Developer: Tribute Games
Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch
By: Josh Barnickel
What do you get when you cross over a menagerie of greatest NES classic platformers, chiptune heavy metal and a giant weapon wielding mech suit? Well, you get Panzer Paladin! A gorgeous 8-bit inspired romp that will see you clad in the steel frame of the Rescue mech named Grit as you play as it is equally fierce female pilot Blaze.
Panzer Paladin holds no punches when it comes to its visuals. The gorgeous pixelated animation of the opening and the crushing riffs of the soundtrack demand your attention. I was immediately hooked. Once diving into the opening stage, you are thrown right into the meat of a level, much like the legendary highway stage from Megaman X. The hand drawn pixel graphics are oozing with personality, charm and are simply a joy to look at. Every frame and movement look wonderfully articulated and the color palette do wonders of creating a unique feel and atmosphere for every stage.
After completing the first stage you discover that cursed weapons have rained down across the earth. The 10 cities where they land, have awoken occult, mythical creatures from their slumber to fulfil a prophecy that “The Forge will claim the Earth and the Cosmic War will begin”. Our sassy heroine is not about to let that happen and she takes off to destroy this evil and protect the planet.
The gameplay takes bits and pieces from many classic titles from the hey-day of home consoles. The platforming and level structure is set up very akin to early Mega man titles. With thought provoking enemy placement, mixed with platforming and a free-to-decide stage selection. At its core, the combat closely resembles classic side-scrollers like Ninja Gaiden or Trojan, with a simple forward-facing attack. The movement and control however borrow from others, like the ability to pogo off of enemies ala Ducktales and even a mid-air uppercut maneuver, not too far from a shoryuken from Street Fighter. At any time you are able to exit your tower of power robot and hoof it around on foot, Blaster Master-style. Blaze isn’t as beefy as her robo-companion but has a handy electric whip for dealing damage or grapple hooking her way across pits. Panzer Paladin really wears its influences on its sleeve and mashing all these stellar concepts and mechanics into one tight amalgamation package, that truly is a treat to play.
The defining feature of the gameplay however is its weapon system. Since these weapons came literally raining down from the sky, each level is littered with new instruments of pain to collect and turn upon your enemies. From swords, spears, axes, kukri, mallets, magic wands, tridents, pipe wrenches and more! You are able to keep 4 weapons equipped at a time, easily swapping between them with the L & R buttons, with an archive of your armory stored in the pause menu for you to freely swap and change your arsenal ad nauseum. Each weapon has its own durability however and once its broken, its gone for good. Pedestals are placed at specific points in levels where you may deposit a weapon from your repertoire, marking that as a checkpoint. Without sacrificing one of your methods of attack, it provides you an opportunity to start from a more advantageous position, should you fall before slaying the boss. Seeing as these are cursed weapons from beyond space, they are far more than normal blades and hammers. By holding two buttons, you may deliberately break a weapon, releasing the spell that has been trapped within. These spells range from Health and other status boosts, to screen clearing damage spells, to providing even new mobility options such as sprouting wings for a short time to fly through platforming challenges. After completing a stage, you also have the option to head to the Laboratory, where you may sacrifice weapons from your collection to use as spirit energy to increase the health and abilities of Grit. Unlocking more durability and even more combat maneuvers such as a shield parry.
This risk and reward weapon system is the single greatest strength of Panzer Paladin. Weighing the pros and cons of using a weapon or taking advantage of the benefits the spell may offer OR using a weapon to mark your progress should the challenges of that level be too great. I often found myself strategizing what weapons I would use against an upcoming boss, and prepping my loadout in anticipation for the challenge ahead of me. Do I use a weapon with a health recovery spell in case my reflexes are too slow? Do I charge in aggressively and utilize an attack boost spell? Do I challenge myself and use a weapon with shorter reach because I feel like being a masochist? It made every boss battle feel special and exhilarating when my loadout prevailed.
Outside of the main storyline, Panzer Paladin packs in a bevy of other content for those who wish to continue after the initial credits roll. A remixed story mode offers altered levels with increased difficulty, a Blacksmith where players can create their own weapons and share them with others, a tournament boss rush type mode where you are rewarded for how quickly and efficiently you defeat them. There is a lot of content crammed into this tiny 8-bit package.
While it is not perfect in the fact that the level design, especially in the later areas (I’m looking at you Inverted Tower…) meld one hit kill traps in with what can easily be misconstrued as set dressing, and enemy placement becoming almost agonizing. The music, while not particularly offensive, never rises above being simply adequate. Not a single track stuck out in my mind like many of the games it bears resemblance to, which is a bit of a shame.
When it comes down to it, fans of an earlier era of run right, jump over holes and save the world type adventures will find an excellent time awaiting them for the $19.99 cost of admission. Panzer Paladin has so much to offer to those that wish to don its chunky, glorious armor and hack, slash and pogo their way through a nostalgia laden land of platformers past.
Tight and responsive controls
Wonderfully thought-provoking weapon management system
Occasional Difficulty Spikes
Varying level design quality
Music is just ok