I’m not typically (or…at all, really) much for playing games on mobile or PC. There’s nothing surreptitious or malicious behind that statement, just that there’s something to those devices that subliminally steer me away from doing anything beyond using them for their ascribed utilitarian purposes. It’s also worth noting that I also have nothing against games that are published on them. There’s a subset of gamer who looks down upon what is ostensibly the wild west of software, but I don’t find myself in that camp. I do however have a tendency to be a little ambivalent towards stuff that’s released on these platforms because I simply don’t like playing on them. So herein lies the rub – I miss out on a lot of great experiences because of that irresoluteness.
Occasionally I’ll keep an eye on something on the horizon; other times I inadvertently stumble into something worth playing. Pan-Pan is one of those titles from the latter. It only happened because someone kindly ported it to the Switch, and for that I am thankful.
Pan-Pan is a small game where everything it entails, from its simple plot to its devious puzzles, is done organically within its tiny little environment. There are no tutorials, instructions or much guidance beyond a few natives from the planet you crashed upon pointing out that they need a handful of obtuse baubles to send you back on your way. I’d be remiss if I said “it doesn’t hold your hand” because the point of its apathy towards the player isn’t that it doesn’t want to guide you, but that you should be observational as you scour the landscape for the knick-knacks you need to send our heroine home. There are a few times where Pan-Pan perhaps expects too much from the player, but a little experimentation (or a wordless walkthrough) will often lead you in the right direction.
What makes meandering around the world of Pan-Pan so intriguing is that there is this odd, asymmetrical bend to it all. Narrow pathways aren’t straight, there’s a lake that doesn’t sit centered in the valley you crash in, there’s a mirrored switch puzzle where the two sides don’t match. This, along with its general storybook feel, kind of piqued my curiosity in ways I wasn’t expecting. It’s a comforting place that somehow feels awkward because it defies your expectations. The other interesting thing about the world design is that nothing is hidden from the player. There’s occasionally a few missteps when the game doesn’t readily give you a solution, but at no point do you ever feel like the rug is pulled from under you, either.
Progression feels natural in Pan-Pan. There’s times where something doesn’t make sense, but when you do find that “a-ha!” moment it all starts to cohere together. For example, there’s four switches in a room that hosts a little bird that’s sleeping next to three eggs. The obvious solution is to take each egg, place them on a switch while you run over to the last one to open the door. Nabbing an egg is easy, but our intrepid feathered friend will give chase and bring the eggs back to the nest. You can’t sneak them away, nor can you outrun the hen. Earlier on I procured a stick that I’ve used for other puzzles and discovered that I could use it to bonk the bird on the head, slowing her long enough for me to execute my plan.
Moments like that are easy to pick up on, but there were also moments where the assumptions of the player were too steep. I spend a good chunk of time trying to figure out how to knock some fruit from a tree, clobbering it with the aforementioned stick for a very long time. For whatever illogical reason, you had to take a pot of water (to which I didn’t know you could fill with water as I lugged them around) to then feed the fruit, which would then grow just enough that the next whack of your stick would drop it. It makes a little sense in hindsight, but I don’t know that I would have been able to divine that information through regular play. I found a walkthrough (to which I only used twice, full disclosure) that was to the point and non-spoilery, where I could see just enough to be pointed in the right direction. Those frustrating moments were few and far between, but worth noting because they literally stopped me in my tracks.
These moments of progression in Pan-Pan felt very much like a Rube Goldberg machine, much by design, in that each discovery would bleed into the next until you had a power source in hand that you could then plug into your conical craft. It also helps to open up the world in that you begin to realize tactics you just learned would get you further along. There are a few power-up items that unlock gates, sure, but for the most part even they felt organic in the grand scheme of things. Pan-Pan never milks these moments, staying at a length where accomplishing things feels good but never to the point where it wears thin.
I can see how Pan-Pan would be a fine experience on a tablet or phone; not only is the experience brief and the world small, but the puzzles are set up to be mulled over. It’s probably best played by not being played; getting stuck would mean you would pocket your phone and consider some answers. But I don’t play games on mine, so I would have never tried Pan-Pan in the first place if that were the case. I’ve been keen on Circle Entertainment’s output since Kamiko, so when they brought Pan-Pan over to the Switch I was definitely interesting in its uniqueness.
Pan-Pan is a nice reminder that there’s a place in the world for charming and concise experiences that can be enjoyed in an afternoon. It’s also a nice reminder that there are games worth playing no matter what you’re playing them on.