
PAN-PAN is all about discovery and figuring things out for yourself. Even though this game is small, there is a large variety of areas to explore from deserts to caves. In these locations, you will come across puzzles that must be solved so you can unlock a new area or receive an item that is required for solving another puzzle. At the beginning of the game, you can freely choose to explore whatever isn’t currently blocked by a puzzle. The puzzles themselves are as various as the areas they are in. Puzzles range from identifying the correct path to follow, to figuring out which artifacts go on what platforms, to messing with electrical blocks to create a line of circuits.
PAN-PAN has no dialogue or obvious hint/tip system. Each puzzle has visual clues that are supposed to guide you. An important part of interpreting these visual clues is the ability to shift the camera. The game allows you to rotate the camera 360 degrees, and zoom in very closely to the main character to identify tiny details on the puzzles you’re solving. Being able to shift the camera adds an extra layer of depth to interpreting these visual clues . Some of the visual clues are obvious, while others are esoteric. Each puzzle requires a certain degree of patience, but their difficulty/level of frustration depends on your ability to interpret the visual clues and carry out the solution. There were some puzzles that I was able to solve in a few minutes, but others took me significantly longer. Some puzzles require you to backtrack as well, which essentially makes the entire world of PAN-PAN a puzzle in of itself.
Solving all the puzzles in an area, or solving a series of puzzles that are connected across the world, award you with an item or tool you need to repair the ship. Once you collect all of these items, you’ve completed everything there is to do in the game. There is no extra content like a new game plus or challenge mode.
PAN-PAN has some puzzles that are frustrating to solve. I understand that having no dialogue or guidance system is an important part of the experience, but there are some situations where the visual clues are simply not enough. These clues can be obtuse, esoteric, and at times just plain gibberish. It’s possible to solve some puzzles through trial and error, but solutions that require backtracking can prove to be exhausting on your patience. I was able to solve all the puzzles and complete the game without a guide, but it wasn’t without my fair share of frustration and breaks in between the puzzles I found most difficult.
Exploring the cute, pastel-colored world of PAN-PAN and meeting its quirky inhabitants is a wonderful experience. The puzzles that are scattered across the land are clever, unique, and challenging. Some puzzles might seem to be impossible to solve at first, but eventually getting it to click is incredibly rewarding. I can easily see myself crash-landing my ship again so I can visit the beautiful world of PAN-PAN once more. PAN-PAN: a big tiny adventure is available on the Nintendo eShop for $4.99.
Review Copy Provided by Circle Entertainment