Panzer Paladin - Review
It´s a Mega Man... It´s a Master Blaster, it´s Panzer Paladin!
Panzer Paladin is a melee-focused action platformer with a gorgeous retro aesthetic, a killer soundtrack and a ton of good - but ultimately - squandered ideas. It`s a mash up of classic NES titles such as Mega Man, Zelda II and Blaster Master. It`s a Sci-fi Shovel Knight, and a missed opportunity. That is not to say, that Panzer Paladin merely is a bad game, it`s not. The presentation is top notch! What Tribute Games Inc. have managed to create within the limitations of 8-bit graphics is honestly quite astonishing. The core levels are based on actual geographic locations, and each level has a distinct visual style and they`re all filled to the brm with carefully crafted little details, that really give the environments a flare. The animations are fluid and the lo-fi anime cutscenes are just bursting with personality. The bosses may lack the wonderful identities of the different knights in Shovel Night, but they are all creative and interesting in their own way. This is all accompanied by crisp, clear soundeffects that brings weight and force to each impact, and a melody-heavy soundtrack that feels like a mix between Ninja Gaiden and Mega Man. The whole game is an audiovisual treat and it feels beautiful to play.
The environments are small pieces of 8-bit art.
The actual core gameplay is just as good as the presentation. Basic things, such as jumping, and attacking, just feel perfect. You also have a surprisingly wide array of maneouvers at your disposal. You can block, sidestep, downthrust, parry, swing from hooks and it all feels fantastic. There is also a beefy weapon system at han, with a surprising amount of (percieved) depth and customizability. The developers really went way and beyond regarding this part. There are basically an infinite amount of weapons in the game, all with their own stats and properties and special attacks. You can even create - as in literally draw - your own weapons and determine the stats of it. It`s insane. It`s also, unfortunately, almost completely unnecessary.
The problem with the game is, that despite it`s superb controls and interesting ideas, the challenge and level design isn`t at all designed around these things. The enemies deal very little damage to your mech, even on the hardest setting. This makes the combat of the game almost trivial. Even the more challenging foes, that are designed to be tackled with fencing a`la Zelda 2 - is easily dispatched by just jumping over them with a downthrust. Worse yet, even though there are an infinite amount of weapons at play, they all play exactly the same. Weapon length and weapon speed mixes things up a little, but nearly to such a degree that it will change how you play the game. The system is wide as an ocean, but shallow as a puddle. The game even encourages you to not care about the weapons, since the only way you can activate their special attack (like healing, flying ability, shooting) is to break them. To compensate this, the game just throws weapons at you at a reckless speed, it`s not uncommon for the player to have 20 weapons or so in their inventory.
By breaking a weapon you can unleash it´s special power, such as a stat boost, a healing spell or a lightning attack.
It´s made even worse is by the fact, that the combat make up such a minor part of the game`s challenge. Death is prominent in the game, but almost exclusively through 1-hit kill spikes. Be prepares to trudge to long levels, with scarce checkpoints, doing menial combat - only to end up with a spike challenge, that will probably instakill out of the gate. It`s frustrating, and quite a tragedy that the developers weren`t able to create a more nuanced challenge - with such robust gameplay at work - one hit kill spike-gaps. The bossbattles are a bit better, but still, the most effective way of dispatching them isn`t by observing and learning their patterns, it`s often easier to just bruteforce them with a stock of healing weapons. To it´s credit though. The game is quite lengthy and the challenge ramps up a bit in the final (SPOILERS) gauntlet of levels, that are very reminiscent of the infamous Dr Wily Stages. You can also unlock a remixed mode for added difficulty, which is a welcome feature, but in the end - merely a band aid on a broken system. There is also no progression in regards to how you play the game. With the exception of a parry move, you tackle the first stage in the exact same way you tackle the last stage. So repetition sets in fast.
If you choose to exit your mech, or if it gets destroyed - you´ll be able to play as the female lead, a´la Blaster Master.
All in all - Panzer Paladin feels like a missed opportunity. Initially, there is this sense that you are playing something truly special. You see all these different ingredients, and they all taste amazing at first sight. But as you keep playing, you`ll soon start to realise that the ingredients are either just empty fluff, or put together in such a way that it becomes borderline unpalatable.