Panzer Paladin Review – A Little Too Retro

Tribute Games is on a mission to revitalize the play styles of previous generations, and Panzer Paladin is a laudable success in that effort. The futuristic side-scrolling action game borrows mostly from the Mega Man series in its structure, but other nods are in place as well, from Blaster Master to Ghosts’ n Goblins. With evocative chiptunes and pixel art, the developer hits all the right notes to feel like a modern throwback. But the retro structure and design can do more harm than good, and Panzer Paladin has pulled some of the bad ideas into the present. As a rescue android who pilots a towering robot paladin, you are Earth’s last line of defense against an onslaught of occult enemies, including mythological monsters from the various cultures of the world, from Medusa to Anubis. You choose to fly to Japan, Mexico, or one of several other themed locations, battling through long stages before encountering big bosses. After ticking off all the baddies around the world, a floating space station opens, including an unbroken chain of multiple levels and additional bosses on your way to victory. That’s a lot of content in a first part, although I question the decision not to allow a return to the world map once you’ve started the final long gauntlet, unless you want to lose your progress. in this ending sequence. This structure will be familiar to anyone who has enjoyed a Mega Man game in the past, but Tribute finds a few twists to keep things interesting. The levels inevitably require you to jump out of your mech for brief, vulnerable excursions on foot, where your tiny android is eclipsed by his suddenly massive enemies. It’s a fun variation, especially on levels where these sequences are short. Long journeys on foot are problematic and frustrating, especially since they often occur too long after a checkpoint. You are also always on the lookout for new weapons for your Mechanized Warrior, usually in the form of swords, spears, and hammers. These weapons degrade with use, but you rarely run out of options; any overflow goes into your inventory and can be equipped as you wish. Weapons can also be thrown into desperate situations or triggered to unleash inherent spells trapped within. A fun aspect of the game is to wait until your weapon is nearly broken and then trigger its special effect destroying it yourself, ranging from increased durability to a short-term ranged blast. These same weapons initially fuel your Paladin’s health buffs, though these are maximized quite early in the game. I appreciate the emphasis on an ever-changing arsenal, but the game does a frustrating job of explaining how it all works. You have no clear way of learning what all the different spells do without extensive experimentation. Gathering more weapons results in a higher “spiritual burden”, but with minimal explanation of how this number relates to the appearance of a mid-level boss in each level. Even the flow of breaking and equipping new weapons remained opaque for the first half of my initial game until I delved into the pause menu to try and figure it out. The levels are carefully designed, with plenty of clever enemy locations to challenge your dexterity and observational skills. And while I appreciate the impressive length of each stage, I can’t say the same for the overly limited checkpoints – especially given the preponderance of insta-death pits. It’s just not fun to carve a careful path through 10 minutes of a level just for one bad jump to force yourself to replay the whole section. That was never a nice feature of side-scrolling action games back then, and it hasn’t changed in decades. The primarily melee-focused combat is straightforward and engaging. An arm-mounted shield allows you to block certain attacks if you’re watching its incoming trajectory, and a backdash button demands mastery when taking on the toughest bosses. I love the feeling of health that slowly decreases over the course of a level, and one last chance after your mech gives in, when you can try to complete a section or a boss on foot in one last desperate bet. Panzer Paladin also features a variety of extras, including a story mode second round with redesigned levels, speedrun and boss rush style tournament modes, and even an option to design your own weapons. As retro adventures go on, it hits a lot of good targets, although some of those targets are ideas that could have been better left in the past.

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