EDITOR'S NOTE:
Check out the size of that scroll bar. We're in for the long haul this time.
First up, big thanks to Ultra Powerful Pal of Gaming Hell HokutoNoShock for multiple casual sessions of Panel de Pon via Nintendo Switch Online. If I remember right, their first session also included exactly one round of Wario's Woods, described by my writer as 'an impossible game for aliens' so, you know, they had fun.
Anyway, time to stoke the fires of debate once more- 8:7 or 4:3 for SNES screenshots? FIIIIIIIGHT! If you're curious, this very informative video explains it in more detail, but the CliffsNotes version is that the SNES has an internal resolution of 256 x 224, a sort-of square image, which would inevitably be stretched a little when displayed on a CRT back in The Day. Some developers took this in account and would squish their graphics so they'd appear 'properly' on a TV (the easiest way to tell is whether circles are ovals or not) and others would not. This is an option on both the SNES Classic Mini and Nintendo Switch Online ('Pixel Perfect' is the internal resolution) in case you want to see the difference. In the case of Panel de Pon... I'm leaning towards the internal resolution being the 'intended' one. With the internal resolution the panels look more like squares than rectangles, and every subsequent Panel de Pon iteration presents them as squares. 'Course, we're not psychics so we don't know what the developers were really thinking, but for now, the screenshots are presented at the internal resolution for the SNES versions at least. The Gamecube version is also at a funky resolution but by that point my writer cohort was in too deep and starting to see panels when they closed their eyes so we just left 'em as-is.
Another big problem is that almost every different localisation of the game calls the various modes by something different. Marathon is Endless in some versions and Score Attack in others (which is also the name of Time Attack in other versions), that sort of thing. So what we've decided to do is pick the original set of names as established by the first game (where the timed-based mode was called Score Attack, etc.) and apply them to all the other versions regardless of what they call them. Please refer to the manual for each individual version, or the rather handy chart near the bottom, to see what modes each version has. Has Gaming Hell ever directly told the audience to read the manual before? Might be a first, that. Finally, our research is primarily based on the original Japanese version, with the English translation patch by Zuqkeo used as a reference for the deep lore.

We don't get to see Nintendo very often on this website so we have to pick the interesting stuff.

This time, Intelligent Systems gets to shine with the brutally competitive but sugary-sweet Panel de Pon.



For a pretty solid period of the '90s, Nintendo and their partners went through a phase of publishing a lot of puzzle games, usually with competition between players as a prominent feature if not the focus. While a little game called Puyo Puyo is the obvious culprit to point at- a puzzle game developer roundtable from 1998 has Masamitsu "Moo" Niitani explain that "[Puyo Puyo] established a "post-Tetris" standard for falling-block puzzle games" after all- this glut of Nintendo puzzlers came between roughly 1990 to 1995, so they were a little ahead of the curve and were probably inspired and emboldened by the runaway success of Tetris on Game Boy to start, although Puyo Puyo's success probably played into them continuing the trend. Starting with Dr. Mario from 1990 by Nintendo R&D1, you've got Yoshi / Mario & Yoshi from 1991 /1992 by Game Freak, Yoshi's Cookie from 1992 / 1993 by Bullet Proof Software and TOSE and based on a scrapped Home Data arcade game called Hermetica, Wario's Woods from 1994 by Nintendo R&D1, Kirby's Star Stacker from 1997 by HAL Laboratory, not to mention several Nintendo-exclusive Tetris spin-offs across the period made together with Bullet Proof Software...



And then there's Panel de Pon, a game that in Japan at least stood alone from its Mario-flavoured bretheren. Developed by Intelligent Systems between Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War and, uh, Galactic Pinball for the Virtual Boy, this was something a little different from what they were known for back then (helping out with first-party Nintendo titles including weird stuff like Kaeru no Tame ni Kane wa Naru, the Wars series, Fire Emblem) and what they're known for now (Paper Mario, Wario Ware, Fire Emblem). A developer roundtable conducted two years after the game's release offers some insight into its development (might want to open it in another tab, we'll be referring back to it a lot) with many of the staff coming over from Battle Clash of all things (hence why the game is credited to Team Battle Clash and one of the bosses, Sanatos, sometimes spelled Thanatos, shares a name with the final boss of that game) and the Director and Systems Designer Hitoshi Yamagami explains he was "basically left completely to my own devices at the beginning of development" as everyone else was plugging away at the Virtual Boy, a most unenviable task. Things began somewhat slowly and from the sounds of it, earlier versions didn't have the same spark as the final product, with a lot of praise given to Lead Programmer Shinya Yamamoto for being able to implement many of the defining characteristics of the game. They later held tournaments in the offices which got pretty heated too, which goes to show the strongest appeal of the game lies within its versus component, more on that later.

Even then, the roundtable starts with Yamagami asking, "Why isn't the game selling better?" which is a little rough! It's not like it was a massive bomb- it was popular among other game development teams (makes a change from LAN Doom sessions I suppose) but the developers point to a few factors (the marketing, the game requiring a bit of time to 'get' it thus making a mixed first impression, the release timing both putting it in an off-season and pitting it against Super Puyo Puyo Tsu and Dragon Quest VI) as to why it didn't sell better. It's even mentioned that people said an arcade version may have helped to "appeal to a hardcore crowd" which makes sense as competitive puzzle games were fairly popular at the time (although concerns are raised about how playable the game would be with an arcade stick compared to a d-pad) and honestly, if any puzzle game appeals to a hardcore crowd, it is absolutely Panel de Pon. While I don't have specific sales data beyond this anecdote, I think it's fair to say that however the game sold back in the day it certainly has accrued a reputation among certain crowds for being a great puzzle game, one that's so good future games in the series didn't really change that much because why mess with perfection? Not bad for a puzzler made by a team who basically never made any! As we are wont to do over here, let's talk too much about it and see what makes Panel de Pon tick, and more importantly, why you should play it right now.



Better start talking about the game now, I suppose.

There's a bit of a story to the panel-busting nonsense for this one, maybe a little more than you expected, but it's mostly here to allow for some wonderful border artwork and to move the game along in Vs. COM mode. Lip the Flower Fairy has a problem- wicked monsters have invaded her world, started an endless rainstorm and even brainwashed all of her fairy friends. Being the only one left, Lip must travel the land and rescue her friends so that they can brave the horrors of Death Mountain where the Demon King Sanatos and the Goddess Corderia lie in wait. Can the fairy world be saved just by matching panels and making them explode across five different single-player modes and a dedicated versus mode for two players? I sure hope so, that's what these fairies are best at after all!

Panel de Pon superficially looks the part for a competitive puzzle game of the era, with each player having a 6 x 12 pit that slowly gets filled up with six kinds of coloured blocks (seven in competitive play) that need to be matched to dispose of them before they hit the top of the screen, but many of the particulars are different. The big one is how the pit fills up and how you interact with its contents, as rather than directly move blocks as they drop from the top of the screen, as was the style of the time, they instead move up slowly (at first, anyway) row by row from the bottom of the screen, letting you see what's coming up. You can also force the next row to appear quicker with a tap of a button which sounds risky but is very important for helping you clear the panels out. You manipulate the pieces with a cursor that gets to move freely around the pit and can switch the positions of two tiles horizontally, with vertical movement only possible from top to bottom by using gravity to shift a tile over a gap. When three panels of the same colour match horizontally or vertically (this ain't Columns, no diagonals here) they comically explode and send any panels above them tumbling down via gravity. Pretty simple! More complex mechanics are in the form of combos (where more than three panels are destroyed at the same time) and chain reactions or chains (where panels moved by exploding panels match up with other panels), the most complex being the time-delay chain (chains that occur at different elevations increase the counter separately leading to bigger bonuses). While any match will temporarily stop the pile from moving up, large combos and chains give increasingly-large Stop bonuses, halting the advancing pile for a precious few seconds to give you breathing room and maybe, just maybe, stop the stack from hitting the roof, 'cause when it does, it's Game Over.



It's a fairly simple set of rules at its core but does play remarkably differently from many puzzle games from the time and even now- the closest contemporary that comes to mind is the obscure Mega Drive sliding puzzle game Megapanel by Namco in that you move square panels around a board in a unique manner and new pieces rise from the bottom, although the execution is much different. However. Panel de Pon's real appeal that makes it distinct from other puzzle games of the genre is hinted at in the subtitle- Action Puzzle Game- and revolves entirely around those combos and chains. Obviously being able to spot patterns and think quickly is very important like in any other puzzle game, but the freedom you have to move around the pit adds a significant dexterity element to proceedings too. You can't move panels once they've matched up and are exploding, but as long as they're not touching those exploding panels you can move any other panel you like and this is how big combos and chains are made- you don't have to wait around for blocks to drop like other puzzlers, you can get to work on shifting panels so when the other panels are done blowing up, they'll start a chain reaction and then you can just keep doing this until you need more panels! You can even move panels into place in the split-second after panels disappear, like slotting a panel into a vertical shaft left by a match, and landing that kind of move is exhilarating, one of the most satisfying techniques you'll ever pull off in a puzzle game.

Even when the stack is rising slowly, the game feels like it's fast-paced because you have the freedom to move around the pit and raise it yourself if needs be, so there's always this feeling of intensity which makes creating combos and chains feel even more satisfying. Enough playtime means you'll not only be spotting patterns you can use for chains and combos more easily, but you'll be able to execute fast enough on them too (and start raising the pit manually to get more panels to play with- risky, but with great rewards) and that's when it starts to click together and you realise Panel de Pon's got its claws in you. This does mean there is something of a learning curve that's a bit more pronounced than other puzzle games- at least to play at an intermediate level to get to the exciting stuff- but this is clearly something the development team were aware of, as not only is there an extensive how to play section but how to improve too, teaching you more advanced techniques through demos. Well worth a study and the improvement section doesn't use any text so it's easy enough to understand even with a language barrier (although thankfully they were translated for Tetris Attack).

Something I definitely appreciate about the game is that there's several different modes that take these basic mechanics and lean them in different ways that alter the way you approach them. The most basic mode is Endless which is the classic puzzle endurance mode, challenging you to pop panels for as long as possible with the game slowly speeding up over time and three difficulty settings available that alter the speed at which panels disappear and shift in the pit. From there you have Score Attack which focuses on being as quick and efficient as possible, giving you a strict two-minute time limit to rack up as many points as possible (with the reward of a unique music track if you score over 10000 points- good luck!); Puzzle which focuses on pattern recognition and gives you a pre-built pit and a limited number of moves to clear the board; Stage Clear where tidiness and raising the pit is the order of the day as you need to play long enough for the Clear Line to appear and get the panels underneath it to move on to the next stage; and finally Vs. COM / 2-Player Versus which we'll get to in a minute. I like this approach because it shows how flexible the game is, allowing you to hone in on something specific depending on your mood. Brushing up on the basics is best done in Endless of course, but if you're feeling kinda laid-back and lazy then Stage Clear does a good job of scratching the puzzle itch without being super-intense like Score Attack- for this reason, Stage Clear is the mode I find myself playing the most outside of versus. The game's mechanics are flexible enough that it's able to lean in different directions like this, which is absolutely a strength.



Of all these modes though, the two competitive modes- Vs. COM and 2-Player Versus- are the stars of the show, where the action mechanics shine the brightest and a couple of new wrinkles get introduced. With the screen split in half (and tiny sprites of each character dancing in the border), the mechanics of panel-busting are much the same save for the addition of garbage blocks, which get sent to your opponent either when you make a chain or combo (soft blocks) or when you destroy the newly-introduced excalamation-point panels (metal blocks), getting plopped with a big ol' screen-shake on top of the other player's stack. Fairly standard for the genre but what makes it work so well is that similar to Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, garbage blocks can be used to turn the tide too- pop any panels touching them and they turn into normal panels one-by-one and drop into your pit (if there's metal and soft garbage in the pile, they'll stop turning into panels when they hit the opposite type of garbage block). Shift the panels beneath the incoming ones quick enough and you can get a chain reaction started allowing you to crawl your way back into the battle! This is complimented very well by the slight change to the losing conditions in versus, as you won't lose straight away if garbage blocks or panels are at the top- you have a precious few moments when stuff is over the death line to sort things out by hook or by crook, such as destroying the garbage blocks and make a chain to send right back to your adversary or shifting panels down the pit for some breathing room.

These little adjustments to the basic game keep matches very close and exciting, both players desperately staving off defeat by matching panels and kludging chains as quickly as possible, with a way to come back from being on the business end of a large chain but without being obnoxious like Puzzle Bobble 4's chain system. Unlike that game, you don't just get given those chains, you have to be very quick to capitalise on the panels about to drop into your pit from destroyed garbage and see patterns you can take advantage of. Garbage block-created panels are also an easier way of making time-delay chains, a deadly ace in the hole if you have the dexterity for it. Hell, even the countdown at the start of a match adds to the game- it gives you a few moments to try and spot potential chains! Again, the action part of Action Puzzle Game is the key ingredient here, as while it will take time to practice the skills necessary to pull off skilful chaining and last-second panel movement, it's incredibly satisfying once it starts to click and your cursor whizzes across the board making matches left and right. As a result of all of this, watching high-level players duke it out can be hard to keep up with but you can see them setting up chains and combos just constantly on-the-fly and it rules. Not that I can play at anything even remotely on that level but it's nice to see something to shoot for, ain't it? That's not to say that the single-player modes are any less exciting or engaging, but versus play is absolutely the pinnacle here, what it feels like the game was made to be all along... Even if, according to that developer roundtable, they had to work on it to make it as exciting as it is- versus started out fairly plain and boring, apparently!



There's a lot to be said about the presentation too, with that developer roundtable specifically mentioning that other game companies at the time were adding a lot of visual flair and things like backstories and endings to their puzzle games, and that Nintendo couldn't rest on their laurels and 'just' release a puzzle game (comments that are a little odd in hindsight, considering what was to come for the series). Funnily enough, the puzzle game roundtable mentions they were temporary and probably would be replaced, but they stuck around and I'm glad they did! So there's six character-themed playfields for single-player and a full cast of thirteen characters for versus play, each with their own border, background image, theme song and even garbage block design. The fairy designs are very cute (Lip is a real favourite but Thiana, Flare and Seren are great too) and are complimented by background elements that are animated with just the right amount of charm to not be distracting- the little mascots often react when you score a combo or chain. More than that though, there's presentation elements that are there just to make things more exciting- panels react in shock when they explode, garbage blocks make the entire pit shudder when they land and the sound effects for all of these things is just perfect, fitting and incredibly satisfying, especially the little jingles that play for larger chains. The music is no slouch either, with Lip's Theme being an absolute classic- admittedly, during versus mode you're likely to mostly hear the panic versions of each song play more often, but that's the nature of Panel de Pon, always in crisis, forever with high stakes. About the only criticism in the presentation department is that, almost certainly owing to the time it was released, the panels are mostly alright for colour-blindness- having different symbols on them helps- but green and red blindness specifically make it tougher to distinguish purple and dark-blue panels. Probably the only part of the game that'd need modernisation beyond implementing proper save support (passwords only here!) but it's worth noting.



Probably time to wrap up then (the review portion that is, not the article as a whole, as you can see from that scroll bar we have a long way to go). Due to its strange localisation history that we'll be getting to shortly, Panel de Pon isn't necessarily the first puzzle game published by Nintendo that comes to mind when you think of the subject, but honestly it should because it's easily the most exciting one they ever put their name to. I think what speaks volumes about the game's quality is that I had to play a lot of different versions of this game, and I didn't get sick of it. I was quite happy to fire up Endless or Vs. COM in yet another version of the game because it so perfectly nails the base mechanics that make it fun and has enough of a skill requirement that I felt like I was getting better all the time. In a way it's strange as there's a section in the developer roundtable where a few of the Intelligent Systems staff- in particular Shinya Yamamoto the lead programmer- basically say they didn't really like puzzle games but that in a way made them the ideal staff to put together a puzzle game unlike any other. Maybe they were right- the combination of bright and colourful visuals, heavily action-focused gameplay that rewards dexterity and thinking on your feet and versus play that makes each match exhilarating and fast-paced created one of the very best late-era SNES games, and a puzzle game so good they never really needed to add anything to later versions, which goes to show how an outside perspective can help make a genre classic. There's a bit of a learning curve to it but whatever version you play, whether fairy-themed, Yoshi-themed or even Animal Crossing-themed, Panel de Pon is a thoroughly excellent puzzler and honestly could do with more attention than it normally gets.

For being an adorably-infectious puzzle game, Panel de Pon is awarded...

In a sentence, Panel de Pon is...
Hardcore panel-busting action.



And now, it's that time, folks!
EXTENDED PLAY!





First, the game's manual!

As it was included in the Super Famicom Mini (more on that later), Nintendo provided a PDF of the manual online.

Interestingly, the real manual isn't a traditional booklet- it's actually a fold-out poster! Nothing on the other side though, sadly.



Next, beating different modes earns you cheat codes with various effects. Here they are for you, via GameFAQs and VG Museum!

How to Earn Method Effect
Remove speed cap
Finish a game in Endless with between 50000 and 99999 points When the Nintendo logo appears on boot-up, press B, A, L then L, a chime will confirm code entry. The game will now keep speeding up after reaching Level 50 rather than reaching one final speed.
Boss characters
Beat Stage Clear On the Character Select screen, press L and R on both Controller 1 and Controller 2 at the exact same time. You can now select Sanatos and Corderia.
Super Hard difficulty
for Vs. COM
Beat Vs. COM on Hard difficulty On the Set Level screen for Vs. COM, highlight Hard then hold Up and L then press A. You will now start Vs. COM on Super Hard, the highest difficulty.
Select character
in Vs. COM
Beat Vs. COM on Super Hard while using at least one continue. Between stages in Vs. COM mode, hold X and Y until the screen fades out. You can select which of the currently-freed friends will represent you in the next stage.
Extra Puzzles
Beat the Normal Puzzle stages. Enter the password NYD29JI. You can move on to another set of harder puzzles.
Soft Reset
Beat the Extra Puzzle stages (only shown in Tetris Attack). Press A, B, Start and Select all at once. You will reset the game. Works in both versions.





Next, let's have a brief look at the official Panel de Pon website!

No longer properly linked on the Intelligent Systems website but still up despite not being updated since 2003, the Panel de Pon Home Page is an adorable gem, a treasure-trove of Panel de Pon info presented in the purest of late 90s-era Japanese web design. This has basic game information as you'd expect but also the background story introducing the world, a section on the mascot characters that accompany the fairies, fan records for things like fastest Endless completion time and biggest chains, a bulletin board of fanart and Panepon Harmony which has MP3s of recreations of the game's soundtrack. Not the original soundtrack, but ones remade as MIDIs and turned into MP3s and MP4s for you to enjoy. It even lists the file sizes, that's the pepper, that's the stuff! Reader CebolaBros dug deeper and found that older versions of the site on the Wayback Machine actually hosted MIDI files instead of MP3-ified ones, and managed to save a handful for download over here. Thanks for that!

So, if you need official art or want a refresher on time delay chains, this is a good website, recommended.




... Huh, a double-page break? That's unusual. ... Wait, look at the size of the scrollbar... This means a very large section is ahead of us, oh no...

As mentioned, Panel de Pon is unusual in that it never really got a proper sequel.

Most of the releases and ports that followed added more stuff to it but never a huge upheaval.

There sure are a lot of those other releases though, and that doesn't even touch on the reskins the game got...

What follows is everything- every rerelease, new game and reskin in the Panel de Pon style. All of it.

Might be here a while, make yourself a nice cup of tea or something.





Oh blimey, we can't even get started on the first reskin without talking about something else first!



Back in the day, the UK magazine Nintendo Magazine System (later Official Nintendo Magazine among other names still later) would often cover import titles, even ones with little to no hope of localisation like Lady Stalker and Treasure Hunter G, and one such title was Panel de Pon... Transliterated as Paneru Gopon somehow (see also: a Saturn Magazine referring to Puyo Puyo as Ijidk Ijidk). In PAL-Land you often didn't have that many games to cover, so you had to make do to fill those pages I guess. Anyway, in a preview of the game in Issue #40 (Page 88), they explain that while the game is good, the "twee soundtrack and somewhat naff fairy characters" (citation needed on that one) are a hard sell this side of the pond, and so they mention that "Nintendo have asked Rare to look into substituting its own Killer Instinct characters and sound effects into the game". Yes, that Killer Instinct. They go on to elaborate that while "Typically, Rare will not confirm or deny its involvement with the conversion project", they have it on good authority as "Mr. Minagawa, PR supremo at Nintendo of Japan, told us about it himself". This is a reference to Yasuhiro Minagawa, a long-time international PR rep for Nintendo (here he is being asked about the Ultra 64 back in 1995, and here he is over a decade later talking about unlicensed Mario apps on the iPhone) so it's not just some name they made up, that's a real person they spoke to!

Still, it's pretty unbelievable, isn't it? Changing the aesthetic of a cute, adorable game like Panel de Pon into something as violent as Killer Instinct. Stranger things have happened with video games (See also: The Unholy War and Majokko Daisakusen - Little Witching Mischiefs) but don't get your hopes up on a ROM dump of such a reskin showing up anytime soon. After reviewing the original game in Issue #41 (Page 56) as an import, they followed up their Killer Instinct de Pon story in Issue #42 (Page 8) by explaining they reviewed the import version because they'd heard the localisation plans were scrapped, only to be told it'd be localised but with Mario characters instead of Killer Instinct ones, with their money being on Yoshi. As a result, I think it's fair to say that no serious work was ever done on this Killer Instinct reskin if it was ever anything more than just a suggestion. I suppose the plus side is that even if they ragged on the fairy theme, NMS really loved the game and implored readers to not let it get forgotten amongst the other big releases of the time. The eternally-helpful gosokkyu got in touch when I asked about this on Twitter to add that they spoke to Kev Bayliss, ex-Rare graphic designer, on Twitter about this and got the reply "Not that I remember - but it was so long ago, guess it could have been true!", so that closes that case! I mean, maybe, probably, who knows. So a build probably isn't knocking about the Nintendo archives but there's a chance it was pitched at least.





But giving the game a Yoshi-themed lick of paint? Hope the NMS staff made a real bet on that, as that's exactly what happened to Panel de Pon overseas.

... Well, after getting a brand recognition-chasing rename to Tetris Attack, released in 1996 in the US and Europe.



We're never going to actually get to any of these reskins or rereleaes, are we? One more blockade to get through (and not the last either) so we really need to address the Tetris malarkey. Panel de Pon doesn't have a thing to do with Tetris beyond the broad strokes of being a puzzle game, so what gives? A Destructoid interview with Alexey Pajitnov and Henk Rogers of The Tetris Company, as well as being a pretty interesting read in its own right, has Rogers weigh in on this: he explains that at that point The Tetris Company had just been estbalished and their Russian partners, Electronica Technica, "wanted to make money, no matter what. That's it, 'however you could make money, make money'". Nintendo approached the company asking to use the Tetris name for the localisation of Panel de Pon, and as Henk tells it, "I'm saying, 'it's not Tetris'. But my partner's saying 'but it is money!' So, uhhhh, so, we, I, reluctantly agreed. In retrospect, we should never have done that". He finishes the story by saying, "It should have had its own name. It kind of got lost in history cause it got the name Tetris, but it's not Tetris. It could have, it should have stood up on its own two feet" and, well, isn't that the story of localisations of Panel de Pon in a nutshell?

The only official reason for this change can be found in the developer roundtable. Director and Systems Designer Hitoshi Yamagami explained that, "We thought about releasing it as-is, but after asking people on the American side whether or not we thought the visual style would fly we were told that it would probably only appeal to the small segment of people who are into Japanese animation" which, you know, is fair enough. Then again, Nintendo basically didn't release any puzzle games without one of their own IPs attached, plus Panel de Pon was already a very late 1995 release in Japan, so having a puzzler come out this late in the life of the system with a niche visual appeal probably didn't sound like the greatest business idea in the world to Nintendo. Thus, they gave it the best possible chance (in their eyes) by giving it a Yoshi makeover and slapping the Tetris name on it. The Yoshi's Island rebrand makes total sense, I will say- it's a cute game but something with perhaps a broader appeal than the original plus Yoshi's Island was a huge success which would be a big help. Honestly though I agree with Rogers in that giving it the Tetris name hurt it in the long run (in particular, that version is now impossible to rerelease) and if you think about it, this is basically as far from Tetris as a puzzle game can get- strict adherence to gravity, no dropping blocks, no t-spins, it's hardly Tetris at all!

Anyway, actually talking about Tetris Attack now.



Fairies are out, Yoshi's Island is in, with Yoshi having to save their friends from an adult Bowser's mind control and stop the deluge of rain from flooding their home. That's the long and short of it, and most of the graphical changes are documented on The Cutting Room Floor (the big ones are the Lip / Yoshi and Ruby / Flying Wiggler backdrops which completely change, the others get adjustments to git the new character art in) but Tetris Attack does make a couple of additions and changes to the game, so I'll just go over some of the more pertinent ones. First, there's an Options menu with a language switch (you can play the game in Japanese!), viewable character bios you'll otherwise only see if you wait on the title screen long enough, adjustable match points for versus and a 'CPU Switch' that lets you watch the computer play if you really want. As TCRF explains, this is in Panel de Pon but actually goes unused (and even has different options like adjusting the length of a Score Attack game)! Other changes include Vs. COM adding a password feature so you can pick it up where you left off rather than having to beat it all in one sitting and a proper victory theme for versus matches. Finally, the BALL code not only removes the speed cap for Level 50 and above as in Panel de Pon but also removes the Timer Stop feature and the mercy period in versus matches (i.e. instant Game Over if the stack touches the top of the pit), offering an absolutely brutal challenge if you want it. I'm not sure on this but according to this Twitter conversation Tetris Attack also has improved computer opponent AI but I don't have any confirmation on that, feel free to write in on that one. I personally prefer the aesthetic of Panel de Pon but, well, of course I would, but if you'd rather hang out with the likes of Lakitu and Gargantuan Blargg, Tetris Attack is a perfectly fine localisation (complete with Yoshi sassing you out if you beat Vs. COM on Easy).



Before we leave the SNES version behind, let's look at the Satellaview broadcasts and some other reissues of this version.

Put very very simply, the Satellaview was a peripheral for the Super Famicom that used a satellite modem to let players download games to a special cartridge from a rotating schedule provided by the radio station St. GIGA, ranging from games you just played off the cartridge to 'SoundLink' games that were limited to their broadcast slot because they'd include live radio voice acting and other time-sensitive events. You can find out more over at KiddoCabbusses' Satellablog and get a sample of one of its most famous broadcasts, BS Zelda no Densetsu / BS The Legend of Zelda, via the Retro Pals playthrough but for our purposes there's only a few bits and bobs to mention, including some lost content. The following information comes courtesy of the Satellaview English Wiki and Satellablog because Lord knows I'm not the one to explain the Satellaview to anyone!



Some of these are undumped, but there's a few things to glean from what we have, including a Twitter user who has screenshots of every Satellaview version here! First, an Event Version of the game was broadcast on September 25th 1995, a week or so before the final game's release as a way for people to try it out beforehand, but while it can be inferred from the screenshots that it's limited in some way, this one is currently undumped. Next, the standard Panel de Pon was broadcast on November 19th 1995, just under a month afer the cartridge release, but this version is also undumped so it's unclear if there's any differences. Later broadcasts also included Panel de Pon Torisetsu, a digital magazine that is also sadly lost. After that, at some unspecified point Panel de Pon Event Version 2 was broadcast which has no noted airdate but is dumped and, as shown by KiddoCabbusses in the linked video, has Endless, Stage Clear and a unique Event 2 mode. This pits you against super-tough CPU opponents, culminating in a screen of Lip congratulating you and giving an address to send a password and your score to St. GIGA for some kind of prize. Maybe they sent you Lip's Stick, we'll never know.



Quite a few of these, huh? Next, as you can see above Tetris Attack was released in Japan through the Satellaview as Yoshi no Panepon BS Ban and is indeed the cartridge release but with a new logo and Japanese text, first broadcast on November 3rd 1996 and repeated multiple times afterwards. Surprisingly, the Western versions of Tetris Attack already had Japanese text support so all they really changed was the logo! According to Satellablog, the lack of any kind of DRM with this release and its frequent rebroadcasts means this is one of the most common games to find on Satellaview carts. Finally, there was Panel de Pon Event '98 broadcast on December 28 1997, another demo containing the first eight stages of Stage Clear and 2P Vs., with another address for you to send away to St. GIGA.

Panel de Pon also got a Nintendo Power download cart release at the launch of the service if JP Wikpedia is to be trusted with a unique instruction PDF on Nintendo's website.

I'm assuming this is the same as the cart version but there's no dump of it out there yet.





Tetris Attack did get something the Japanese original did not, though- a downscaled Game Boy port released at the same time.



This is actually the version I played back when I was smaller than I am now! I played it so much, in fact, that it took me a while to adjust to the original SNES game which is a little weird. In any case, this is a pretty close port that does omit a few things but generally replicates the game as faithfully as you can reasonably expect from the Game Boy. The main modes are present and correct (unfortunately not the tutorials) as are the basic mechanics, but one type of tile, the upside-down triangle, is gone (although it is programmed in, just never used) and the pit size is reduced to 6 by 8 panels, most likely to make sure that all the available tiles in the game are easily readable on-screen at a glance. The use of the Game Boy's four shades is actually pretty good on the Game Boy Pocket I tested it on, and some other considerations make it nice and visible on any kind of Game Boy screen- the panels are big and the colour choices make each panel stand out as much as reasonably possible so it's hard to mis-read them, such as the star panel being a white star on a black background, the triangle being a pure-white outline and so on. This inevitably makes the game less complex as you don't have to juggle as many colours as you do on console, but it generally gives you enough to work with even if it does feel slightly cramped.

A more impactful change is that there's more leeway with making combos on the fly as your have more time when panels are being removed and destroyed garbage blocks are shown a full line at a time rather than each panel one by one, so it's a bit looser and easier to keep chains going. It's a little less hardcore, which is probably appropriate for the system, so it's fine. Speaking of garbage blocks, while they still come in different sizes they're all the same length (all the way across the pit) again, making things a little less complex. The other major cutback is that you no longer see what your opponent's up to in versus matches- in Vs. COM they have a health meter that you chip away at with combos and chains and an attack meter that either recovers health or sends garbage when it's full, and in two-player matches you have a meter that shows how close your opponent is to losing. There was no way the little Game Boy screen would be able to show all that information, so it's understandable. Most of the other cuts are superficial- Bumpity and Lunge Fish are gone from Vs. COM mode, border elements are shrunk down, that kind of thing. In terms of unique features, the game has Super Game Boy support with a custom palette and border (and six secret borders if you hold Up, Left or Down on the title screen and start the game with A or Start) but no local multiplayer for obvious reasons. In spite of its cutbacks, this is a surprisingly solid version of the game- the SNES one will always be better of course, but they crammed as much as they could in here given the hardware's limitations, so it's not a bad version at all.



Unlike the SNES game, this got a proper retail release in Japan, Yoshi no Panepon, with no real changes beyond the language.

The lack of the Tetris license meant that this version could get a Japan-only 3DS eShop rerelease in 2013, if nothing else.



We now enter the Weird Age of Panel de Pon, with two cancelled games and two reskins of those cancelled games.



I suppose the best place to start would be Panel de Pon 64, the first cancelled game, timeframe unknown.

There's not really a lot of information to go on to start with. It doesn't seem like Panel de Pon 64 was ever formally announced by Nintendo or anything like that, with only a few scraps available- specifically, the Zelda Collector's Edition's N64 emulator has a listing for 'PANEL' next to an unreleased version of Dr. Mario 64 for the Japanese market, indicating Nintendo has ROMs for these games internally. There was also a passing mention of a sequel being made for the N64 in the developer interview from 1998, plus this fansite mentioning the magazine 64DREAM reporting it was still undecided what to do about a Japanese N64 version of the game and a campaign to get the fairies on N64 after the international release of Pokémon Puzzle League (more on that in just a moment) but that seems to be about it.

As they say, let's put a pin in the original Panel de Pon 64 for now, we'll be picking the trail up again later.





For you see, a version of Panel de Pon did make it to the N64! Just not in Japan- Pokémon Puzzle League was released only in the US and Europe in 2000.



You ever heard of this Pokémon thing? It was a bit of a big deal at the time, and they even say people still play them nowadays. Thus, Panel de Pon got a second rebranding to appeal to a wider audience by roping in the Pokémon license- more specifically, the Pokémon anime that was airing at the time and is still airing to this day. This version was actually partly developed in the US too, being handled by Nintendo Software Technology Corporation, an American development team based in Redmond, Washington who've worked on things like Ridge Racer 64, Bionic Commando: Elite Forces and more recent portwork to the Switch. That said, a look at the credits shows Shinya Yamamoto, one of the original Panel de Pon programmers, as an Engineering Consultant as well as some other familiar faces from Intelligent Systems like Hitoshi Yamagami. Take note of two of the programmers from NSTC here though- Stephen Lee and Robert Champagne- as they'll be important later. Ash Ketchum gets invited to a new kind of Pokémon battle, involving matching panels, and of course he goes all-in to become the very best, like no-one ever was. Engaging in friendly battles with friends like Brock and Misty and fiercer rivals like Team Rocket, can he defeat the mysterious Puzzle Master hiding at the end of the Super Hard and Very Hard difficulty settings...?

So what's new in this version? Not a whole lot but there's still a few extras to talk about. All the main modes from the SNES original available from the main menu (look at the bottom of the screen on the main menu to see what they changed the names to- Spa Service, for instance, is Stage Clear) and the game pretty much plays exactly the same, but the three major additions are an expanded 'how to improve' section that lets you play on a Super Easy difficulty to get used to things (alongside the detailed tutorials also in the SNES game), Custom Puzzles for Puzzle (you can make your own limited-move challenges to frustrate and annoy your friends) and... 3D pits?! Available for most single-player modes, versus modes and the second half of Stage Clear, 3D turns the pit into a 18 x 12 tube that you revolve by going to the left or right edge. While you can't interact with blocks that are at the rear, you can still see what colours they are and how close they are to the top of the tube, so you can keep track of how things are in your pit. More blocks means more to handle at once, but it also lends itself to greater chain reactions. It's not the most revolutionary addition but it's an interesting turn on proceedings. [Groan. - Ed]You might also notice that you pick a Pokémon from a selection of three depending on your chosen trainer at the start of matches but this is purely for presentation purposes- it's the monster you'll see and hear mid-game, so don't worry about type matchups.



One big part of this game is the presentation which is very much tied to the Pokémon anime. They really went all-out with this as it's one of a single-digit number of N64 games with full-motion videos plus they're not that bad plus the voice acting for both these videos and during gameplay is provided by the original English dub cast. And yes, Jessie and James do absolutely ham it up in their mode. It's honestly pretty impressive for the system and the voices are very clear! However, I get the feeling tying it so closely to the anime also hurts it a little as most characters are just static images with nothing like the tiny sprites from the SNES game so it feels a little cheap in a way, like you're watching cardboard cutouts duke it out. The sound also suffers as the characters are constantly talking (you can disable sound effects but this includes panel SFX too) and the music is very farty versions of songs heard in the TV show and the first movie so it's not the best. Presentation quibbles aside, this is a perfectly fine version of the game, not adding too much but not trying to fix what ain't broken.





Alongside the N64 game, there was Pokémon Puzzle Challenge (US / EU) / Pokémon no Panepon (JP) for the Game Boy Color in 2000 (2001 for us PAL types).



Based on the then-current Pokémon Gold & Silver games rather than the anime, this feels like a second take on the Game Boy rendition, adding in features that were missing last time such as the upside-down triangle panel, variable-size garbage blocks that reveal themselves one at a time when destroyed and, of course, the added benefit of colourisation making the panels even easier to tell apart. The pit size is still the same, but that's to be expected, and there's some other new features too. There's some slight changeups to Vs. COM, now called Challenge- while it uses the same health meter system from the Game Boy game, you get to choose which Pokémon to take with you to battle which affects the sound effects for combos and chain reactions (in a cute touch, they use their cries from the original games). You start with the three Johto starters but on Normal or Hard achieving goals like getting a particularly long chain or destroying lots of panels at once makes a non-Gym Leader / Elite Four challenge you, and if you win you unlock their Pokémon for use for the rest of the Challenge and other modes. Some of these requirements are pretty tough, encouraging you to get good at the game! One other change is Puzzle now has a limited number of hints you can use to help you out. This is also the first game to have Garbage Attack, a single-player mode where you get pestered by garbage blocks intermittently and have to just deal with 'em- this is a helpful mode for practicing time-delay chains from garbage blocks without having an opponent to worry about. Finally, unlike the first Game Boy game this has battery back-up and multiple save files for the various modes so you don't need to write down any passwords. This is a pretty solid title all around then, an improvement on the original Game Boy port with some nice presentation bells and whistles (the remixes of the Gold & Silver soundtrack are especially great) and extras to make it feel a bit more robust.



... But surprisingly, another cancelled Panel de Pon project lives on in this game.

Discovered over a decade after the game's release and documented over on The Cutting Room Floor, there's a hidden game mode that lets you play a very rough and early rendition of Panel de Pon GB, a version of the game with Lip and friends! To access it, you need to get to the screen that explains this is a Game Boy Color-only game, either by playing the game in a non-Color Game Boy or pressing Up x 2, Right x 4, Down, Left x 10, Up x 4, Right, Down x 6 then B on the title screen. However you get there, pressing A x 24 then B x 24 will send you to the menu shown above where you can set your options, switch between Endless and Garbage Attack, then get busy matching panels with Lip (complete with her theme song). While this is pretty barebones and missing things like the ! panel, there's other leftover graphics include mugshots of the Panel de Pon cast (and some unused characters) and graphics for a title screen and suspend save message suggesting that this was the original plan for this game, but because like Panel de Pon 64 there was never any formal announcement of this version as far as I know, we may never know...





Now things get even weirder somehow. 2003 saw the release of Nintendo Puzzle Collection for the Gamecube exclusively in Japan.



This is a compilation of three of Nintendo's most beloved puzzle games but not in iterations you'd necessarily recognise. Dr. Mario is here in its N64 form which was previously unreleased in Japan, Yoshi's Cookie is a brand new version made from the ground up and Panel de Pon is a sequel that's suspiciously similar to Pokémon Puzzle League and was also developed by Nintendo Technology Software, including those two programmers Stephen Lee and Robert Champagne. Definitely not setting anything up with that comment, honest. This is presented as a sequel to the original game with an all-new cast of heroines, the next generation of fairies including Lip's descendant Furil battling against Sanatos and Corderia who are up to no good once again, alongside a giant magic space whale for some reason.

In terms of features this has a near-identical list to Pokémon Puzzle League- the major game modes of the original plus custom puzzle creation, 3D mode, all that jazz- but with some alterations, some being more significant than others. Obviously the biggest change is the presentation with not so much as a Pichu or Kamek in sight- the new generation of fairies vary in closeness of appearance to their SNES counterparts but they do have their old music themes (albeit remixed) and this comes with some gorgeous backgrounds, border art and tiny pixel fairies having a stand-off between each pit. These touches, as well as the new 3D-ish version of the bridge scenes in Vs. COM mode, make things a lot more lively than the static art and somewhat poor music of Pokémon Puzzle League but I'm heavily biased towards cute things so bear that in mind. As for other additions, the big one is a mode seen in no Panel de Pon before or since: four-player support for normal versus, Score Attack and Stage Clear. This video rather neatly shows how things work here, and as you can see things are a little squashed to fit everything on-screen but one unexpected wrinkle is in normal battles, you still keep playing after you lose! You can keep playing by yourself to throw garbage at the other players, they just won't send any your way. A nice way to send your esteemed puzzle colleagues a thank you for putting up a good fight. About the only thing missing is single-player Garbage which would make sense if this was secretly Pokémon Puzzle League with fairies, hence being created before the mode was introduced in Pokémon Puzzle Challenge but we'll have to see on that one.



Surprisingly, there isn't that much else to say about this one because of how similar it is to Pokémon Puzzle League! It is, however, the closest that the SNES game got to a true 'sequel' both in terms of plot and mechanics, and while 3D playfields are still not the massive gamechanger you'd expect from a follow-up, if the presentation of Pokémon Puzzle League turned you off and you just need more Panel de Pon with the original look in-tact, this is absolutely the way to go. About the only thing going against it is the controller you'd be using- the Gamecube D-Pad is not the most ideal way to play this (and is in fact how I was playing it for this article- my SNES-to-USB device died so I had to resort to my Switch Gamecube pad) but the game does offer the option to control the game with a Game Boy Advance using the GBA Cable. If you'd like to try it yourself, while the menus are entirely in Japanese there are still some elements like character names in English, plus there's a helpful menu translation guide on GameFAQs that can help you bumble your way through (although when they refer to Story (?) what they really mean is Stage Clear from the previous games) so it's perfectly accessible with a bit of luck. There's even a currently-unfinished fan translation patch just for Panel de Pon on the collection. A big recommend for panelmaniacs.



One other thing to mention is that there were plans to release this overseas, although the details are a little unclear. Via the Lost Media Wiki there's a few scraps here and there. An IGN preshow E3 2003 snippet from May says Nintendo released the first information on the collection, a few months after the Japanese release suggesting they had plans to localise it, and this is supported by this video commonly listed as being an E3 2003 trailer for the game. There's no reports on the game actually being at E3 2003 but the copyright information shown in this video is different from the final game suggesting it's a build unique from the Japanese version. There's also this info-card which the Lost Media Wiki says is also from E3 2003 (the only other clue I could find about this was this ResetEra post that says it's from 'a Summer 2003 GameCube sales brochure') with a new English logo and a Rating Pending label from the ESRB. Humorously, it refers to Panel de Pon as 'the game that inspired Pokémon Puzzle League'! A few months later, an IGN report on Games Convention 2003 in Leipzig, Germany lists Nintendo Puzzle Collection as being shown at the event, specifying that "Though there is still no release date for the US version of this GameCube classics compilation, European gamers can look forward to playing Dr. Mario, Panel De Pon and Yoshi's Cookie in the first half of next year". After that, all traces of the localisation disappeared, which is a huge shame.





Now, remember I said we'd get back to Panel de Pon 64?

Here we go then- given its similarities to Pokémon Puzzle League, was this 'new' game just the N64 game patched up a little for an easy Gamecube port?

That entry for PANEL in the Zelda Collector's Edition emulator would suggest so, but could it be? I mean, the image above spoils it, but...



We'd have to wait a heck of a long time, but in July 2020 a huge discovery was made- Panel de Pon 64 did exist. Gamers Manuel, a game collector on YouTube, found a deal on Craigslist for an N64 with a bunch of games... And a yellow prototype cartridge with the explanation that the seller's friend's dad worked in the games industry (finally, the prophecy of 'my uncle works at Nintendo' comes true). Looking at the cart itself, it mentions Nintendo Software Technology Corporation by name, matching up with their involvement with both Pokémon Puzzle League and the Nintendo Puzzle Collection game, and the game matches the Gamecube game almost exactly from what footage is shown, the exception being that it specifically says "two player" where the Gamecube version has a more general 'multiplayer' option, suggesting that four-player mode was not implemented in this build. The only clue to its development state is a messsage on the boot-up screening calling it 'Pre Beta Version 79' which is too vague to really do much with, but it's something at least.

From the evidence presented, it's fairly easy to intuit roughly what happened- Panel de Pon 64 was worked on by Nintendo Software Technology Corporation but cancelled, then later fixed up with a few additional features for the Gamecube release. The thing that remains a mystery is exactly where this version of the game fits in the timeline- was it the first one made with the Pokémon Puzzle League lick of paint added after the fact and this release was quietly cancelled, or was it a planned makeover of Pokémon Puzzle League for the Japanese market before they shelved it? With no copyright date on the title screen or the cart and no dump of the game in sight, this question remains unanswered for now. Still, the fact that it exists at all is proof enough that Panel de Pon 64 was planned for a Japanese release but would have to wait until 2003. That entry for PANEL in the Zelda Collector's Edition emulator does give me hope that Nintendo themselves have the data and could, if they really wanted to, release it on the Switch's Nintendo 64 Online app similar to how Starfox 2 and Earthbound Beginnings showed up on there... But I won't hold my breath.





Returning to Nintendo Puzzle Collection, there's another version of Panel de Pon there- the downloadable Game Boy Advance version.



I wasn't able to find out if there was a bog-standard release, but Nintendo Puzzle Collection had a version bundled with the GBA Cable which had two functions with the game. First, as mentoned you can use it as a replacement controller for the collection, not a bad controller solution. Second, you can download smaller versions of the three included games into the GBA's memory for play until the unit's switched off. Dr. Mario and Yoshi's Cookie get little emulations of the NES versions complete with an emulation menu accessed via L and R together (meaning this is one of five unique ways to play Dr, Mario on the GBA, and the only way to legit play NES Yoshi's Cookie on the handheld) but Panel de Pon gets a completely new version! See, GBA games loaded into RAM like this, usually referred to as Multiboot as it's commonly used to send shrunk-down multiplayer games for single-cart play- a fairly comprehensive list of games that use it is on IGN- are pretty small in terms of file size. As that link says, developers got 256k to play with. That's more than enough to send something small like a NES ROM (well, not one of the bigger ones but Dr. Mario and Yoshi's Cookie are nice and small) but there was no way SNES Panel de Pon was getting smushed into that. As a result, we get something of a compromise, with this version being limited in some respects but filled-out in others.

Only three game modes are present- Endless, Garbage Attack and a version of the How to Improve mode with demos that show you how to do sick chains and then let you try them yourself. This of course means no Vs. COM, no multiplayer of any kind, nothing like that. The presentation is similarly limited with a basic scrolling background (which can have its colour changed), Furil's buddy Pupuri from the Gamecube game to the side reacting when you get big combos and chains and only the title screen theme, menu theme and Lip's Theme present for music. What you do get is the core mechanics replicated very faithfully (and, for the first time on a portable, the full 6 x 12 pit) plus a lot of options to customise things including but not limited to upping the score counter from five digits to six, limiting the number of panels to just four on every difficulty, disabling the Stop mechanic entirely, score bonuses for clearing out the screen, allowing you to lift panels while Stop is in effect... Honestly it's impressive they managed to cram this much in, all things considered, so it's a cute extra to have, especially since you can put the system in sleep mode if you want to keep it in RAM for longer than your batteries normally allow. Additionally, this IGN preview suggests you can send your stats from the GBA game back to the Gamecube game although I'm not clear on how this works or if it's even a real option. In any case, a lot of effort was put into this little thing, something most players might not even see, but luckily it wasn't all for nothing...





... As while Nintendo Puzzle Collection didn't make it outside Japan, the portable section of it did at least!

That would be as part of Dr. Mario / Puzzle League (US / EU) / Dr. Mario / Panel de Pon (JP), released worldwide on the Game Boy Advance in 2005.



The version of Dr, Mario here is a mini-adaptation of the N64 game with a lot cut out, but Panel de Pon / Puzzle League is a lot more interesting. This is actually a more fleshed-out version of the Nintendo Puzzle Collection download game! This adds in pretty much every other mode you'd expect from a Panel de Pon game missing from the download version- Score Attack, Puzzle (which now lets you have hints like in Pokémon Puzzle Challenge but has a hefty penalty to your time), a basic single-match Vs. COM with selectable difficulties, two-player versus (with both versus modes showing you a basic view of what your opponent's up to)- plus more music tracks to play in-game (adapted from the SNES game, distinct from the Gamecube adaptation of Lip's Theme in the download version), a few more options for backgrounds and screen-side icons (you can still have Pupuri hosting things if you want) and a save battery for your settings and high scores. There's also a secret option unlockable by scoring 10000 points in Endless, Vertical Mode, which lets you play a few single-player modes by turning your handheld on its side for bigger panels and slightly awkward controls. The presentation is a little spartan for sure, but it still has at least some of the personality of the original game left, and the amount of customisation you get for the game makes this a pretty darn solid version to go for if you want a micro-sized interpretation.



There's some slight changes with the Western version but it's not on the level we've seen before. For a start, this is the first to use the name Puzzle League on its own with none of those Pocket Monsters in sight and would be the name of the games in the West going forward. As a result, some of the backgrounds and icons have changed to remove any reference to the name Panel de Pon, but one obvious reference remains- Pupuri is still a selectable icon, the first trace of its fairy origins to appear in the series itself overseas. That's progress! Progress that was about to be undone, mind, but...





One physically-released game remains on this long, long journey- Planet Puzzle League (US) / Puzzle League DS (EU) / Panel de Pon DS (JP) released for the Nintendo DS in 2007.



The most drastic visual retooling of the game yet, this iteration of Panel de Pon completely ditches everything that had come before it in every region and goes for a more techno, vaguely-minimalist aesthetic philosophy akin to something like Lumines, Every Extend Extra or Polarium, albeit mostly retaining the colourful appearance of the panels. We kinda have to stop everything and talk about this because it's a pretty stark change from previous games! It does, however, sort-of make sense when you consider this was released under the Touch! Generations branding in most regions, which was Nintendo's ultra-casual line of DS and Wii games targetted at a wider audience. These games, like Brain Training, Nintendogs and Picross DS, tend to have a more minimal presentation across the board so something like the original Panel de Pon wouldn't really fit in, so I understand why they took this approach. Do I like it though? Eh, not especially. It just doesn't do much for me, stripping a lot of the personality out of the game and even making the act of pulling off chains and combos feel a little hollow, a little less exciting or satisfying. There's also some serious visibility problems in some cases which I'll get to later. Presentation is an important part of puzzle games after all, but let's put it aside for now and look at what this version offers.

There's a selection of the now-standard modes alongside some new ones (including 'daily' modes that allow for one game a day and online multiplayer for the first time... Even if that's no longer an option because the service has been shut down, the damn thing had voice chat of all things) and the pit size is 6 x 12 as expected but, somewhat surprisingly, there's only five panel designs with the upside-down triangle (or its equivalent in the multiple panel skins you have available) taking a hike once again. It's a little less noticeable than when the pit size changes but it's still a curious omission, perhaps Intelligent Systems took feedback from the Game Boy Advance release's four-panel mode into account? Strange. There's a new Mission mode that's similar to Puzzle in that you have specific tasks to perform but you don't have a limited set of moves and you can have the game play a demonstration for you, and Vs. COM mode, similar to GBA Puzzle League, just lets you play one set against a computer opponent with various difficulties available. The big shake-up in this mode (as well as player versus player matches) is items are included- panels with symbols will appear and will activate once they're matched up, causing things like hiding certain colour panels from view, allowing you to chain panels without really chaining them and shuffling your opponent's pit. I suppose they're a neat addition but they can be disabled if you'd rather not have them. Speaking of options, there's a lot less customisation here than in the GBA game, so keep that in mind.



One of the bigger changes is the control scheme- while button inputs are an option, you can also use the touchscreen and stylus to move panels. The most comfortable way to do this is to hold the DS in portrait mode which is almost perfect for a game like this! I say almost because the pit doesn't completely fill the screen so there's a gap to the side. The minimalist presentation means there's no visible edge to the pit, instead it's represented by a darkening of the background but it's actually hard to see that on certain backgrounds so I've lost several games thinking I had another column to work with when it was just the gap between the pit and the sidebar with the Pause and Lift buttons. Bit frustrating, that. As for the controls and overall game feel, I think the stylus mostly works fine. It's a lot easier to slide blocks all the way across the screen but they still adhere to gravity so you can't cheat while doing this. The downside is that sometimes the game will get a bit too flip-happy with your inputs so you move over panels you don't intend to. The other thing is the game takes a while to speed up and this includes transitional movements, in particular when you drop panels and let gravity do the work, it feels like it takes a lot longer than it should when compared to Normal difficulty in previous games. This makes it easier to kludge chain reactions (and the game has a helper system that points out chain reaction points but you can disable this) but it's a little bit less satisfying and it just felt a wee bit off to me. Sadly, the real selling point of this version, online multiplayer with matchmaking and everything, is no longer accessible because the service got shut down. A divisive game for certain, the aesthetic and control changes make this completely different from everything before it, and while vertical play is a good use of the DS format, I think I prefer the older games.



As for regional differences, there's some backgrounds swapped around and different menu colours, but the big one that's completely left out of the Western releases of the game is... Lip's stage! Usable in most of the single-player modes except Vs. COM, this is just a lick of paint to make the game look more like the original (and since the original panel designs are in the game, you can use those too) complete with Lip's voice clips and a new version of Lip's Theme, available in both vertical and horizontal modes. Cute, huh? There's a bit of work involved to unlock it though- according to this page, you need to beat every stage in Stage Clear, beat Vs. COM at Level 10 on Normal or Hard (items OK) and get over 10000 points in Endless and it'll be the last background on the list. Westerners cannot appreciate fairies so, as explained on The Cutting Room Floor, Lip's stage was technically removed from the US and European versions... But not entirely, it's still in the game's code, just not properly accessible. As a result, the Action Replay codes 02330F08 0000000A (US) and 0234B5E8 0000000A (EU) will let you use the background in the Western versions for the modes you can use it in.





There was also a smaller download-only DSiWare release, Puzzle League Express (US) / A Little Bit Of... Puzzle League (EU) / Chotto Panel de Pon DS (JP) in 2009.

For a much smaller price tag, this version gives you the basic modes of the DS game for a little sampler. All you get here are the tutorials; Single Player versions of Endless, Stage Clear and Score Attack; and the Garbage Battle version of Vs. COM. In particular, this means no multiplayer and absolutely no online play (not that you even can nowadays but you get the idea). There's also less backgrounds and music tracks so everything's a little less so here, but it's the same otherwise. On the plus side, if you get the Japanese version you can still unlock the Lip backdrop using the same method as before. If you'd like to see if the physical release is for you, this isn't a bad get for the price... Although the 3DS shop, including DSiWare- is getting shut down in 2023 and no money can be added to your account from late 2022 so, you know, you're a little out of luck on that one unless you know how to sail the seven seas. Sorry!





Finally... A surprise minigame appearance for Panel de Pon in Animal Crossing: New Leaf - Welcome amiibo for the 3DS in 2016.



Oh my giddy aunt, it's quite frankly a small miracle I even have shots to show of this one. So, Animal Crossing: New Leaf was released for the 3DS in 2012 in Japan and 2013 elsewhere, an instalment in the popular life-simulation series that's become a bit of a Nintendo staple. 2016 saw the Welcome amiibo update for the game that added, among many other things, a Panel de Pon / Puzzle League minigame! To unlock it, though... You need to get a New Nintendo 3DS or New Nintendo 3DS XL furniture item then examine it when it's placed in your home, a bit like the NES games in the N64 and Gamecube Animal Crossings. Getting one of these is a pain though. Your legitimate options are to either keep buying Fortune Cookies from whatever Nook store is available (which uses up Play Coins so I dunno, go jogging with your 3DS or put it on a washing machine or something) or use an amiibo to summon a special visitor to the campgrounds (basically anyone with a proper amiibo figure except 'crossover' villagers from the Zelda or Monster Hunter series, plus Hopkins via amiibo card) and use MEOW Coupons to order one. You could also cheat with plugins but the only one I could find required a different fork of the custom firmware I'd already installed and that just seems like a real hassle for this kind of thing...

So anyway, after a solid week of fossil-hunting, bug-catching and trying to get Derwin the hell out of my village, I acquired the requisite 3DS furniture item and here we are, the most recent non-rerelease version of Panel de Pon. Needless to say, being a minigame in a much larger game means there's not as much to it, with no versus component to speak of, but the mechanics are mostly reproduced faithfully. Vs. COM is replaced with a new variant of Stage Clear where you play against villagers of your town as well as guests like Isabelle and Cornimer- for each opponent, you play three increasingly-difficult Stage Clear rounds to earn a popularity percentage then have to raise that percentage to 100% in a final battle. You don't actually battle against your opponent though, the final round is just a single-player game but with different rules such as only earning popularity through chains and combos or having to do so within a time limit. There's some cute smack-talk before and after matches but it's all in the spirit of Animal Crossing and you can also unlock a Kinda Hard difficulty which adds a sixth panel if you want a challenge. It's a neat-enough variation on Stage Clear although if you're not familiar with that mode it might feel like it goes on for a while, but the different objectives against each opponent are a nice touch.



There's a little more to it than that, mind. Playing through Story also unlocks the traditional Endless (beat Stage 1, Tortimer, called Score Attack which is very confusing), Score Attack (beat Stage 2, a random villager, called Time Attack here) and Garbage (beat Stage 4, Leif) modes as well as a brand new mode in Candy (beat Stage 6, Isabelle) where candies litter the pit and can only be removed by destroying panels that are touching them (and they're your only way to score points too). The top five scores are saved in each mode and they even show who got them, so if you'd like a bit of inter-village rivalry with anyone you're sharing your village with, you too can start a turf war for Panel de Pon dominance. The big thing you may notice is missing is any kind of versus mode- not against the computer, not against a human, this is a lonely experience. I completely understand why of course, adding multiplayer or even a versus mode to this bonus game in something much larger definitely wouldn't have been worth the trouble to implement but much like the downloadable GBA version it's just weird to see Panel de Pon without that competitive element.

As for how it plays... It's fine, although a little stacked against you if you don't have any Animal Crossing amiibo. Surprisingly, the touch controls are ditched with everything taking place on the top screen, horizontal only, so hopefully you remember how to play the old-fashioned way. The main new mechanic is the special skill, a mater that charges up as you clear panels and, with no amiibo scanned, lets you wipe out a single horizontal row when it's full. If you scan an amiibo beforehand though, you can have powers such as Resetti changing the colour of every panel in the pit, Blathers pausing the blocks rising for a moment or Celeste giving you a temporary double score bonus. Some of these are a little absurd! At least they don't need to be balanced for versus play because, y'know, there isn't anything like that. One thing I did notice is that this game seems to have the longest mercy time when the panels are at the top of the pit, giving you plenty of leeway in clawing your way back in. Aesthetically it certainly fits in with Animal Crossing with a somewhat more muted appearance and the panels now having fruit on them (and you get the full six this time, no ! panels for obvious reasons) but it does feel a little plain and the music in particular isn't great- it speeds up as the panels get closer to the top but it also warbles and distorts which is a little off-putting and you'll be hearing the same music a lot in Story, no theme changes as in the original game's Stage Clear mode. As a bonus, it's a nice thing to have but unless you absolutely have to play every possible permutation of Panel de Pon, you can safely skip this and not miss anything.



We're at the finish line, so here's some straight rereleases... Or are they?! Ohoho, this is where it gets interesting!



Panel de Pon was naturally released on the Wii Virtual Console in 2007, the Wii U Virtual Console in 2013, the New 3DS Virtual Console in 2016, the Nintendo Classic Mini: Super Famicom in 2017 and the SNES Nintendo Switch Online app in 2020. All of these were Japan-exclusive except for that last one (we'll return to it in a second) but what is notable about at least some of them is they use a previously-unreleased Version 1.1 of the game that fixes some glitches, specifically capping the max combo bonus at 30 to prevent a score bug and making big garbage blocks fall without splitting into rows! It's unclear if the original Wii Virtual Console version or the Super Famicom Mini used this revision but he Wii U, New 3DS and Switch releases definitely did. Nice to see games get bugfixes decades later, eh?

In any case, the big one here is the SNES Nintendo Switch Online version because it was, amazingly, released worldwide. Completely untranslated for the West as is standard for most Nintendo releases like this (see also: Super Mario Picross, Nazo no Murasame Jō / The Mysterious Murasame Castle), the description cheekily says the game 'may seem familiar', a nod to the constantly-changing branding for the damn thing. Some basic instructions for navigating the menus would've been nice, but at least fans picked up the slack on that front. This also means this is the only version of the game with active online play, albeit only between friends. I'll take what I can get when it comes to playing Panel de Pon online though, honestly.



To wrap things up here, please enjoy this table of every version of Panel de Pon and what modes they contain.

This isn't comprehensive, just covering the main modes that were standard from the start or eventually became standard.

JP Title EN Title Platform Year Vs. COM Endless Score Attack Puzzle Puzzle Hints Stage Clear 1P Garbage 3D Mode 2-Player Vs. 4-Player Vs. Online
Panel de Pon Tetris Attack SNES 1995
yy
yy
yy
yy
nn
yy
nn
nn
yy
nn
nn
Yoshi no Panepon Tetris Attack Game Boy 1996
yy
yy
yy
yy
nn
yy
nn
nn
yy
nn
nn
N/A Pokémon Puzzle League N64 2000
yy
yy
yy
yy
nn
yy
nn
yy
yy
nn
nn
Pokémon no Paepon Pokémon Puzzle Challenge Game Boy
Color
2000
yy
yy
yy
yy
yy
yy
yy
nn
yy
nn
nn
Nintendo Puzzle Collection
Panel de Pon
N/A Gamecube 2003
yy
yy
yy
yy
yy
nn
nn
yy
yy
yy
nn
Nintendo Puzzle Collection
Panel de Pon
N/A Game Boy
Advance
2003
nn
yy
nn
nn
nn
nn
yy
nn
nn
nn
nn
Dr. Mario
+ Panel de Pon
Dr. Mario
+ Puzzle League
Game Boy
Advance
2005
yy
yy
yy
yy
yy
yy
yy
nn
yy
nn
nn
Panel de Pon DS Planet Puzzle League
Puzzle League DS
DS 2009
yy
yy
yy
yy
yy
yy
yy
nn
yy
nn
yy
Chotto Panel de Pon Puzzle League Express
A Little Bit Of... Puzzle League
DS 2010
yy
yy
yy
nn
nn
yy
nn
nn
nn
nn
nn
Tobidase Dōbutsu no Mori
Amiibo Purasu
Animal Crossing: New Leaf
Welcome amiibo
3DS 2010
nn
yy
yy
nn
nn
yy
yy
nn
nn
nn
nn
Panel de Pon Panel de Pon Switch
(SNES Online)
2020
yy
yy
yy
yy
nn
yy
nn
nn
yy
nn
yy




Phew! I'm exhausted now. Still, there's yet more to discuss... Panel de Pon cameos in other games, let's go.



First, a minor region-exclusive nod to the series in Mario Story, the Japanese version of Paper Mario for the N64.

As kindly pointed out by Gosokkyu, the flower-loving Toad Minh T is called Lip in the Japanese version. Cute.



Next, let's get the Super Smash Bros. series out the way. From the top... In Melee, Lip's Stick was introduced as an item based on Lip's wand that makes a flower sprout on an opponent's head making them take damage over time (an item that would appear in every subsequent game) plus Kirby's Down + B Special, Stone, can randomly turn into a Garbage Block. In Brawl, the Pictochat stage has a remix of Lip's Theme arranged by Masafumi Takada (of God Hand, Killer 7 and No More Heroes fame) and there's stickers from the Nintendo Puzzle Collection version of Panel de Pon of Furil, Pure, Sala, Cecil and a heart panel (in the English version they use the names of the equivalent characters from the original game which isn't correct). In Wii U & 3DS there's nothing new but Lip's Stick is back and Lip's Theme only appears in the Wii U version on the Wrecking Crew stage. Finally, Ultimate includes all that (with Lip's Theme now playable on 'other' stages such as Duck Hunt, Balloon Fight and Pilotwings) as well as an unlockable set of Mii Swordfighter gear to let you dress up as Lip complete with Lip's Stick as a sword, a Spirit Battle with Lip plus an icon for your online profile (of course, this is Gaming Hell's official profile icon in Smash). Sadly, she never got her chance to be playable. Maybe in Smash 6...



Next, Captain Rainbow! This Japan-only Wii game from 2009 is the product of skip Ltd., a company formed from ex-Love-de-Lic members who primarily worked on Nintendo-published games such as the Chibi-Robo! and bit Generations series and whose games are known to be a little off-beat. That definitely applies to Captain Rainbow, an adventure game with very light action elements where you have to help the residents of Mimin Island, which is mostly forgotten Nintendo protagonists such as the soldiers of Famicom Wars, Little Mac from Punch-Out!! and the devil from Devil World, achieve their dreams and ambitions. One of those characters is Lip! She dreams of becoming a great magician and covering Mimin Island in beautiful flowers, but has a bit of an issue- a severe pollen allergy, so she has to wear a mask to tend to her flower bed which includes a Piranha Plant from the Super Mario series. The second half of her quest is locked behind a bloody massive grind so I wasn't able to get that far into it, but this guide will help you get through the game if you're curious, and there is a mostly-complete fan translation available (this wasn't localised for the Western markets, probably because many of the forgotten characters are from games not released outside Japan, plus some of the humour being crude and offensive in parts probably didn't help) so you can see Lip's cameo for yourself fairly easily.



Finally, in Animal Crossing: New Leaf - Welcome amiibo you can earn four pieces of clothing that let you cosplay as Lip in the Panel de Pon / Puzzle League minigame!

The requirements are all sourced from here and are...

Flower Fairy dress (clothing item) - Score 10000 in Endless
Flower Fairy boots (feet item) - Score 2500 in Time Attack
Flower Fairy wig (headgear item) - Score 10000 in Garbage
Flower Fairy wand (held item) - Score 100 in Candy



Before we wrap up, just going to very quickly highlight two fan-made clones of Panel de Pon for modern PCs.



The first is Panel Attack, a faithful open-source version of the game that has support for replays, online play and custom characters so you can theme it around the original Panel de Pon fairies or Pokémon or whatever you want if you follow the instructions! The video above highlights how it looks and works and shows how faithful it is to the original game.



The other is Bomber Panel Panic by 300g curry rice, a clone of the game themed around Konami's arcade game Bombergirl. It's less accurate to the original game than Panel Attack but the presentation is really on-point with very cute renditions of the Bombergirl cast and menus that look like they'd fit right in with Bombergirl's aesthetic. Definitely worth a try!





"This'll be a short one" I said. "It'll take less time to write about than an RPG", I said. I forgot how many versions there were...

DO YOU HAVE PANELS? WHERE ARE THEY?? I MUST MATCH THEM TOGETHER AND MAKE THEM EXPLODE