The first thing you notice about Pankapu is just how utterly gorgeous it is. The hand-dawn art is sumptuous and full of color, with the environments jumping out of the game as if you were staring at a painting in an art gallery. Particularly in handheld mode, Pankapu looks stunning on the Switch screen, crisp and clear with no hint of slowdown.
Pankapu is a narrative action-platformer, but it’s much more than that. The game sets itself aside from other platformers with the addition of some RPG-inspired elements. Pankapu takes place in Omnia, a dreamworld full of colors and happiness. That is, until one day the dreamworld is attacked by the prince of nightmares, Gangreyn. As a last resort, Iketomi, the dreamkeeper, concentrated all the remaining dream-powers in Omnia to give birth to a guardian named Pankapu. The story of Omnia is told to a child, Djaha’rell, who is troubled by nightmares. His father tells him the story about Omnia to help him sleep better. Although the main focus is on Pankapu himself, which has a straightforward, almost naïve storyline, we also get to see little bits and hints of Djaha’rell’s darker and more sinister story. The player has to reconstruct his story piece by piece, in order to fully understand what happened to him, sometimes even by finding little pieces of lost memory in the dreamworld of Omnia. This dynamic between the parallel narratives makes it a genuine touching story.
The player fights through hordes of enemies while using different weapons and different skills and even upgrading those in a skill-tree called Nebula. The game starts out with a guardian with only a sword and shield, but as the story goes forward, Pankapu picks up different skills and even different weapons. The combat mechanics get gradually more interesting the further the story develops. This helps keep the gameplay fresh and interesting. New skills feel each time like a newfound superpower to use against new enemies, because they as well keep evolving. While starting out as little bouncing blobs with cute eyes, they will soon turn into your biggest nightmare. So if you felt strong towards the end of a chapter, cherish the moment, because the next chapter you will feel just as weak. There is never a dull moment, because they keep changing your playstyle by constantly throwing new things at you. This is the real appeal of the game, because the first time you get to shoot with a bow is literally a blast!
The sound design of the characters has a really strong feel to them, although the only voice you hear is from the narrator, the little sound effects of the characters makes them come alive. At moments, the little squeaks even sound emotional and heartfelt. Too Kind Studio had clearly spend some time developing their sound design. The musical score is relaxing and has a great depth and feel. Each segment has their own sound design and atmosphere, which separates the different areas nicely. For example, you get a relaxing and light feeling when playing in an airy and light level, but the music and atmosphere gets more sinister and dark in an underground level.
As the game progresses, the first world feels like a million miles away from the rest of the game. The difficulty keeps ramping up, though the mechanics and upgrades make the experience not as punishing as you might expect. It’s certainly not easy and that’s to the benefit of the game as a whole, I do wonder though what perhaps younger players will make of the difficulty jumps after sailing through the first world. How you utilize your new abilities will be tested throughout and you have to stay on your toes. Pankapu has this lovely way of holding your hand and then throwing you off a cliff. And as a whole, it just works. It can be frustrating but it’s just so much fun, and beautiful to look at that you don’t really notice and enjoy the challenge because you want to see what’s next. You will be yelling and dying a lot. But you will also be marveling at this charming piece of art. Even if the game may have its ups and downs, it certainly makes up for a touching story in a beautiful, oneiric world. The quality that Too Kind Studio delivers is surely to be noted. If you like platformers, Pankapu is sure one to give you a good time!