With perhaps a few notable exceptions, such as Harmoknight or Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy, the rhythm genre has had something of a slight showing on the 3DS. While it may be a somewhat niche genre, it's one that everybody can easily relate to, as it can be as universal as tapping one's foot to good music. The Hand of Panda does its best to contribute to the rhythm genre in a notable way, but it comes off as being half-baked and uninspired. The bones of a solid rhythm game can be seen, but the meat just isn't there.
Gameplay is simple and easy to grasp, but perhaps a bit too much so. Beats depicting a different button or D-Pad direction come in from the left side of the screen and all you have to do is hit the respective button when each one crosses the circle in the center of the screen. With each successful button press a gauge on the side of the screen fills up; once completed, you can 'unleash your true power' and end the stage by tapping the screen when two rings overlap. If three beats are missed, the panda passes out and you need to tap the screen to wake him up before the time limit runs out.
While this sounds like an entertaining, if not a bit safe, attempt at making a rhythm game, there are a few problems that need to be addressed. For one thing, every time you get a "perfect" hit the framerate drops for some reason, potentially throwing off your rhythm. Then, there's the much bigger issue of how overwhelmingly easy it can be to clear a stage. With the exception of some of the latest hard mode stages, icons usually move at a glacial speed, to the point that you're left waiting for the beat to finally reach the middle of the screen so you can hit it. The lack of difficulty removes most, if not all, tension from the experience and makes it come off as bland. This is a real shame, too, as the later stages which actually require some dexterity and coordination can be pretty fun.
Another problem is that the beats you have to hit don't actually match up to any of the background music. Rather than being an integrated experience – as most rhythm games do – of gameplay and music, it's a matter of hitting beats that seem to spawn at random as some completely unrelated music plays in the background. Perhaps this is dependent upon the individual, but the player feels less immersed in the game when these two elements are not in sync with one another, and it comes off as feeling lazy.
Surprisingly enough, the music selection is extremely varied and catchy. While there's the typical assortment of 'Oriental' music that seems to be in every eastern-themed game, ever, there's also a nice mixture of chiptune and dubstep tracks. While one's enjoyment of the soundtrack will likely depend on their music taste, this comes off as being the highlight of what is an otherwise disappointing game.
Graphically speaking there's not a whole lot going on, but it's passable. A rather poorly animated panda with glowing eyes sits on the top screen, waiting for you to hit enough beats so he can have enough power to break whatever object is in front of him. You won't really see much of him, though, as all the gameplay takes place on the bottom screen. It would've been nice if there was some way the two could've been integrated better, perhaps on the same screen, but maybe that's too much to wish for.
In terms of replayability there's very little to actually speak of. Three difficulty levels are available from the get go, but these can be cleared out inside the space of an hour. Worse yet, the meat of that hour will likely be spent on the easy and medium difficulties, waiting for the beats to finally make it to the middle of the screen. This is the kind of game that you play once and then never really have any reason to do so again.
Ultimately, The Hand of Panda is a rhythm game that almost manages to achieve mediocrity. Its campaign lacks both depth and longevity, and while the soundtrack is actually pretty good it's not enough to save this bite-sized game. We'd recommend that you skip this one; there may not be a ton of rhythm games to choose from on the eShop, but there's little reason one should settle for this.