I’d love to have a giant mech suit. I’d stomp around the place, no-one messing with me and — best of all — couldn’t catch the ‘rona!
Alas, life is cruel and mech suits unavailable. Thank goodness for Panzer Paladin, then: a chance to jump into robot armour and punch monsters in the face. Vicariously though, which admittedly isn’t as fun as doing it IRL.
A retro-themed 8-bit platform action game, PP follows the typical laws of 2D arcade games: 1) take two cool concepts 2) smush them together 3)??? 4) Profit! The two in question here are forementioned stompy mechs, and also demons. That’s right, the Earth has been invaded by (cute, Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins-esque) ghoulies, and you have to banish them by bopping them repeatedly on the head.
The bopping is facilitated through the use of various hitting sticks and pointy things. You’ll get your hands on clubs, axes, knives, swords and all manner of other kit your Mum said you’re not supposed to run with. Your mech also has a shield that will deflect most projectiles in a similar fashion to Wonderboy III: The Dragon’s Trap; the bashing is similar to that in the Rastan series.
If these references are wasted on you, it’s a good job the game will be too in all honesty. Wearing its influences proudly on its sleeve, Panzer Paladin is a love letter to late eighties arcade games in general, and NES action games in particular. Platforming negotiation and attacks are straight out of Castlevania; You choose your mission and gain a specialist weapon from the boss a la Mega Man; enemy patterns and designs are styled after Capcom’s G’n’G games/Gargoyle’s Quest/ Kid Dracula and so on and so on.
It’s not all patchwork influences and homage, though. There are two neat little additions that help boost the originality quotient. Firstly, weapons are both currency and boosters: you gain new weapons from defeating creatures, discovering them by bashing the walls (thanks, Konami) and gated behind doors that can only be destroyed with a particular weapon type.
Weapons have different durability limits, and will be destroyed after a few hits. However, holding down the shoulder buttons will destroy prematurely, which provides a buff. Some will boost attack, some defense, some provide health and it’s a clever way of adding risk/reward into the mix.
Stockpiling weapons will allow you to trade them in for a permanent health stat increase at the main menu. With weapons also needing to be left behind to activate checkpoints, you’re constantly deciding whether to use, store or sell your particular arsenal at any given time, making things a little more strategic.
Your little mech avatar can also disgorge a tiny person on command. That’s right, you can hop out of your encasement to kick butt whilst wielding a massive chain. Tiny and vulnerable, the pilot can get into areas locked-out to the large mech, and find secrets and 1UPs.
I really do have to single out the graphics and music for applause. Sprites are well-animated, the designs are top-notch (always conforming to the old Nintendo machine’s aesthetic) with great mech anime tropes like WARNING! alerts and OTT impact effects splashed around with wild abandon.
There are a few negatives to keep in mind, though. As you get to chose the order in which you tackle stages, each is broadly similar in design and difficulty curve. This means your sense of progression is limited to checking on the world map which stages you’ve already completed. The graphical style can also make platforming tricky at times, and the range of attacks is very limited – you basically just hit things with increasingly bigger sticks.
As a travel back in time to an era of simple, immediate pleasure, Panzer Paladin is a big hit. It’s stylish — in a very narrow and stylised way, naturally — and feels like a lost cart from the 8-bit age. It’s a game that would have stormed the charts thirty years ago and is mechanically tight, smart and exciting. If that sounds like your cup of tea, hop into your virtual mech suit, pilot: we’re heading back to 1990 to kick some monster ass.