I'll start this with a big thank you to the developer of the game, Isaias Martinez for sending me a code for this game.
The Nintendo 3DS eShop is full of unique and interesting selections - not all of which are worthwhile. The Hand of Panda is one of those games that shines above the rest in its respective genre. And though a bit short, this game is a fantastic treat. Arriving a few years after a successful Kickstarter, Hand of Panda dropped into the eShop with a somewhat small splash, but that could easily change once people download the game and have a chance to hear the fantastic soundtrack.
Hand of Panda is an action-rhythm game that takes its gameplay style from the classic "Test Your Strength" mini game from early fighting games like the Mortal Kombat series. Starting with the first of three available "Towers" in the game, you, as Panda are tasked with inputting button combinations as they pass over an "orb" in the middle of a bar. The closer to the center you are when you press the correct button, the better score you receive, while simultaneously increasing your strength bar to destroy the current level's object. This is simple to start with, but as you progress levels become increasingly more difficult. There is a time limit to each stage starting at 60 seconds in Tower 1 and increasing slightly when you move on to another Tower.
Timing is everything
Now as I've stated this is technically a rhythm game, but the button inputs are not based on timing to music - instead prompting the player to carefully decide when they think they are in the perfect spot in the orb. This can be a bit distracting as the music is so upbeat that you may find yourself pressing buttons to the beat instead of when they're in a position to be pressed - leading to game over - but the music is so great you won't find any problem replaying a stage just to hear the music for another minute or so.
There is no 3D display for this game at all, and though I can live without 3D being turned on, I felt the main screen could have benefitted from a 3D display. The graphics, while nice to look at, are a bit underwhelming for a system like the 3DS. This shouldn't dissuade potential buyers, just be aware that the game doesn't have a ton of different animations for Panda with the only time he is fully animated is for the finishing blows.
Master your timing and shatter energy orbs to power up, discover legendary combos
In an unseen twist this game actually has a storyline. While not the deepest or most engrossing, the story goes as follows:
"Journey alongside Panda, an unlikely hero guided by Master Koi, a mysterious character who has ultimate mastery over The Hand; A legendary ability to break any object set before him. With your teacher at your side, develop your incredible smashing skills and climb the pagodas that hold the worlds most difficult materials. Finish each tower to follow the story and uncover the truth."
This is a simple yet rewarding game that may not scratch that hardcore RPG itch, but for what it sets out to accomplish, I have enjoyed my time with Hand of Panda. The game is best enjoyed in short bursts to ensure it never overstays its welcome and leave the player not wanting to return. The music is top notch and will leave you wishing for an in-game music player, or like me, discovering that the Kickstarter backers received a soundtrack and being left with complete jealousy. Words cannot express how good the music in this game is.
Now ultimately this game may feel a bit short for the 6 dollar admission fee, but I can safely say that this is a magnificent break from the normal eShop offerings. Solid music coupled with varying levels of difficulty make this a standout title for veterans of the genre and players just getting into it. I'm sure you'll find yourself coming back to Hand of Panda multiple times to increase your high scores and to try and pull off incredible combos.