Ever wanted to play matchmaker with a couple of pandas? Well get your finger warmed up because only you can unite these little loverbears in Land-a Panda.
It’s tough to stand out in an App Store dominated by irate avians and severed twine, but Big Pixel Studios shows no fear. Big Pixel is the developer behind Meow Meow Happy Fight and Piyo Blocks, two of the most bright and colorful games you’ll ever see. Unfortunately for Big Pixel, melting eyes isn’t all it takes to make a game great.
Land-a Panda stars Yang Guang, a portly young boy-bear on his quest to date the hell out of the girl-panda of his dreams, Tian Tian. Unfortunately for Yang Guang, he lives in China, and as we all know, everyone in China lives on floating platforms and travels by barrel cannon. I’m assuming each level is another date for the couple, and Tian Tian is not putting out. You start out in Panda Land and work your way through Snow World, Rooftops, and finally Panda Zoo. Each region has twenty levels, each with three coins for you to collect on the way to your sweetheart. Additional levels will be added in future updates.
The game is basically a fleshed-out version of the barrel cannon puzzles in Donkey Kong Country. At first you simply choose when to shoot the little panda from barrel to barrel, but things get complicated in a hurry. As the levels progress, obstacles like spikes and floating ghosts get introduced, and your barrels go from stationary cannons to rotating, floating, auto-firing, and even portal vessels. Some barrels require manual aiming which can be irritating since the game gives you no sense of which direction to choose when given the option.
One thing I can’t stand in games is when skill is thrown out and replaced by trial and error. There’s literally nothing but random guessing involved when you have to choose between the left or right path, and if you choose wrong there’s no coming back without restarting the entire level. This is unfortunate considering the legitimate challenge of gauging angle and timing to dodge obstacles and hit the next barrel. There’s nothing worse than using cunning technique and judgment only to find out you chose the wrong barrel along the way and have to do the whole level over. I will admit it’s almost comical seeing little Yang Guang run into spikes because he explodes into adorable gory chunks, but it is a little sad seeing Tian Tian weep over her broken heart.
It’s become clear that the formula to making a successful game on the App Store is to find a simple premise, slap on adorable graphics, create a few worlds with 20 or so levels containing three stars you must collect, and promise new content through free future updates. Big Pixel delivers all that for only a buck, and I would definitely have given it a higher score if it weren’t for the needless trial and error thrown in. Either way, Land-a Panda is still one of the better puzzle games I’ve played on iOS.