Have you ever played Panel de Pon? Unless you’re Japanese, the answer is probably no– or at least you’d think that. You see, Panel de Pon is one of Nintendo’s trademark puzzle franchises, yet its never been released in the West… under that name. Chances are, though, that if you enjoy Nintendo puzzlers, you’ve had a taste of this game at least.
Panel de Pon was developed by Intelligent Systems and released on Super Famicom in 1995. The game featured Lip, the Fairy of Flowers, and her epic quest to defeat the evil king of devils, Thanatos, who has used his magic to cause all of the fairies of the world of Popple to fight each other. Thankfully, Lip’s wand-like “stick” kept her from being affected by Thanatos’ magic. Therefore, she journeys to each of the other fairies’ domains to defeat them in a match-three puzzler, which breaks the spell over them, before going on to take on Thanatos himself. Is this sounding familiar at all?
By now you’ve probably figured it out, Panel de Pon was rebranded for western release as Tetris Attack and Lip and friends were replaced with various characters from Yoshi’s Island. Since then, the game has been seen most as Puzzle League in the west, possibly to avoid lawsuits for using Tetris in the title of the game. Versions of the game have been released on N64, Game Boy, GameCube, GBA and DS. None of these versions, however, have given lip service to the characters and settings of the original version. In Japan there have been a couple of titles that did reference the original, but it seems that the US will not be seeing them any time soon.
Except in Super Smash Bros. Melee and Brawl. There is a blunt weapon in both games called Lip’s Stick that, while not very powerful, inflicts a flower on the head of any character it hits and slowly drains their life away. This very stick is the one from the original game that protected Lip from Thanatos’ machinations, and Super Smash Bros. Melee was the first western game to actually make reference to the original game.
So why didn’t it come west? While there’s no stated reason, I have a few hypotheses. My first idea relates to the localization restrictions Nintendo of yesteryear had. We never got Devil World thanks to the use of the word “Devil” in the title, and history is littered with games that were changed to make the Nintendo code. Second, I think Nintendo might have felt the game was too Japanese. While it might be okay for Japanese players to enjoy a story with fairies, Americans would assume that the puzzle title was just for little girls. Third, I think Nintendo wanted more popular, and established, mascots. This was relatively soon after Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island released for SNES, and those characters were very popular at the time– especially Yoshi as the main character. Also, if you look at the next installment, Nintendo went with the Pokémon franchise to sell the game. It seems that in the west, Nintendo likes using big-name IPs to sell the game.
Does this mean we’ll never see the original in North America? It’s tough to say. Nintendo has produced a Virtual Console release of the game in Japan, which could theoretically be translated and sold for a slight premium in the US, but prior actions have shown Nintendo hesitant in bringing these characters outside of Japan. It’s unlikely that it will happen, but then most thought Sin and Punishment would never cross the ocean, yet it saw not only a US release on Virtual Console, but a disc-based sequel released this summer on Wii.
Honestly, I have no idea what a “Panel de Pon” is. I do know, however, that it’s a fun puzzle game series that should continue for years to come, whether Nintendo brings the original characters overseas or not.