Title: Panzer Paladin
Developer: Tribute Games
Release Date: July 21, 2020
Reviewed On: Switch
Publisher: Tribute Games
There are a ton of indie titles that have tried to capture the fun that the best 2D platformers of the 8-bit era had to offer. Unfortunately, rarely do these titles feel comparable to any of their classic influences. Sometimes the game is too drenched in nostalgia or linked so directly to a preexisting title that it barely has an identity of its own. Luckily, Panzer Paladin by Tribute Games distinguishes itself with some unique gameplay mechanics while maintaining the strengths of what makes the genre a classic.
In Panzer Paladin, you assume the role of Flame, a pilot who controls a mech suit known as a Paladin. Weapons have begun raining from portals in the sky, unleashing an army of the occult. The villain, Ravenous, has appointed various demons to lead the army in each region. It’s up to you to defeat each demon and collect the weapons they hold to, hopefully, diminish the evil power.
Gameplay begins with you inside Paladin, but at any time, you can jump out and play as the vulnerable Flame. While in the Paladin, you have a more vigorous defense as well as the ability to use and pick up weapon drops, but at the cost of speed. Outside of your Paladin, however, you can move faster and get into smaller areas, but have weaker attacks and defense.
Some sections will require you to get out of your Paladin and traverse until you get to a Mech transportation point. Still, you have the option to just play the whole level outside of your Paladin, making for an intense but completely different play experience. Both playstyles are exceptionally enjoyable, and whatever way you choose will offer challenges and varied experiences.
While you are given a default attack in your Paladin, you can acquire weapons dropped by defeating enemies. Each weapon can be used as a melee attack or thrown from a distance. Weapons won’t last forever, though, and will eventually break, forcing you to get new ones. This is rarely ever an issue, though, as you can store a large number of weapons. This could have been a really tedious system, but Panzer Paladin streamlines it well by automatically arming yourself with the next weapon on your list to keep you from revisiting the weapon screen too much.
Each weapon also offers a different ability, which you can execute by purposely breaking the weapon. These abilities range from offensive or defensive buffs to various health restoration. Bosses drop especially special weapons but are just as susceptible to breaking. If you’re like me, you will horde your best weapons for a particularly tricky boss battle.
Weapons also vary in their attack range, making some platforming against enemies easier or trickier depending on what you decide to arm yourself with. There are over 100 different weapons you can collect across your journey. Some are cool based on real swords and spears; others are silly but just as deadly like the popsicle or hockey stick. Each is a blast to defend yourself with and endlessly entertaining. There is even an awesome weapon creation mode where you can custom make the appearance of your weapon and its attributes after you beat the game.
In your Paladin, you can strike forward, upwards, and downwards. If you strike upwards, it will act as a slight double jump making this a useful attack not only for enemies but for more precarious platforming. Striking downwards will allow you to pogo on top of enemies and breakable obstacles.
Along with this, you are also given a back dash that quickly gets you out of strike range of an enemy, and timed right will given you a fraction of a second invulnerability to projectiles. I neglected this move a bit too much at the start of my gameplay but quickly realized how beneficial it was for more tricky stages.
Besides the intro and ending stages, you are allowed to select stages in any order you want. Each stage focuses on a different country around the world and features creatures of mythology, and weapon drops relating to that region. It helps that every level has its own theme, which keeps things feeling fresh.
I was initially worried about how long Panzer Paladin would be, but it exceeded my expectations with 17 levels in total, each offering a decently-sized stage. While some stages are definitely more difficult than others, each stage could be completed without any special power-ups or upgrades.
Bosses are interesting to fight. There is a horseman mini-boss you come across a bit too often, but other than that, every level offers a boss with widely different attacks and moves. Unlike some other games in the genre, there isn’t a weapon that acts as a Boss’s Achilles heel.
Instead, boss battles are more about learning attack patterns and utilizing weapon abilities that you have. This is an approach I appreciated as it felt like battles were more engaging than relying on playing the game in a specific order.
There are three different difficulty options. I played in normal, and while I was concerned that the game was a bit of a cakewalk, in the beginning, it does ramp up as your progress. While you could theoretically keep healing yourself with available weapon abilities, it won’t account for instakill platforming, making those sections the most treacherous. There are also health bar upgrades power-ups that you can purchase in the laboratory if you want to ease your journey. For a more challenging experience, you can play in hard or the remixed stages after completing the game.
Panzer Paladin’s graphics look spot on with an 8-bit era game, but smooth cutscenes really remind you this is a newer title. The art design is inspired by 80s anime and is a perfect fit with the overall retro feeling. The soundtrack is also fantastic, marrying electric guitars with classic sound chips for some truly rocking tunes.
Panzer Paladin is inspired heavily by retro 8-bit games, but it ends up setting itself apart with its own distinct identity and gameplay. The robust number of weapons and abilities you can experiment with creates a unique experience whether you’re piloting the Paladin or taking on the level on foot. If that wasn’t enough, the added bits of post-game content gives more reason to get back into your mech and play again.
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