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  1. #1

    [NSW/PC] Panzer Paladin

    Story goes that magical weapons (swords, axes, lances, hammers, etc etc) are falling from the sky creating havoc and destruction. Flame, a female android, decides to do something with the help of Grit, a sentient robot she can pilot.
    Panzer Paladin is a scrolling platformer with an emphasis on weapon management. Weapons are used to attack enemies, activate checkpoints, use special attacks, and as upgrade materials for Grit's lifebar. Grit can carry and switch between up to four weapons, with the rest stashed away for you to carry between stages or use as upgrade materials.
    Weapons have different reach, attack power, damage type, durability, and special attack. Using the special attack will break the weapon.
    You can select the stage you want to tackle from locations all around the world, each with enemies graphically tailored to the location; bosses are, of course, inspired by the location: an Aztec mummy for Mexico, Anubis for Egypt, a dragon for Scotland, the Yeti for Switzerland (uhm...), a succubus for New York. Well, better than a giant rat, I guess.

    Stages are on the longish side, with only two possible checkpoints: midway and before the boss. About half the enemies drop a weapon, so you never really run out of offensive tools despite most not being not very long-lasting. However, you can very well run out of weapons against bosses: checkpoints are activated by placing a weapon on them, and picking that up will deactivate the checkpoint. You might reach a boss with a full weapon complement but you have to sacrifice one for the checkpoint, and some of the remaining might be halfway consumed; you will go through most, if not all, your weapons durign the first try, and that will force to deactivate the checkpoint by picking up a weapon in an effort to defeat the boss. If you don't clear the stage, it's back to the midway checkpoint. This might sound bad, but I have defeated all three bosses I faced at my second try: against one I found a way to cheese it out, the second I simply stood in front of it hammering the attack button, and the third required a bit more work but wasn't particularly troublesome.

    Grit's controls are somewhat stiff, an awkward middle ground between lumbering giant robot and nimble platform protagonist. They don't feel bad and all pits can be crossed with a standard jump, but you need to be very close to the border or you will fall, losing a life. There's no double jump, but you can use the dragon punch (jump, up+attack) to get some more air time. Donw+attack while jumping will have Grit perform a downthrust that can bounce off enemies.
    There are no health pickups, the only way to replenish Grit's health is to either sacrifice a weapon with a heal special attack, or disembark Grit and direct Flame towards the rare energy tanks hidden in the stages. A single health tank is able to heal about a fourth of Grit's starting lifebar, which is not that much. Flame is not as durable or powerful as Grit, but she can defend herself with an energy whip and is small enough to enter crevices in which Grit can't fit; some stages have entire sections dedicated to Flame where you have to leave Grit behind, with a teleport point for Grit at the end of the portion so you can continue.
    Attacking feels good no matter the weapon you are using: small knives don't have much reach or power but are fast, relatively durable, and common, while other weapons sacrifice durability and powerful special attacks for reach and damage. You will never feel underpowered with a weapon in hand, though having to rely on Grit's unarmed fists will.

    Graphics are, of course, 8-bit style. And it's a real shame, because there are some great animations and I would have loved to see this done with a richer colour palette. It would have surely helped in making stages less monotonous, there are a lot of blacks and dark tones used everywhere, and at times it takes a second or an attack to check if you can cross a tile.
    Music is cool, but right now I think the only outstanding track is the main theme.

    Before getting Panzer Paladin, I read many a good things about the title, so I had pretty high expectations. Unfortunately these weren't met: Panzer Paladin seems a competent platformer, but doesn't quite reach other games like Blaster Master Zero or Shovel Knight (it's easy to draw comparisons to those two due to game mechanics and graphics style). It's not bad, but its drawbacks weight down heavily on it. I'll report back when I finish it.

  2. #2
    Game completed, and the second part is much more engaging than the first, with good level and boss design. However, while stages become more complex and difficult than before, bosses take a nosedive in challenge despite their better patterns. And unfortunately the first part put me in a "let's get this over with" state that made me not enjoy this latter part as I should have.
    The first part is where you can select which stage/boss to tackle. You always start in Canada, which works as a tutorial stage. The following stages offer more or less the same challenge, but Tanzania and Japan are the most difficult; I think bosses scale in difficulty as you progress, as I couldn't rely on the proven "stand and hammer the attack button" method to defeat the last two. For those bosses I had to learn their patterns, and found that controls weren't perfectly suited to the task: Grit moves just a tiny bit more sluggish than I'd wish, and after one session I noticed my left thumb was sore because I kept holding down the d-pad harder than usual hoping it'd move Grit faster. This doesn't mean controls are bad or unresponsive, just at times I wished a tad more agility to counter some unforeseeable attacks. A lot of bosses like to rain things down on you, and I couldn't discern where these attacks would land: I think it's based on your position, but at time it's on the opposite side of the screen, others right on top of you, leaving little to no time to get out of the way with standard movement or the dodge.

    In my previous post I forgot to mention two defensive options: the dodge and the shield. The dodge is an invincible step backwards, useful against some attacks. The shield deflects all incoming attacks (with the exception of some boss specials) and can be positioned high or low. Some enemies use a shield like you, and you need to attack where their guard is open. Or just bypass them. There are very few instances in which Panzer Paladin forces you to fight enemies, so what I learnt to do was to avoid any and all enemies that don't drop weapons or that would have been a waste of weapon durability and/or health.

    The worst thing about the combat is that it's not as satisfying as it should be. Most stages have graphically customized enemies, but very few offer unique enemies. Variety is low, and there's no real satisfaction in defeating stronger opponents. And everything needed for a good combat is there: weapons with different speed, reach, attack power, and special attacks, good hit feedback, frame freeze on hard blows, a dodge, and a shield. Yet, I found ignoring enemies is the best solution. Weapons break when their durability is gone, and every stage gives plenty of replacements; I also discovered you can access weapons in your inventory at any time, so you are never without offensive means and can even swap for weapons better suited for the situation at hand.

    All stages feature a midboss, the Horseman. He's always the same, no variation whatsoever. Defeating him is not a big problem, but entering his room and being allowed to go through without a fight was always a relief: not because he's hard (fight him twice and you know everything), but because it's a waste of resources. So, what's the Horseman about? Well, upon defeat he drops user-created weapons, and I'd say those are the best thing in the game. My first encounter with the Horseman netted me a Keyblade. Then there was Gatsu's Dragonbuster, the Buster Sword, someone recreated Flame's (Grit's pilot) sprite, an other guy a keytar, and someone else's Michael Jackson's sprite from Moonwalker. This feature needs online to work, and I think you won't face the Horseman if the game cannot connect and find new weapons.

    Bosses in the second part, a linear progression of stages, have well-defined patterns, phases, and everything you'd expect from a boss. However, this might be why I found them easier than the last two 1st-part bosses. However, these patterns made them more engaging and more entertaining to fight. As I said before though, I wanted to finish the game ASAP and was somewhat apathetic to them, wishing they'd die sooner so I could continue onwards.

    Completing the game opens up online leaderboards and remixed mode. In remixed mode you keep all weapons and health upgrades from your first playthrough and go through the same stages and fight the same bosses with a beefed up difficulty. I think that's probably the mode that would have enticed me the most from the beginning as, for example, the introductory Canada stage has slippery tiles and the local boss doesn't die from staring at him. But I couldn't really be bothered to go through the game again...damn that first part of the game really made me dislike Panzer Paladin.

    So, to sum up: you have to try it for yourself. There are a lot of good things in Panzer Paladin: the graphics (though some stages could use some more clarity in background/foreground spearation), sound (again, the second part's better), combat mechanics, various game modes...it's just that I was expecting more, maybe not something as refined as Shovel Knight or Blaster Master Zero, but maybe an Azure Striker Gunvolt. Instead, I had more fun with the aforementioned titles, but I still think it's really down to personal tastes.

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