This is an experience in which the player is immediately wracked with overwhelming guilt. When you start PAN-PAN for the first time, you see a spaceship harmlessly drifting through a boundless expanse. With not much else happening and no direction, it isn’t long before you start to press buttons. And, that’s when it happens.
With each button press prodding the spaceship, your momentary impatience soon sends it spluttering in a downward spiral towards a planet, where, after its occupant clambers out to safety, that pang of guilt will see you help guide them to fix their downed vehicle so that they can continue their pilgrimage home.
This open plain adventure comes from Spelkraft and is the first Nintendo Switch game to have completely blindsided me, after not really knowing what to expect from it. The Swedish developer explains, better than I can, that they had looked to expand on the concept of environmental narrative storytelling – with puzzle solving and exploration elements beating at the core of the game.
With curiosity soon getting the better of you (and the thought process that sparked the whole adventure in the first place), PAN-PAN can captivate like no other with many moments that often leave the player lost in wonder – not only thanks to the technicolour art direction, but the secrets that you discover as you explore the planet’s surface.
There is little direction though, but, after waking up, you come across some of the planet’s moustachioed and bearded inhabitants near to where you crashed, who, without hesitation, have started looking at what they will need to repair your spacecraft. There are three items that they are after, and it is down to you to retrieve them.
PAN-PAN is a game in which the player learns through interaction. When a sphere crashes nearby, for instance, it isn’t clear that it is a save point until you wander up to it and put it to use. Without any instruction, it is largely through playful experimentation that you will learn how to solve the game’s many puzzles, that, more often than not, can seem obscure when you first stumble upon them.
That can see you matching numbered pillars to those in a neighbouring room, capturing flying insects as a power source, whacking everything in sight with a metallic bar, using switches to flip bridges around to create new pathways, or repeatedly slotting in an electrified stone to activate a robot that then starts endlessly burrowing through walls. And, while playing PAN-PAN will repeatedly see you backtracking to the spaceship, there is a greater sense of reward and purpose as you scurry along with the next part that takes you one step closer to restarting your journey home.
There is a soothing ambience to the soundtrack, too, that has been penned by composer Simon Viklund. With a blend of otherworldly sounds, synths, and gentle melodies, it helps PAN-PAN to readily enchant – the experience feeling all the more ominous when the music subsides, with quirkier moments coming when you are trying to steal an egg from a quirky-looking bird.
With so much being left to rely on the player’s intuition, PAN-PAN won’t be an experience for everyone – its unfettered ambition coming at the risk that, despite its short length, many may not persist to see it through to the credits. But, those that choose to persevere with this tiny big adventure will be thankful for their chance to trek around a world that has been built with endearing charm. And, there’s a chance that you may start to feel less guilty as a result.