Game review: Pan-Pan’s puzzles are a little tired – but don’t detract from its overall soothing effect
In Pan-Pan, you have to traverse an unknown island looking for parts to repair your crashed balloon ship. It’s not the most original or innovative set-up, but it looks beautiful and induces a lovely meditative state
A natural inclination for exploration is part of being human – we thrive on seeking out new experiences, new landscapes, new worlds, and for those that can’t afford the real thing or are somewhat disenchanted with reality, gaming acts as a fascinating virtual proxy.
Recent release No Man’s Sky was hyped as the pinnacle of exploratory adventures, and while it certainly divided fans and critics, the limits to our otherworldly journeys are, well, practically limitless.
Available for the PC and Mac, Pan-Pan doesn’t initially resemble the type of adventure game so popular among hard-core players. There are no elves and orcs, nor are there new galaxies to seek out. It’s cartoonish, almost Sims-like, a wordless animated world in which nothing is initially revealed and your freedom almost causes a sense of anxiety.
Slowly but surely, through classic point-and-click trial and error, you begin to understand you’ve crash-landed in a foreign landscape and must gather parts to repair your balloon ship. Throughout the short but sweet journey, you travel across distant areas of this captivating island, meeting and engaging with locals and trying to solve numerous puzzles along the way.
However, these puzzles are the weakest link, as they prevent Pan-Pan from becoming a truly involving experience. The only way you can reach certain areas and find the right components is to deploy the classic if tired “find and place” technique: objects to weigh down switches, batteries to connect circuits, a random thing to open/fix/solve that other thing.
None of it’s particularly challenging, but it does cause frustration levels to increase, especially when you figure the game can be completed in under two hours.
But this doesn’t matter much when you’re awash in this wonderful world – a uniquely vibrant feast for the senses that’s backed by a serenely smooth atmosphere and a generally warm soundtrack. It’s a bit of gaming meditation for your mind, almost like a pared-down version of that immersive VR game in Spike Jonze’s Her.
Pan-Pan’s puzzles might not win any innovation awards, but its surrounding parts more than make up for it – which, if you think about it, an exciting place for gaming to be.