Panzer Dragoon on the Sega Saturn was one of the most memorable games on the system. It was a visually striking rail shooter that allowed 360 degree rotation during the action. Bogeys and bullets would come at you and your dragon on all sides.
Between your dragon’s lock-on lasers and your rapid-fire weapon; you’d up against an entire armada of airships, gigantic sand-worms, and all kinds of indescribable technology. It was not the most deep rail shooter, but it paved the way for much better sequels to come that would set the bar high for rail shooters overall.
25 years later, Panzer Dragoon: Remake is surprise-released on the Nintendo Switch. The last entry being Panzer Dragoon: Orta in 2003 on the original Xbox; the fourth game in the franchise that stands tall as one of the greatest and most polished rail-shooters ever made. Can this remake live up to its own legacy?
Panzer Dragoon: Remake
Developer: MegaPixel Studio
Publisher: Forever Entertainment S.A.
Platforms: Windows PC, Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: March 26th, 2020
While there are some changes that might go over the casual observer’s head, they will stick out to anyone who loved the original. One thing that won’t disappoint is the shot-for-shot remake of the introductory cutscene.
This sequence was epic, and gave a lot of information about the world this adventure is set in. The premise is simple; Kiel is a lowly hunter who gets his life saved by a blue dragon. In saving Kiel, the blue dragon’s rider is killed, and passes his mission to stop an empire from acquiring a new weaponized dragon.
From that moment on, Kiel becomes the blue dragon’s rider and the chase begins. It is a simple premise that draws you into such a strange and interesting world that only got more fascinating with its sequels.
The world of Panzer Dragoon is a weird and surreal science-fiction fantasy setting. The designers were inspired by the likes of the late French comic artist, Jean Jiraud Moebius. His finger prints can be seen in the almost alien-like landscapes, and technology that defies explanation.
The fauna is unlike anything seen before it. Most creatures exist somewhere between insect and reptilian, and every single one of them is brilliant with color. Stone-like armor plating, shockingly bright iridescence, and strange anatomy make the creatures in the game capture your imagination.
On Sega Saturn, many of these designs could only go so far with the limitations of the console’s architecture, but today’s game engines have almost no limit. Some levels that were almost flat have become incredibly dense, with forests and rocky pinnacles. Despite the change in landscape, the core game is the same as it ever was.
The pace of the game is almost exactly the same as it was back in 1995. The only changes are the lack of mid-level transitions. Panzer Dragoon: Remake is still basically the same rail shooter as it was 25 years ago, for better and for worse.
The rail-shooter genre has improved so much since 1995, and gamers expect a bit more now. This is a time when Panzer Dragoon: Orta pushes the boundary on rail-shooter design, includes the original version of Panzer Dragoon as a bonus unlockable feature, and is $9.99 on Xbox One’s digital store.
The remake is faithful to a fault, and as a result it fails to meet the standards set by its own successors. Panzer Dragoon did not have any power-ups to acquire, there were no various dragon transformations, and there were no alternate routes to take. Since the developers chose to follow the original game so closely, the remake inherits its utter lack of gameplay variety.
Somewhere along the way, Panzer Dragoon: Remake not only failed to improve on the original, it also introduces new issues that were never there before. It must be mentioned that the publisher has expressed that they are working on a patch to improve things, so what this review entails may not be reflected whenever the game is updated.
The targeting cursor is as twitchy as Tony Montana after snorting Columbia’s finest export, and the nuance of the lock-on is off. It feels as if the locking-on targeting way smaller than it should be; it was much easier and forgiving in the original.
Remake makes things harder, but also less fair. Not only is it much trickier to aim and shoot, but the dragon’s hit box is indeterminable. It doesn’t help that the blue lizard is constantly bobbing up and down like a toddler on a bouncy ball- something that was also more understated in the original.
For some reason, the aiming cursor is a 2D element instead of a 3D projection. This makes aiming especially finicky for veterans, since the aiming system was so specific in the original. Only those who were deeply acquainted with the original Panzer Dragoon will catch these lack of refinements in the remake.
In spite of the rough state of Panzer Dragoon: Remake, it is still enjoyable, and that is due to the scenario and the breadth of level variety. If you never played the original, you would agree that the remake looks as the original designers imagined it.
Visually, Panzer Dragoon: Remake is a mixed bag of mostly good. The original had a very weathered and grungy look to the world and its inhabitants. The remake loses a lot of the ruggedness and desolate atmosphere, for something that looks like an Unreal 4 fan remake of Panzer Dragoon.
Everything is very bright and clean. The water and skies lack the signature SEGA blue that was so specific to games on Sega Saturn. Reflections in the water were crisp, but now are murky and barely visible. Sadly, the developers missed an opportunity to use the advanced tech to render the dragon’s reflection in the water.
Then again, if you never played Panzer Dragoon, the remake’s visuals are impressive in their own right. Considering a small team managed to make this possible is humbling. Some later stages impress with their scope, and vast flora.
The Nintendo Switch, impressive it may be, does not allow Unreal 4 to show its full potential. Panzer Dragoon never had a high frame rate, and the remake on Switch continues the tradition of being 30 frames per second. It wouldn’t be until Panzer Dragoon: Orta, when the franchise would be 60 fps. Hopefully the eventual ports of the remake will aim for high frame rates.
Beating Panzer Dragoon: Remake won’t take long. On normal, the game can be completed in about an hour and a half. It does not overstay its welcome and makes for enjoyable replays.
On the hard mode, completion earns bonus cheat modes. Sadly, not all the extra features made it, and the bonus level 0 stage is absent.
The most notable addition is the photo mode, which does allow players to capture some impressive shots. It could use a few extra features like depth of field control, aperture, and the option to manipulate some of the Unreal 4 effects.
Impressively, the soundtrack is exactly the same as the one used for the SEGA Saturn original. Yoshitaka Azuma used a bit of orchestra and synth to create the ambiance of Panzer Dragoon‘s fantasy setting.
Just by the way the title screen’s regal horns rousingly announce the game, you know you’re good hands. From the romantically sweeping and serene level 1, to the wrathful epic battle with the Proto Dragon, there is not a single bum track in the entire soundtrack.
If only the developers recycled the sound effects, because the updated foley is grossly lacking. The best example is the sound of the blue dragon. In the original intro, the beast lets out an emotional bloodcurdling screech when its original rider dies. The remake makes it sound like a parrot squawk.
Panzer Dragoon: Remake is rough around the edges, but it is not beyond salvation. The technicalities can and will be addressed, and until the issues are taken care of, this remake is not recommended. Just play Panzer Dragoon: Orta via backwards compatible Xbox One if you can.
The art direction is not likely to be adjusted, but that is the least of the issues with this remake. Between the absurdly long load times, and the unpolished mechanics, the playability is frustrating and not where it should be.
If the developers come through with an update that refines the state of this remake, then maybe then the future for Panzer Dragoon is bright. Maybe then, the world will finally get to eventually play Panzer Dragoon Sagas.
Panzer Dragoon: Remake was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a personal copy. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.