Among the publishers currently doling out new “old” games, Tribute ranks up there with Yacht Club (Shovel Knight) and Wayforward (Shantae, Mighty Switch Force) in terms of overall quality. I spent an absurd amount of time raiding pirate ships and taking down a zany cast of alien pirates in Flinthook (even though I ordinarily despise rogue-likes) and I fondly remember Tribute’s take on Ninja Gaiden being among the first titles I bought off PSN after getting a PS4. Needless to say, I was pretty damn excited when I found out their next game would be a cross between Blaster Master and Mega Man.
Panzer Paladin is set in a dystopian world where the occult has taken over under the leadership of Ravenous. You’ll be taking charge of rescue android Flame as she hops into the Paladin. It’s the last mech of its kind and (predictably) the only force capable of stopping the demon onslaught. While the plot itself is nothing ground-breaking, it’s presented beautifully through a series of 8-bit cinematics that gave me some serious Sunsoft and Tecmo vibes.
The in-game presentation is just as stellar. Whereas most retro-inspired platformers tend to go for smaller character sprites and tilesets, Panzer Paladin isn’t afraid to pull out larger-than-life characters and setpieces. Fortunately, they’re all pleasing to look at and the attention to detail is impressive considering their scale. Backgrounds are often rich, containing several layers and good use of parallax scrolling. The visuals are complemented by an equally awesome OST, which fuses metal with chiptunes to create exactly the kind of tracks I’d expect to hear in a game about mechs and demons.
The game itself is structured much like the classic Megaman titles. You’ll first be dropped into a tutorial level that teaches you the basic controls. Afterward, you’ll be allowed to tackle the game’s next dozen or so rounds in any order you wish. Unlike Megaman, there’s no “right” order to tackle them in. You’ll never need to worry about going after a boss with insufficient items or equipment, which I appreciated on my first playthrough.
You’ll be spending most of your time inside the Paladin, which controls well enough and even comes equipped with a back-dash and shield. The game’s main gimmick is the ability to collect and dispose of a multitude of various weapons. Since weapons have varying levels of durability, you’ll want to collect as many as you can since the Paladin’s fists aren’t exactly heavy-hitters. At the end of each weapon’s life, you can choose to either chuck them at enemies/bosses for massive damage or break them prematurely.
Breaking them will grant some different spells to your disposal. Some weapons will allow you to recover a bit of life when broken, whereas others may grant you a projectile attack or even a set of wings. One other factor that comes into play with this risk-and-reward system is “Spirit Burden”. If you hang onto more weapons than the game wants you to (indicated by a warning on the pause screen). You’ll run into Panzer Paladin’s equivalent of Proto-Man before making your way to the stage’s main boss.
Flame is also able to pop out of the Paladin to tackle small platforming challenges and crawl into secret spaces containing treasures serving as 1-ups. She’s equipped with a whip that functions similarly to a certain Belmont’s, and it can also latch onto rings to allow her to swing across pits and beds of lava. These sections serve as nice little diversions to the combat-oriented gameplay when inside the mech. I felt as if they could have been a little more challenging and varied throughout the course of the campaign.
One mistake I see many indie developers make when developing a retro-inspired romp, especially as of late. Is assuming that their game needs to be balls-to-the-wall difficult to be good. There’s also this ongoing assumption by the mainstream media that *all* older video games (especially NES). Required you to sacrifice your first-born child to beat them, which simply wasn’t true.
Panzer Paladin manages to make for a mostly balanced experience that will keep you on your toes without resorting to cheap tactics to pad out the run time. You can expect to die a few times and perhaps even see a Game Over screen since the game operates on a lives system, but nothing in this 4 to 5-hour experience ever felt like bullshit. I even discovered ways to cheese entire sections and bosses with minimal effort that I’m not entirely sure were intentional.
Also, the aforementioned “Spirit Burden” mechanic isn’t going to punish you nearly as much as you might think. The only slap on the wrists you’ll get for hoarding weapons is having to fight the tutorial level’s boss midway through a stage. He, unfortunately, *never* changes up his attacks or patterns. Considering you’ll need to sacrifice weapons to activate checkpoints. Chucking unwanted items right in the main boss’ mug to deal a decent amount of damage is fair. Yet, having to fight the same relatively easy boss over and over felt like a very small price to pay.
— AceRetro♠️👾 (@RetroOutcast) July 22, 2020
Because of the lack of challenge in Flame’s sections and the fact that it can be whipped through. If the player decides to ignore the Spirit Burden business, Panzer Paladin is a great time and worth looking into if you’re looking for a retro-styled sidescroller with a top-of-the-line presentation. It’s currently on Switch and Steam for $19.99, and while there isn’t any word on an XBone or PS4 release, it’s safe to assume we’ll see the game on these platforms eventually.
Final Verdict- 8/10