Genre: Action, Platformer
Developer: Tribute Games Inc.
Publisher: Tribute Games Inc.
Franchise: Tribute Games Inc.
Release date: Jul 21, 2020
Do you like old robot animes? Do you like retro style action-platformer? Do you like Megaman and/or Castlevania? If the answer is yes to any of the above, there is a high probability that you will also share my love of Tribute Game’s latest title that taps directly into many of my interests. Panzer Paladin, to arms!
Panzer Paladin is an action-platformer in a futuristic setting similar to MegaMan. However, Grit, the mech piloted by female android by the name of Flame, does not possess a projectile-based weapon like a Mega Buster. Instead, they opt for melee weapons as their main preference to combat against the supernatural forces of evil. With this in mind, perhaps it is more apt to draw a comparison to Shovel Knight instead of the blue bomber in some aspects. Both are inspired by the themed and stage-based mission map for each boss, a nod to MegaMan. Both heavily feature close-range weapon(s) with minimal range options. And, most importantly, both bring something new to the table.
I Break My Weapons…Intentionally!
The combat in Panzer Paladin is simple. Grit can equip weapons found throughout the stages with a push of a button. Additionally, Grit can also achieve something that Mega Man can never manage to do without a power-up, the ability to vertically attack! Unfortunately, diagonal attacks are still impossible no matter how far we are into the future but you can take solace in knowing that invincibility via back dash is here in its stead. Your weapons, however, do not enjoy the same luxury.
Weapons in Panzer Paladin can and will break after they are used enough times. Although this cannot be prevented, you can plan around it for they are no mere shaped steels. What lurks inside them is a magical energy that Grit can utilize by prematurely breaking them. Some examples of these effects include attack boost, flight, or summoning a hail of thunders. Naturally, the optimal way to go about this is to destroy the weapons just before the end of their durabilities. Simple enough, right? Except this is easier said than done in the heat of the moment when your full attention is on how to not tanking hits with your face. This whole weapon spell system also gives a bit of depth on strategizing on what weapon and effects vs range and damage do you want to have and use first on your active weapon slots of 4.
Because levels are set in different countries. As such, you can expect each environment and background sceneries to be fairly diverse. Following this trend, the bosses are also vastly different due to them being based on monsters from old mythologies in the same vein as Castlevania. For instance, you can expect Medusa to be waiting for you in Greece where the background filled with Greek-style buildings or Shinto architectures set in Japan level.
Level design is quite excellent in terms of threat introduction and its ascension. Some may find the checkpoints to be too far apart for their liking. It’s that old school style of difficulty from games of an earlier era by design as it’s fairly clear what Tribute Games is trying to emulate with Panzer Paladin. I don’t have a problem with it as these repetitions will not only force you to get better but also may allow you to find Castlevania-style hidden path/items as the areas are being reexplored. Deaths are also quite fair. None of that moving platforms that take you directly into instant death via environmental hazards. You won’t get hit with something completely from left field as long as you have been paying attention.
Pilot vs Mech
Deaths are fair, yes but you won’t be able to avoid it forever. Not very likely especially if it’s your first time going through Panzer Paladin. When your robot, Grit, has run out of health, Flame will automatically eject from the cockpit and the player assumes control of her. Note that this can also be done optionally even if Grit is still functional, and some levels require her to traverse parts of them on her own.
While Flame is plenty capable, she is understandably weaker than Grit. If this were the opposite, it would not make any sense in terms of story or gameplay. Flame is limited in her moveset. The only attack she has access to is her whip that has the furthest range but also the weakest. She lacks many abilities that her mech possess like the auto-shield or backward dash. Various attacks and hazards like spikes that she would be able to endure inside Grit also become lethal to her exposed body. However, it is because she is limited that overcoming threats that her robot could not make it all the more satisfying. I never get tired of Flame.
Room for Improvement
In case it was not clear, I like Panzer Paladin quite a lot. I enjoy the 80s robot anime art style, mechanics, and music immensely. That is not to say there is no room for improvement. I have three main issues that I want to address from my experience with the game. The first is the lack of any upgrades outside HP increase, and the second is that some Flame exclusive parts feel like an afterthought. The worst offenders are the ones that only require her to swing around a couple of times and it’s back to Grit time. Lastly is how the inventory works.
Any excess weapons Grit picks up while the active slots are filled automatically get moved to the inventory. Because the weapon drops are generous, they will passively accumulate quickly as your adventure proceeds. This, in itself, is not a problem. It’s the fact that any and all of them can be equipped from the reserves at any time that is the problem.
Due to how weapon spells work in Panzer Paladin, weapons are not only a source for raw melee damage but also an activation cost for other things. One would assume that such valuable resources should be limited. If they are limited, players have to strategize and agonize on how these commodities should be managed and used. “I don’t want to use up all of my active weapons early or I will be stuck with my low damage fist for the boss” and “in what order do I want to use my active weapons to be the most effective” are the kind of mentalities that I believe Tribute Game was originally going for. Well, those scenarios are straight out of the window when you can enter a stage with 100 weapons in reserve thus eliminating virtually all of the downsides of breaking weapons and depths or strategy that I described earlier.
This was something I did try on one of the stages and, as expected, it trivialized the majority if not all of the challenges which can include even the platforming section. My point is that Tribute Game should impose a hard limit on the number of weapons that can be accessed from the inventory in a stage.
Panzer Paladin is a very enjoyable retro-modern action platformer. This becomes even more true if you enjoy the old school robot anime aesthetics or if the prospect of a mech traveling all over the world to duke it out with mythological monsters excites you. If that doesn’t rock your boat, that’s fine too. The game still has interesting mechanics such as the weapon spell system and the last chance mode that allows you to play as Flame, the pilot, to fall back on. Level designs, visually interesting backgrounds, and great music are also something that I would like to add to that list. Not all is fine and dandy as there are still kinks to be ironed out such as certain parts of the exclusive non-mech sections and oversight on inventory system that hinders the overall depth that game could have had. Regardless, Panzer Paladin is a homage to the games of old that I will heartily recommend to any action-platformer and mech enthusiasts that welcome the past.