Panda Jam is a new Facebook puzzle game from SGN. While superficially resembling Wooga’s Diamond Dash in more ways than one, Panda Jam distinguishes itself from numerous similar puzzle titles through a small but effective twist on the basic gameplay.
In Panda Jam, it is up to the player to save the baby pandas from an evil baboon who has kidnapped them and, for reasons known only unto himself, placed them atop a large pile of easily-destroyed colored gems. By clicking on contiguous groups of like-colored gems, the player can clear out the play area in an attempt to drop the baby pandas down to ground level and complete the stage. The player has a limited number of moves with which to complete each level, and a graph-like meter at the top of the screen depicts the player’s score in an abstract manner. Meanwhile, the baboon gradually introduces additional lines of gems into the play area at regular intervals, or can be forced to do so by clicking on him if there is nothing to match. In order to successfully complete the level, the player must not only save all the baby pandas in the allotted number of moves, but must also score at least one “star” on the meter — a process which is made easier if the player matches groups that contain “strawberry” icons.
The combination of these factors makes Panda Jam quite an interesting game. Rather than simply blindly clicking on things as quickly as possible as in Diamond Dash’s “blitz-style” gameplay, Panda Jam is somewhat more strategic. Players must balance their desires to save the pandas as quickly as possible against scoring as many points as possible in the move limit. There is no score bonus for remaining moves, so it behooves players to play it as close to the line as possible in order to attain the maximum rewards. At the same time, the fact that new rows of gems are constantly appearing means that players don’t have too much time with which to consider their moves and must work quickly and efficiently in order to win.
As the game progresses, players gain access to various powerups, all of which cost soft currency to activate. Soft currency is acquired at the completion of every level according to how many “stars” worth of score was attained, though once the player gains the ability to use two or three powerups at the same time, they will tend to find themselves spending money faster than they earn it if they choose to make use of the most effective items. Powerups appear randomly on the gem layout and generally make it easier to clear large areas at once — the first powerup, for example, allows all gems of a single color to be immediately obliterated.
The game’s social features, too, take an interesting twist on an established formula. There is a “weekly tournament” system in place as in most similar puzzle games, but here it provides a combination of cooperative and competitive play. A player and their friends are ranked according to how many strawberries they have acquired this week and placed on a leaderboard, but the team’s total number of strawberries provides them all with the opportunity to win soft currency bonuses. This is a nice idea (and similar to how PopCap’s Bejeweled Blitz used to implement “team play”) though the rewards are a little stingy at present. The more friends a player has joining the effort, however, the closer they will come to the more generous higher tiers, helping to encourage viral growth of the game.
Overall, Panda Jam is a decent game — while its base mechanics are completely unoriginal, the twists it puts on the base formula make it worthy of note. It successfully transplants this type of “match-3″ puzzler into a level-based structure and implements “cooperative competition” well. It is also fairly generous with how long it allows players to enjoy the game for free — lives are only lost when a level is not completed, so as long as the player is skilful enough they can continue to play indefinitely if they desire. The only thing which could perhaps use a little tweaking is balance. Either the price of powerups needs to come down a little or the rewards for completing levels need to be increased slightly. The rewards for the weekly tournament should also be a little higher to make it worthwhile for players to compete.
These flaws aside, Panda Jam is a good Facebook puzzler likely to enjoy a healthy degree of success on the social network. At the time of writing, it has picked up 450,000 monthly active users and 140,000 daily active users. You can follow its progress with AppData, our traffic tracking service for social games and developers.
While based on an unoriginal base mechanic, Panda Jam successfully distinguishes itself from the many Diamond Dash clones out there.