Those who grew up playing games on the NES know how difficult they can be. One wrong jump meant your hours of progress were for naught. Yet these games held a kind of magic with their simpler graphics and electronic soundtracks. Panzer Paladin is a game that takes the nostalgia many people hold for action platformers of the past and presents it to a new generation.
Several large weapons have fallen to various locations around the world, acting as gateways for an invading force of monsters. A rescue android named Flame, who pilots an intelligent mobile robot called Grit, volunteers to go to the sites where the weapons fell to eliminate the monsters that have appeared. She soon discovers that the mission she’s taken on is even bigger in scope than she’d thought. Where did these weapons come from, and what purpose do they truly serve?
A few story scenes occur near the start of the game, but the plot really picks up in the later parts. The style of the segments is strongly reminiscent of mecha anime from the 1980’s and 90’s, with long hair and more compact facial features than you’d expect to find in more modern anime. This ties quite well with the game’s retro aesthetic. The quality of the story is ultimately sufficient in complementing the gameplay, though spreading story content more evenly throughout the game would have served as a much better motivation for Flame’s continuing global crusade.
Panzer Paladin is a side-scrolling action game similar in style to older Mega Man games. You advance from one end of the screen to the other battling enemies and traversing the level’s hazards. You are able to fight as the mech Grit, who uses weapons dropped from enemies or its own fists to attack, or Flame can eject from the suit and fight with her laser whip. Your progress will be impeded by obstacles in every stage, and falling down a pit or letting Flame’s health drop to zero will expend a life.
There are three difficulties to choose from: easy, normal, and hard. You are able to change the difficulty between completing stages should the gameplay prove to be either too difficult or unchallenging. The hardest difficulty will provide you with a decent amount of challenge, while the easy difficulty leaves enough room to enjoy the game’s mechanics however you like. Whatever difficulty you choose, the game’s level design remains the same, so you will still need to be proficient in platforming.
Combat & Enemies
Combat takes place on a constant basis in Panzer Paladin. Enemies populate every stage you play, often hiding behind a shield or throwing projectiles at you. Many of the game’s tougher enemies employ shields that block your strikes, and it’s necessary to either strike them high or low depending on how they hold their shield. Grit also uses this mechanic, as it carries a shield in front of it that automatically blocks blows when you stand or crouch. Figuring out enemy attack patterns is crucial in avoiding damage from these shield-carrying enemies, as well as foes that shoot from a distance.
Enemy types range from armored knights, non-human combatants, and insects. Initially, the range of enemies seems extensive and varied, but as more stages are played, it becomes apparent that most of the enemies in the game are recycled repeatedly across all stages. Bugs and armored foes pop up on many levels with a different color palette yet they use the same exact tactics. A few enemies specifically themed to their level’s geographic location thankfully stay exclusive to those levels, but a vast majority will be a mainstay in every stage you play. Many will find this rather lazy, as simple recolors are not the most inventive way of varying enemies across stages.
After jumping and fighting through a stage, you will come upon the boss of that area, known as the weapon keeper. These formidable foes are based on mythological figures from around the world, such as the Anubis boss you fight at the end of the Egypt stage. Each boss has a unique style of fighting, requiring careful strategy and memorization of their attack patterns. After defeat, they drop a powerful weapon to take with you as you journey on to the other stages.
Weapons play a major role in Panzer Paladin. There is a wide variety of weapons you can find in the game, either dropped from enemies or hidden in destructible walls throughout stages. Some of the implements you’ll find include swords, polearms, and ancient weapons. Each weapon has an attack speed, damage, spirit burden (more on that later), and a certain level of durability until it breaks. In addition, they each belong to a certain weapon type, such as cutting or piercing. You are also able to throw weapons, which destroys them instantly but deals significant damage. What you might find lacking about the weapons is the fact that there is no sorting option in your inventory. When you amass a large number of weapons, it can be fairly tedious trying to find the particular one you need.
Every weapon also carries one of several different types of spells. These can be activated by manually destroying the weapon. Spells mainly consist of buffs such as increased attack or weapon durability. They can be used to leech health from enemies or attack them with lightning, for example. Whether to use a weapon to attack an enemy or sacrifice it to make use of its spell is a tactical dilemma you will continually have during play.
Between stages, you can visit the laboratory, where you have the option of using your collected weapons to increase Grit’s maximum health. Each upgrade requires an increasing amount of spirit points, with each weapon being worth a certain amount depending on its strength and remaining durability. Collecting as many weapons as you can is beneficial in order to build up Grit as much as you can. Every bit of health will help in completing stages. At the same time, hoarding weapons has its drawbacks.
Weapons in Panzer Paladin come in such an array of styles that it will be tempting to keep every single one you come across. However, know that with every weapon you have, your spirit burden will rise. Each weapon has a different amount of spirit burden, which will cause a mini-boss to appear midway through any stage where you have a high spirit burden rating. You can view your current spirit burden at any time from the inventory screen. If you have a high spirit burden, the mini-boss appears after you pass the stage’s first checkpoint. The boss you fight will be the same every time, with the same tactics, so you will become much more proficient in fighting it over time.
If you find the mini-boss to be manageable, it could be a good idea to intentionally maintain a high level of spirit burden. The weapons the boss drops are custom-made creations from the game’s community, made in the Blacksmith Mode. Beating this boss is the only way to obtain these unique weapons, so you might want to grow accustomed to fighting the mini-boss in order to more easily obtain these often useful weapons. Who doesn’t like to fight with a weapon shaped like a cat or a school bus?
The stage selection screen displays every weapon keeper that’s found at several locations around the world. The order in which you face them is up to you to decide. There is no clear order to complete them in, as each stage offers its own set of challenges. Every weapon keeper’s stage is themed around its geographical location, with unique scenery, music, and weapons. There are two checkpoints in each stage: midway through the stage and right before the boss fight. Sometimes this shortage of checkpoints can be aggravating when stretches of obstacles are particularly lengthy and difficult. More checkpoints would certainly be welcome.
The level design in Panzer Paladin may not be to your liking. Sometimes, exiting the mech and scouting ahead makes returning to the mech impossible because of the spacing of the platforms. It’s unclear if this was intentional or bad design, but it can be very annoying having to traverse long stretches of a stage as the comparatively fragile Flame, while also not being able to collect any weapons until you can find a podium to summon Grit. In addition, there are some jumps that have very little room for error, leading to more deaths from falling than from actual combat. While this is jarringly similar to how older platformers were, which makes the game all the more authentic as an homage, it would have made more sense to add some modern touches to how these stages were arranged.
Blacksmith Mode is accessed from the main menu, allowing you to create custom weapons. You can choose how it looks, its attributes (damage, attack speed, etc.), and the spell it contains. Weapons are constructed by placing individual pixels on a grid, using a few different colors to meticulously craft an instrument of pixel pain. Weapons you make are uploaded to the game’s servers so other players can obtain your weapon during play. You can also find your weapons in your own game, dropped by the aforementioned mid-boss that appears when you have a high spirit burden. These weapons bring a lot of creativity and humor to the game. If you are creative, you’ll no doubt be able to make some really great weapons with the game’s creation tools.
As you complete stages, they will be unlocked for play in the Speedrun Mode. Here, you can replay stages while trying to aim for the fastest time possible. Your fastest times are recorded on an online leaderboard, where you can compare your achievements with those around the world. You also have the ability to select a time on the leaderboard to see that player’s “ghost” as you complete the stage, allowing you to compare your own techniques with the best Panzer Paladin speedrunners in the world.
Panzer Paladin has its own achievement system called Awards, which can be selected from the main menu. These awards serve as goals to aim for while playing. They include such things as throwing a certain amount of weapons in a playthrough or beating a weapon keeper with only punches. Some tasks are more difficult than others, and completing them serves only to satisfy your own pride, so whether or not you pay them any mind is a personal preference.
ART & GRAPHICS
Panzer Paladin features classic 8-bit backgrounds and sprite character models. The backgrounds really pop, with about as much detail as the artists could likely manage with the medium. The enemies and protagonists are animated similarly to how they would have been thirty years ago. It’s apparent that the developers did their homework on how retro platformers looked and moved. Similarly, the story sequences could be mistaken for a legitimate 1980’s mecha anime show or movie.
If you wish to make the game appear even more authentically retro, there is a setting in the options menu to display the game through a CRT filter. This blurs the picture in a way that emulates the look of an old CRT monitor or tube television, the kind of display you’d be playing a game like this with decades ago. The CRT Curve setting takes the imitation one step further and stretches the corners of the display to imitate how the game would look on the commonly curved CRT monitors used during those times.
Music & Voice Acting
If the graphics don’t bring back memories, then the music surely will. The game’s musical score would fit alongside any classic action platformer. Every song is composed well and fits the stage’s look and location. Many of the tracks have the playing of the guitar mixed in, giving the soundtrack a modern touch that true 8-bit games were not capable of achieving due to technical limitations. This serves to give the songs a bit more punch and complexity. The main theme that plays on the game’s title menu is also worth noting. It properly gets you motivated to play the game, featuring a rock sound that will get your blood pumping. Keep an ear out for a remixed version that plays after beating the game.
Once story mode is completed, you could opt to complete any awards you missed on your first playthrough. Trying out a tougher difficulty is also a good option if you found the challenge lacking. Beating the game unlocks two new modes as well, which makes replaying the game’s stages especially appealing.
Once all stages are complete, a new option opens once you load your save file: remixed stages. This mode allows you to restart the game from the beginning, except this time every stage has been modified. They are designed in trickier ways, including far more pits and tougher platforming segments. In addition, enemies hit harder and have more health. This is a great option if you still wish to play the game after finishing the story, especially if you want a bit more of a challenge.
This gameplay mode pits you against all of the game’s bosses, fought one after another (known in other games as a “boss rush”). Your boss runs are scored based on things like damage taken and speed, and like speedrun mode your best performances are logged on an online leaderboard. You can also view the runs of other players on the leaderboard, should you wish to study the tactics of others. It can be a good way to improve your own style of play.
Panzer Paladin is a great recreation of a game from the 1990’s: tough and fun. The electronic soundtrack is crafted beautifully and the graphics are fantastic, with 8-bit environments and sprites that are pixel perfect. The difficulty settings offer a wide range of accessibility, something that wasn’t easy to find in the era of games this is based around. However, what it does have in common with those games is its unfair level design and lack of modern options like inventory sorting. Ultimately, the game is a solid platformer that will either be made better or worse by your personal experience with the type of games it’s based on. If you have fond memories of old-school action platformers, this game will speak to your heart. If you’re young or have less experience with the genre, Panzer Paladin is still a great game, but could turn you off with some of its more old-fashioned characteristics.
Final Rating: 8/10.