Release date: Jul 21, 2020
Designer: Jonathan Lavigne
Genres: Platform Game · Action game
Platforms: Nintendo Switch · Microsoft Windows
ESRB rating: Rating Pending
Developer: Tribute Games
Indie games have been showing that they can put more love and passion into gaming than AAA dev teams do and not only that but also can make games that fully outshine AAA games. From the majestic Shovel Knight, to Hollow Knight, The Mummy DeMastered, Shantae franchise and more; Indie devs are killing it in the gaming scene. Tribute Games is looking to add another classic to their lineup after the stellar Mercenary Kings with Panzer Paladin which looks to meld together it’s inspirations gathered from Mega Man, Bionic Commando, Blaster Master, and ShatterHand in a complete package. Does it live up to that level of hype? Let’s find out!
The story of Panzer Paladin the adventures of an android named Flame and her mech armor companion named GRIT as they travel the planet to rid the world of the evil Ravenous and his legions of demons. Flame is tasked with tracking down the nefarious Weapon Keepers (Weapon Masters for you Mega Man fans) and engage in the ultimate battle between the forces of the occult and the power s of the righteous cutting-edge technology of the Paladin!
The game plays superbly well with its easy to learn pick and play style with minimal button usages required. You have one button for jump, one for attack, one for back dash evasion, one for throwing your equipped weapon, and then 2 buttons for switching between weapons and honestly that’s all you need. While it may seem that this is going to be a simplistic retro styled game with so few buttons used; hidden is the depth of the combat and mechanics of the game. You can attack not only side to side but also while crouching and also directly above as well as directly below both of which can be done while jumping, you can also use the downward attack to pogo off of enemies the same as Shovel Knight does which is incredibly useful if you see a row of enemies or want to get past a tough enemy as well as if done correctly; can be used to cheese some of the games bosses.
GRIT carries a shield so incoming attacks can be blocked with you needing to know whether or not you need to stand or crouch to deflect them and what’s cool is that if you attack at the very instance an enemy is about to strike you then you will parry their attack allowing you to stun them for a few seconds to get in some extra hits and enjoy their stun animation.
As you progress through the 17 levels, you’ll defeat enemies and gain new weapons that range from 1 of 3 different categories of Slash, Pierce, and Smash typically represented by a Sword/Lance/Hammer. While the weapons don’t have any variety in how they function, what they do is give varying buffs, abilities, or restorative abilities and the way you activate these abilities is in breaking your weapons.
Each weapon has a level of durability that decreases as you use them to defeat enemies and once the durability is depleted said weapon breaks; what you could do is when the weapons durability gets low is hold both shoulder buttons and then once the bar fills from holding the buttons the weapon will break and the boons of the weapon will be put into effect. Each weapon will have not only a durability meter but also has stats that show how much damage they do as well.
You can gain passive abilities from weapons that give you health , give you Wings allowing you to double and triple jump (yes the old Red Bull commercial pun is being used literally here), up your defense and offense, give you a blessing to remove the curse status effect, reflect bullets, and more. What’s even better is the ability to stack these buffs making some boss fights a complete breeze especially the final boss.
You’ll encounter some strange colored boxes in levels that will have either as Sword, Spear, or Hammer icon on them to which you’ll use said weapon to destroy them and will lead you to either a new weapon, durability restorer, or sometimes health restoratives for when you leave GRIT to explore the level as Flame.
The majority of your time will be spent piloting GRIT and battling enemies yet there are times when you will need to eject from GRIT and roam as Flame and in these sections (which harken to the Blaster Master series) you will have a diminutive Flame who can run, jump, and attack with a whip type of weapon that does decent amounts of damage and also allows you to find energy stations to restore health to GRIT as well as swing across dangerous spiked floors and bottomless pits. One thing to be aware of in these sections is that Flame cannot take much damage before dying which typically entails about 2 hits before she dies. Other reasons you’ll be outside of GRIT as Flame will be because if you take too much damage as GRIT then he’ll be destroyed leaving you to manage as Flame making the game a lot harder.
There is a level select feature similar to a Mega Man title having you travel to various locales around the world to take on the bosses as well as allow you to utilize weapons that you’ve gained to be used to increase the health/strength of GRIT. Each level is themed after where it’s located be it in Japan with a Japanese aesthetic and style weapons and enemies and the like.
The levels themselves are fairly long and have about 2 checkpoints in them which require you to sacrifice a weapon to use the checkpoints; if you don’t sacrifice a weapon at a checkpoint then you will have to start over from the beginning of the level. One thing you will begin to notice is that at every first checkpoint you will fight an enemy called Horseman who is also the first level boss. What is……strange about these fights is that they are literally the same fight over and over with no change in challenge, tactics, or difficulty and you fight him in EVERY single level. Horseman plays into the plot of the game yet his occurring in every level to fight you quickly wears off the novelty of his encounters.
Graphically, you’d struggle to not believe that this wasn’t an 8-bit game made on the NES or Sega Master System as it just looks amazing. The closest NES game I can compare this to graphically is ShatterHand as it looks just that good. GRIT looks great and animates fluidly as he struts across the battlefield with his shield in hand and weapons of choice. Equally, Flame looks great too in her chibi style look when in levels along with each enemy and boss being detailed to perfection in all the 8-bit glory. The levels are meticulously designed with details that showcase how much love went into the creation of this game from weather effects to parallax scrolling and more.
The game features cutscenes that look like they were inspired by Ninja Gaiden which help showcase more of the story and give glorious close ups and cutaways of Flame, GRIT, and the rest of the characters with incredibly fluid levels of animation which remind you that this isn’t capable of being made on 8-bit consoles.
The chiptunes for each level all sound incredible and fit each of the 17 levels that you will be journeying to. Quite honestly there are no bad tunes or sound effects in this game at all.
So I’ve praised the hell out of this game but where are the negatives? Oh, trust me there’s a few negatives as while the game does have 17 levels and a pretty good balanced challenge, the problem lies with the fact that the game goes on for too long and wears out its welcome after a few hours. After beating a few bosses, the game does tend to feel repetitive as it doesn’t offer any new mechanics other than what you start the game with and not to mention you’ll get tired of fighting Horseman in EVERY DAMN LEVEL. Like I get that he is central to the plot and ultimately the ending of the game based on your decisions, but does he need to be in EVERY LEVEL offering NO CHANGE in tactics or difficulty? All he does is drop items if you beat him and that’s it. Winning or losing to him is ultimately inconsequential to your overall progress and honestly after my 3rd time fighting him I was tired of him.
The next downside is the length of the levels when you get to the “Wily Levels” section of the game as they drag on for TOO LONG and the checkpoints are too scarce in these levels especially when the further in you go the more cheap the enemy placement is.
The final downside I have for this game is that it lacks any incentive for keeping weapons after you fully upgrade GRIT other than for buffs and abilities and even then the lack of ability to sort you items and item management in general makes it a chore to cycle through a near endless list of weapons that you have gathered along the way.
Oh and side note: Be careful of what you do when you defeat the final boss as that final choice as warned by Horseman will decide what ending you get and when I say that its incredibly VAGUE I mean that in every sense of the word! There is NO INDICATION that what you do here will alter the ending and if you want to start over and try and get a different ending then you will need to go through ALL the end levels from the beginning…….
Panzer Paladin is truly a love letter to the 8-bit era and also to gaming from the 80s and 90s as a whole. With tight controls that are easy to learn and challenging to master, a deep albeit unexplained spell system based around breaking items and stacking buffs and abilities, 17 levels with varied enemies and platforming, and a rocking chiptune soundtrack that won’t stop can’t stop, and to top it all off this package of goodness is only 20$; Panzer Paladin is a game YOU NEED in your collection and is not a game you want to pass up on!