Mega Man in a mech. Kind of.
Genre: Platformer, Action
Developer: Tribute Games Inc.
Publisher: Tribute Games Inc.
Release date: 21 Jul, 2020
Indie developer seem to love the late 80’s, if the indie games that are released on steam are anything to go by. A lot of indie games take more than a bit of inspiration from the kind of games that you would find on the NES, 2d platformers in particular, and Panzer Paladin is no exception. Much like Shovel Knight before it, Panzer Paladin almost looks like a NES game, though with a wide screen resolution and less flickering.
No, you’re not imagining things, this is the second review for Panzer Paladin on Save or Quit. Hovermask reviewed the game back in July, but the game has received a major free content update since then, and is now getting a second look because of that. Is the new free DLC a worthy addition to the game?
Did you ever play the later Mega Man games on the NES, or maybe Metal Storm or Ninja Gaiden? If so, Panzer Paladins look is likely to fill you with a sense of nostalgia. At first glance it looks like a really well made late NES game, emulating its colour palette and the chunky pixels you would find in games like that. But look a bit closer and it’s clear that this is not an NES game. Where’s the flickering? And the slowdown? And why is the screen so wide? Panzer Paladin does, like most other NES-inspired retro games, borrow a lot of the look and feel of the NES titles, but cheats a bit to make the game better looking, sounding and feeling than the games that inspired it.
Graphics like this really lives and dies on how good the pixel artists are, and the artists working on Panzer Paladin did an excellent job here. Animations feel smooth, despite the limited number of animation frames, and enemies have an imaginative and easy to read design, with most of the bosses in particular being great in this regard. The game is also easy to read, despite the detailed backgrounds. On a few rare occasions it was a bit unclear if an object was a background object, or something you could stand on, but these potentially confusing background objects were never in a place where mistaking them could be dangerous.
Panzer Paladins has several cutscenes that showcases some truly outstanding and expressive pixel art, that stays true to its inspiration. It’s very expressive and detailed, while still looking like it could be something an 8-bit console would be able to pull off.
There are two soundtracks in this game, one that’s more true to the 8-bit hardware limitations, and one that takes more liberties with what’s doable. Both sound really good, and the more modern one still somehow does not sound out of place and still, to the untrained ear, could pass for something from the era (it’s more along the line of what you would find on the 16-bit consoles). The sound effects are also really good, and give good feedback whenever you do something.
Story & Setting
Giant weapons are falling from the sky. Their landing places are scattered all over the world, each carrying a malevolent force. Daemons are invading earth, and they’re doing this through these weapons.
You’re an android named Flame, and with the help of your trusted mech suit Grit, you’re ready to take on these daemons. You were built as a rescue android, but now you’re humanity’s only hope to stop this daemon invasion.
Panzer Paladin does not have a particularly deep story, though it still does a better job at telling its story than most other retro 2D platformers of its kind. Still, the story is predictable and simplistic, but it never gets in the way of the gameplay, and that’s the most important part.
Panzer Paladin is a 2D platformer that’s akin to a lot of the 2D platformers that you would find on the NES, though with a few mechanics that sets it apart from the norm, and prevents it from being a stale imitation. The two biggest ones being that you can leave your mech suit and move around on foot, and you can pick up a lot of new weapons during the levels.
The game is structured like the old Mega Man games, and it’s at times very obvious that the developers were fans of those. Once you’re past the tutorial stage you’ll be taken to a stage select screen that lets you chose what level to take on next. The levels are not arranged by difficult, and many of them offer slightly different types of challenges, so if you get stuck on one level you can do another and come back to the one that gives you trouble later. Every level also end with a boss that’s inspired by some mythological creature from the region that the level is supposed to take place in. Unlike Mega Man you’ll not get a permanent upgrade after every level, but you still get a weapon.
Speaking of weapons, that’s one of the things that sets this game apart from most other. Many enemies will drop weapons, and you’ll also find some scattered around the level, with a lot of those being hidden inside walls, similar to ham in the Castlevania series. While every weapon is swung the same way, their stats will differ, with some having greater durability, deal more damage, have better reach and so on. Not all weapons are equal, and some are just flat out better than other. Once the durability of a weapon reaches 0 it breaks. You can also chose to break a weapon to unleash some form of magic, depending on the weapon, like temporarily growing wings, or healing yourself. New weapons are really plentiful though, so you don’t need to be careful with the ones you have, and if your weapon breaks you can still punch enemies, which still deals a good amount of damage.
For the most part you’ll be inside a big mech, and this thing has a bit of momentum to it. You can’t just quickly turn around on the spot and move the other way, it takes a few moments to do this. Turning around is not so slow that it feels sluggish, but there are a few cases where this momentum can make platforming a bit more difficult. If your mech suit gets destroyed, or you chose to leave it (like in Blaster Master), you can control the pilot on its own. She’s more nimble and is equipped with a whip that can be used to swing between places, and it’s a good weapon on its own. As the pilot you can’t take much damage before dying though, so it’s usually best to stay inside the mech unless the level forces you to leave it.
The level design is for the most part very solid, and encourages you to use the different tools that you have at your disposal. The different levels feel varied and because you can chose in which order to tackle them you can change level if one gives you trouble, and go back to the trickier level later. Here in lies one of the games problems though, the difficulty curve, or lack thereof. The game is designed in such a way that most of the levels have a very similar difficulty level, and it’s not until you’ve beaten the main levels that you reach the final world and have a linear series of levels where the difficulty ramps up. While being able to select levels is nice, it also means that people who are new to the genre might struggle as there’s no easy levels for them to tackle first. People who have been playing platformers since the NES days won’t have any real problems here though.
The Challenge Core DLC
This new DLC adds 11 challenge levels that are separate from the main game. Each level has its own theme, and it commits hard to it. One level might be all about using the wing power and trying to avoid spikes, another level is full of lasers that turn on and off, and a third level is built around moving platforms over bottomless pits and a fourth focuses on using the pilots whip to swing between hooks. These levels are all timed, and the goal here is not just beating them, but getting the best possible time while also collecting 7 items that are scatted around the levels. As these levels are just short standalone challenges the developers could go a bit crazy with the level design. The time limit to get gold is surprisingly generous though for most of these levels, so the leaderboards are what really matters.
As a free DLC this is great. Each of the levels offers a small but interesting challenge that does not overstay its welcome, and is a nice change of pace from the main game. For the more competitive minded people the leaderboards might make this DLC something they can sink many hours into, while for those who don’t care about leaderboards and just want to see if they can get gold on each level it’s still about an evening worth of playtime.
Panzer Paladin is a great homage to the NES-style of platformers, but it’s also so good that someone who never touched an NES controller in their life can play and enjoy it. The tight level design, great music and some fun and unique twists to the formula, like the disposable weapons, make this game well worth playing for any fans of 2D platformers. People who can breeze through the Mega Man series will probably find this game a bit on the easy side, but for most other people it should present a fair challenge.
The DLC also adds a bit of extra stuff to do. It’s not worth getting the game just for the DLC, but it’s a nice little extra, and for those out there who are really good at 2D platformers it adds some of longevity to what otherwise would be a somewhat short game.