I love retro-inspired games, especially when they're done well so here's the super-fun Panzer Paladin. Suit up and let's rumble!
Panzer Paladin stars the android warrior Flame who's on a mission to fend off Ravenous and his invading demons. However, she's not alone because she pilots the Paladin mech known as Grit. The campaign is set up like a Mega Man game in that you choose which Weapon Keeper to battle next then take them on after traversing their lengthy and grueling stage. Meanwhile, the core gameplay is fairly standard for a 2D action game as you run and jump around and unleash melee attacks with your currently equipped weapon. That being said, there are plenty of wrinkles to the formula that add a refreshing amount of depth. For example, Flame can exit Grit whenever you wish which is similar to how Jason can deboard Sophia in Blaster Master and she even has a whip attack which makes it feel like you're playing a Castlevania game. It's clear that Panzer Paladin wears its influences on its sleeve yet it remains a wholly original-feeling experience.
The primary gimmick that Panzer Paladin incorporates is that you can pick up weapons which are usually dropped by enemies. At any given time, you can have 4 of them equipped that you can swap to on the fly. Each weapon has its own base stats and durability and you can also break weapons intentionally to unleash their Spell which may increase your attack power, deploy a special attack, or even heal you. Therefore, you'll want to break weapons once their durability is almost depleted. On top of this, you can choose to throw weapons which does a substantial amount of damage and acts as a great way to take out pesky enemies from a distance. It's also a good idea to throw weapons at bosses when you're desperate because that does a lot of damage. It's a very clever system indeed.
In addition to the gameplay-centered uses of weapons, you can also stockpile them then trade them at the laboratory for maximum health boosts. Although this is rewarding to do, I actually ran out of potential upgrades after only completing 5 stages so it was kind of disappointing having nothing to aim for at that point in the campaign. On the plus side, there are a ton of different weapon types and you can even utilize ice pops and hockey sticks. There are also fun supplementary gameplay mechanics such as swinging from nodes with Flame's whip, thrusting down with Grit's weapon which lets you bounce between enemies, and thrusting up in order to gain extra height for your jump. Overall, Panzer Paladin's gameplay is tight, comprehensive, challenging, and a whole heck of a lot of fun.
Enjoyable gameplay aside, Panzer Paladin also features spot-on retro visuals that feel like they belong on NES. In fact, if it released for the 8-bit console, I'm sure many gamers would consider it one of the best NES games ever made. The graphics aren't only authentic, there's also a lot of variety with each stage taking place in a different real-world country. The environments are detailed and absolutely gorgeous to take in, especially if you appreciate retro aesthetics as much as I do. To complement the old-school visuals, a wonderful soundtrack plays throughout that's full of incredibly catchy tunes. Now that I think about it, every game from Tribute has fantastic music.
Finally, the stages within Panzer Paladin are massive and there are a lot of them; 17 to be exact. They're mostly linear but there are hidden rooms with bonuses like 1-ups and hidden energy tanks for Grit. Although the levels are great fun to traverse and master, I found that the instant death traps such as bottomless pits can be a bit too punishing. I wish that falling down these pits or onto spikes merely resulted in damage being taken then you respawn right before you slipped up. Dying immediately and having to replay long stretches is a bit too archaic and frustrating, especially considering that some jumps are exceptionally difficult to pull off.
Panzer Paladin is one of the best retro-inspired games to be released recently so if you love 8-bit 2D action then you'll definitely want to play it as it masterfully combines existing and novel concepts into one cohesive and enjoyable formula.
- + Tight old-school 2D action gameplay with a cool weapon mechanic
- + Awesome music and retro graphics
- + Stages are plentiful, large, and unique
- - Running out of upgrades happens too soon
- - Instant death traps can be frustrating
- - Some jumps require too much precision