Pandas have it tough, when you think about it.
They have to put up with punishingly strict dietary requirements, a shrinking habitat, the indignity of zoologists relentlessly prodding them in the direction of the nearest mate, and now - for Android gamers’ amusement - they’re being forced into cannons and fired into space.
With Nano Panda’s bright and breezy cartoon visuals and emphasis on tap-controlled physics puzzling, developer unit9’s Unity-powered title is a stylistic dead ringer for iOS sensation Cut the Rope - and nearly nails its winning gameplay formula.
Fire the panda
For reasons (sensibly) left unexplained, each level requires you to cannon-launch tiny pandas at evil atoms. Destroying the gurning enemies, who charmingly cower with fear as your furry missiles get too close or cruelly chuckle if they miss and skewer themselves on the nearest spike, is the main goal for each level.
To unlock the four generous chapters included (more are "coming soon"), you need to collect up to three stars - all meticulously placed just out of easy reach, and adjacent to deadly spikes.
This mainly relies on the game’s innovative, but somewhat unpredictable, gravity mechanic. When more than one panda is on screen simultaneously, they are attracted to each other by a tether – no, not a ‘rope’. A ‘tether’.
With a rubber band effect on panda movement, in theory the tether should send them hurtling neatly towards those out-of-reach stars. In practice, however, only a serious amount of trial-and-(panda paste smeared over spikes) error will win the day.
Progression adds new mechanics to stretch the player, like smart bombs that temporarily snap the link between pandas.
The extra challenge is welcome, but having too many physics challenges to juggle simultaneously can make later levels too unpredictable.
This means you often rely on a lucky bounce over actual skill.
Still, at its bargain price and with OpenFeint leaderboards and achievements built-in, Nano Panda is a great way to wile away the hours until Cut the Rope finally graces Android with its presence.