I am sort of fascinated by Taichi Panda (out now, free) by Snail Games. Hugely successful in China (according to its own App Store description), the free-to-play dungeon crawler has finally made its way to the US. I’m not sure how well it’ll do here, especially with Gameloft’s just-released Dungeon Hunter 5 looming over the genre, but it has me completely hooked. Let me try to explain why.

screen480x480In previous reviews I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m not usually a big RPG fan in general. I have very little patience for complicated management systems and long, involved stories. Put Baldur’s Gate in my hands and I’ll be like a kitten trying to watch an episode of Mad Men. Thankfully, Panda is much more button-mashy and hacky-slashy than that.

The gameplay basically consists of entering an area, furiously tapping and sliding your fingers around on the controls until the bad guys are gone, and then moving on to the next area. At the end of each level you’ll face a boss, mash a few more buttons, and with any luck you’ll be rolling in loot and ready for the next challenge.

So remember how I said I hate complicated management systems? At first glance, Taichi Panda nearly made me faint. There are no less than 16 buttons wrapped around the main menu screen (not including various energy and currency refill buttons at the top), six of which have slide-out panels with four or five more buttons. And I’m gonna be honest here: some of these dozens of menus upon menus I still don’t fully understand after weeks of play. The tutorial (which seems to still be going even after many hours in-game) does its best to explain all the various meta systems involved, but you’re really just going to have to dive in and figure it out yourself.

screen480x480And that’s what blows my mind. That last paragraph gave me chills just writing it, but in practice, it all works and is strangely addicting. Just about every day I wake up, open Taichi Panda, and collect all the various rewards for logging in and a few other things. Then I auto-loot the levels I’ve already beaten (which is amazing… as a n00b I’d never seen auto-looting before and I’m loving it) and use the equipment I gained to level up my gear. Then I use one of the many different runes or diamonds or various other minerals to upgrade my pets and fortify stuff. I barely know what I’m doing half the time, but the numbers keep going up and I’m loving it.

The other thing that helps is that the free-to-play-ness is extremely generous. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been playing pretty regularly for a few weeks now, and I’ve never been hurting for coins or any other in-game currencies. Sure, they run out sometimes, but almost immediately I’ll get rewarded again for tapping through a few random menus. The only thing that does get in the way slightly is the constitution (aka energy timer), but even that is pretty fair, to the point where they even give you a time of day where you can instantly refill it for free.

Somehow Snail Games have managed to take some of my least favorite elements of one of my least favorite genres and make them incredibly fun and addicting (even though I’ll admit I still don’t fully understand certain parts). And in a freemium game, no less. Yuck! Now excuse me while I go do some more mashing and auto-looting.

Verdict

Snail Games’ Taichi Panda is simultaneously complicated, streamlined, messy, and gorgeous. I’m not sure how that’s possible, but it works, and I love it. It’s pretty deep if you know what you’re doing, but also extremely fair and generous if you’re looking for a more casual experience. It’s still a bit of a mystery as to why I enjoy it so much, of all people, but I do.