From the early days of Blaster Master, retro-style platformers have been one of the prominent in the gaming industry. Coincidentally in 2020, we received a great treat in the form of Panzer Paladin- an anime inspired pixel platformer game. Grabbing high praise, this game is something that should experienced by new, casual players; and old, veterans players alike.
Panzer Paladin by Tribute Games is, undoubtedly, one of the most fun and best experiences I’ve had with genre. Spiced up gameplay, powerful soundtrack, and handcrafted level design set this indie title far above the rest. Taking a dive into this futuristic world, feeling like I’m 5 years old again, this game deserves more praise than it gets.
Developer: Tribute Games
Publisher: Tribute Games
Platforms: Windows PC (reviewed), Nintendo Switch
Release Date: July 21st, 2020
Price: $19.99 USD
Flame, a rescue mission android from Gauntlet, pilots her giant mech and partner named GRIT. Ravenous and his evil army take over ten sites around the world, set to invade. Weapon-shaped meteors, used as portals, allow for evil forces to continuously spread.
The Pazuzu Parchments proclaim that “The Forge will claim the Earth and produce Spirit Weapons. The Cosmic War shall begin.” It’s up to Flame and GRIT, with instructions by the Director, to save Earth and stop Ravenous.
The task is to defeat evil forces around the world in places like China, Russia, Mexico, and more; and acquire the Spirit Weapons to stop the invasion. The story isn’t too deep, but does have it’s moments that can only be illustrated in an 8-bit format.
Noticeably, 8-bit pixel graphics are the star of the show and the most important part of the aesthetic it presents. The gritty, muted color palette and slight animations works to pull at the nostalgia strings. Arguably, the highlight is the inspiration behind the design choices for characters, weapons, and levels coming from games’ past.
Titles such as 20XX and Shovel Knight have similar appeal with their pixel art, all paying homage to predecessors like Blaster Master. Anime is also an art style that is used heavily for characters like Flame and the Doctor.
The core of Panzer Paladin ultimately comes in the form of it’s pixel perfect gameplay mechanics. Precision in making informed combat choices is important. One wrong slip up and you’ll end up losing GRIT. Jumping too high and hitting spikes, taking too much damage from enemies, or falling into a pit net losing him; or worse, Flame.
Furthermore, timing and learning enemy patterns factor into excelling far above expectation to clear a stage. This can make the game frustrating due to beginner’s traps in certain spots. Certain elements from retro games that were frowned upon show up here. However, after learning stages and mastering movement, this problem sometimes dissolves.
Gathering weapons, of which there are over 100 variants, is how you defeat enemies and use checkpoints. Breaking gathered weapons grants buffs and uses abilities such as healing. Using them during boss fights makes for an effective strategy. Moreover, later boss fights will seemingly require that method. Weapons can be upgraded in the Laboratory by Dr. Bloom with Spirit Points.
When not piloting GRIT, Flame takes over to traverse small crevasses. Flame uses a whip-like weapon that is meant for swinging from ring hooks, fighting enemies, and syphoning of energy. Using the whip can reveal breakable walls which can contain extra lives for the stage. These elements serve as a puzzle in some areas and can be easy to solve from general observation of the background.
GRIT carries around a shield, which can deflect most projectiles and block physical attacks. Fighting enemies with shield adds a “1 v 1” element that can be improved, but misses the mark. I found that doing a downward stab on shielded enemies can help bypass them as to not lose health.
One issue that kneecaps this game is the placement of checkpoints. They’re too far apart, and if you lose all of your lives you don’t respawn there. Instead, you’ll end up back at the beginning of the stage. It makes for wasted time, and leads to an understandable anger.
The biggest surprise is the “hair metal” form soundtrack. Guitar riffs, drum kicks, crashing cymbals, and occasional grimey tone sets up an OST that is memorable and something to head bang to. To say that the music carries the game would be an understatement.
I found myself going back to stages or simply restarting to the game to hear songs again, it’s that damn good. While not my cup of tea entirely, I know a good song when I hear it.
All in all, despite some beginner’s traps and questionable jumping mechanics, Panzer Paladin is the throwback that deserves its praise. The feeling of powerlessness without one of the two characters, GRIT and Flame, hits hard when clearing difficult spots. Striking a balance is what works in this game; without it, it’s impossible to complete.
Learning the most efficient ways to fight enemies and clear gapping traps helps you excel. The most damaging aspect in this game is the soul crushing difficulty on Hard difficulty.
Retro games had some elements that are outdated by today’s standards, but offers a rigorous training those well-versed in side-scrolling platformers. An excellent game overall that has unfortunate side effects of some outdated retro mechanics, but definitely worth every dollar.