Following the established trend with their popular releases including Ninja Senki DX, Flinthook, and Mercenary Kings, Canadian developer Tribute Games are back again with another title that offers an old-school style gaming experience that adds plenty of modern twists to the formula. This time around it comes in the form of Panzer Paladin, an 8-bit side-scrolling action-platformer that’ll feel nostalgic to anyone who has played titles like Mega Man before, but also equally unique thanks to its clever implementation of weapons and its dual-character setup.
Panzer Paladin offers a surprisingly deep narrative with plenty of cool tid-bits of information on offer, but for the sake of this review I’ll keep it simple. Players take on the role of Flame, a female android that pilots a mech named Grit to take down the countless demons that are lingering across the different countries of Earth. It’s up to you to pummel them and then save the Earth from a cosmic threat, with some neat story sequences told in-between levels that flesh out the fun narrative.
Gameplay-wise, Panzer Paladin offers everything you’d expect from an old-school style 2D action-platformer. You’ll work through a variety of well-designed levels full of foes to take down and platforming challenges to conquer, with the player able to slice away at enemies, bounce between them with a downwards attack, use a quick backward-dash to evade any threats, and even perform an upwards-strike that acts a double jump. That may sound like there’s a lot to take in, but it’s all easy to perform and flows together intuitively in-game – it’s all presented in a stylishly attractive 8-bit fashion too, with each level also accompanied by an array of top-quality catchy chiptune beats.
There are an assortment of different weapons to find scattered throughout levels, with some even dropped by enemies or found hidden in destructible walls that’ll feel familiar to anyone who has played a Castlevania game before… you’ll certainly be well-equipped when battling Panzer Paladin’s enemies. Each weapon offers varying stats that affect their efficiency in a variety of ways too, whilst they also come with a unique spell that can offer the likes of dealing some extra damage to enemies or even healing the player – they can only be activated by destroying your weapon though, so there’s a cost to their use.
Weapon durability actually plays a big role in Panzer Paladin, with each getting destroyed after they’ve been used a certain amount of times. Whilst this can actually be a little frustrating in itself (especially when you lose a weapon you were particularly keen on), it does add a strategic element to their use in-game. For example, you can throw weapons to take out enemies that are causing you problems from afar, though doing so means you lose that weapon; naturally then, you’re better off throwing weapons that are low on durability. Checkpoints can only be activated by sacrificing a weapon too, so you’ll want to choose one that’s low on durability or that you don’t like using as much in-game. Alternatively, you can exchange your weapons to earn upgrades that can boost your stats, so some weapons won’t even be used to hit out at foes. You can collect a decent amount of weapons and swap between them on the fly, but their use in Panzer Paladin is a bit more clever than simply killing enemies…
One thing that’s certainly worth mentioning is that you can actually create your own weapons for use in-game through the Blacksmith Mode, which doesn’t only allow you to design weapons but assign their stats and spells too. These weapons will then show up during gameplay, which adds a neat personal touch to the experience. It’s a really cool feature and one that I particularly enjoyed tinkering around with.
Whilst Grit will do most of the battling with these weapons in-game, there are still moments where you’ll have to leave the comfort of your powerful mech and head out on foot as Flame. These parts of levels are all carefully designed to utilise her more limited skillset, meaning they focus more on performing quick acrobatic manoeuvres than anything else. That’s not to say that they’re not dangerous though, with each offering deadly pitfalls that can quickly see you dwindling through your supply of lives if you aren’t careful. Thankfully, the added mobility offered by your grappling hook makes getting through these areas not only accessible but a lot of fun, with Flame proving adept at running, jumping, and swinging her way out of harm’s way until she can head back into the safety of Grit’s mechanised interior once more. Be warned though: if Grit gets immobilised during a level, you’ll have to attempt to survive through the remaining enemies as Flame. It’s certainly possible, but you can expect a VERY tough challenge…
That being said, Panzer Paladin is a pretty challenging game to play anyway – I mean, it’s inspired by some of the 8-bit classics that were known for being very difficult in their day, so what else would you expect? It offers a satisfying level of difficulty though, with the level design proving tricky but fair and the enemies you face off against simply requiring a thought-out and careful approach to defeat. Admittedly, there were a few moments here and there where I WISHED there could have been a few extra checkpoints to make re-playing through the fairly lengthy levels a little bit easier, but hey… that’s the cost of dying. It can be a little frustrating at times, but it all feels pretty balanced for the most part.
I’m a sucker for a good boss fight in a video game, so I have to give a shout out to the end-level showdowns offered in Panzer Paladin that were all varied, stylish, and, of course, tough as nails. The attacks and manoeuvres that bosses dish out are certainly crafty and will often take a few attempts to figure out how to evade, whilst actually finally defeating one of them brings with it PLENTY of satisfaction – especially if you find yourself losing Grit during the encounter and landing the finishing blow with Flame. The only real complaint I had with these encounters was that they’d feel difficult on subsequent attempts if you were defeated because your weapon supply would dwindle away, so there’s an added pressure to beat them quickly. It’s not a game-breaker, but it could make what were already tricky encounters all the more tougher.
Once you’ve beaten Panzer Paladin, you’ll get access to a Remixed Mode that allows you to tackle the game’s seventeen levels again with new challenges and the Tournament Mode that lets you face off against the game’s bosses in quick succession – there’s also the Speedrun Mode on offer too, which allows you to go through completed stages whilst facing off against your own ghost to beat personal times or even those of your friends or players on the leaderboards. There’s certainly a fair amount to tackle in the game outside of the campaign, so you won’t be done adventuring with Grit and Flame too quickly.
Panzer Paladin offers an enjoyable and nostalgic action-platforming experience that’s a whole lot of fun to play, even if it CAN be exceptionally tough in places. Between the clever use of weapons, the neat level design, and the fantastic bosses, there’s plenty of frantic action to dive into that’ll keep you hooked in throughout the surprisingly lengthy campaign.
The only real issues that bugged me with the game were the lack of checkpoints and the loss of weapons during boss encounters, but they’re minor problems that don’t affect gameplay too much. Still, they may prove frustrating to some players, especially with Panzer Paladin’s already tough difficulty… it’s certainly not for the faint-hearted and will test even the most experienced of old-school gamers’ gaming prowess.
Developer: Tribute Games
Publisher: Tribute Games
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PC