It may sound like a puzzle game, and even play like one at first, but don't be fooled, panda lovers. This is an arcade-style game of skill that merely looks and sounds like a slow-paced mystical journey of spirit. The layout of stars on each level is random. When you fall to the ground, your game ends instantly, your panda bruised and discouraged, your progress lost, your score finalized.
The panda controls less like a monstrous cuddly bruin, and more like a Mini Cooper. Launch him off the ground with [space], and steer him with [left] and [right]. You'll quickly lose steam, but by touching stars you can recover your velocity. If you can't quite make it to the next star, press [space] again to use one of your Boosts. You only get three of these, though, and extras are hard to earn.
If you're itching for achievements, Panda Star's got 30 of 'em. Although they won't do you the courtesy of explaining afterward what you did to earn them, most of the names are self-explanatory.
Analysis: There are a lot of nice details that give Panda Star an extra spark, including the lingering swoop of the light trail behind you and the makeshift constellation that appears as you restore life to the skies. Not to mention the unusual choice of background music, a remix of Deep Forest's Sweet Lullaby. (If you want to mute the music, press [P] to enter the Pause Menu, then press [M] to mute.)
The best thing about Panda Star is the variety of skills to master, considering that this is basically just a game of Snake with a flying plushie. Because you are a magical panda, you can warp from the left side of the screen to the right and vice versa, which can often save you from using a boost.
Even more useful is how, even when you've run out of momentum and entered freefall, you can still hit a star on the way down and get catapulted right back into the game. In fact, this becomes your most valuable tactic as the sky fills with stars on the advanced levels. You'll never hit all of them in one go, so the trick is to get early altitude and drop on the stragglers from above. Since you can rotate while falling, you have more control at this time than any other, despite the inherent tension that comes with the act of plummeting.
Panda Star won't change the world. It's a small game with small aspirations, and it really could use an adventure mode or a puzzle mode where you can save your progress. But it made me happy one evening in a simple, panda way, and maybe it will do the same for you. Programming by Steve Colie (creator of Unique) and art by Mike Morin.