Armed And Armored
HIGH Epic boss battles, cool weapons.
LOW Inventory management. Painfully difficult jumps.
WTF Did I kill a demon with an ice pop?
Panzer Paladin feels like it needs to be replayed more than played. It encapsulates everything that appeals to speedrunners looking to deconstruct a title rather than being an engaging experience from the onset. It hides basic information until more than midway through the narrative, and it fights against gamers’ natural instincts along the way. It’s bizarre, yet I still find myself wanting to go back and conquer it the way I mastered Trojan on the NES back in 1987.
Young android Flame is not a soldier, she was designed for rescue and repair. When the archfiend Ravenous and his legion of demons laid waste to Earth, she became humanity’s last hope. To succeed, she’ll need to skillfully pilot Grit, her Paladin power armor and learn to use the demons’ weapons against them. Danger lurks around every turn, and the weapons Flame and Grit acquire make her feel… strange. There’s also a mysterious demon-slayer challenging Flame and Grit in every part of the world…
Panzer Paladin pays tribute to NES classics like Ninja Gaiden through use of cutscenes featuring exciting camera angles and effects, and some frankly ridiculous dialogue. It’s hard to tell if the melodrama is tongue-in-cheek or meant to be taken seriously, but based on the fact that I can kill enemies with a hockey stick and an enormous Nintendo Switch, it’s probably the former, although the narrative’s tonal shifts and shocking alternate ending are severe.
Once the action begins, players are treated to a 2D action platformer in the vein of Mega Man featuring tons of combat, light exploration, and lots and lots of bottomless pits. However, there are two main differences between Panzer Paladin and other games of its ilk.
First, Grit is able to wield a truly absurd variety of weapons collected from enemies. Ethereal spears, swords, and even ice pops can be utilized to dispatch foes. Each weapon has a unique swing speed, damage rating, and durability index which keeps battles fresh and exciting as one has to constantly shift tactics to make the most of any given weapon.
Intentionally breaking a weapon by pressing and holding both triggers unlocks the weapon’s magical ability, such as healing, extra damage, or the ability to launch beams — great for smoking bosses from afar.
Being an RPG player at heart, I fell into my old habit of hoarding the best weapons for the future rather than using what I had, but Panzer Paladin punishes this behavior in the form of “Spirit Burden.”
Each weapon Flame carries increases the danger encountered on a level and also causes a special miniboss to attack her. Paladin does a poor job of explaining this, and waits until the end of the story to reveal it. Sadly, I made the game much harder on myself — if I had understood the mechanic earlier, I would have adjusted my playstyle sooner, and would have avoided a ton of unnecessarily frustrating encounters.
This wasn’t the only issue I had with the difficulty. Even on the easiest setting, Panzer Paladin likes to kill players with bottomless pits and slightly imprecise jump mechanics. It also likes to hide these pits just offscreen (especially during conveyors and minecarts) and requires players to take leaps of faith which usually result in death and a long trek back from a painfully distant checkpoint. There are also several ‘choose your own path’ sections that are trial-and-error based, meaning subsequent playthroughs are smooth and enjoyable, — just not the first one.
Interestingly, Flame is able to exit Grit’s chassis at will to tackle enemies on her own. Her diminutive stature doesn’t allow her to absorb as much punishment, but her whip lets her access areas Grit can’t by swinging from hooks and crawling through corridors.
While combat and traversal became fairly rote after the second level, the boss battles are generally exemplary. These fights feature screen-filling bosses with multiple modes of attack, shifting fields of battle, and a relentless pace. Unlike the platforming, these battles were difficult (but not unfair) and I genuinely enjoyed facing off against them before adding their signature weapons to Grit’s arsenal.
Getting back to my initial comment about replaying, Panzer Paladin offers a lot to those willing to return after slogging through it the first time.
First is a Remix mode where new versions of old levels (and a shiny new boss to fight) are presented to the player. Weapon locations are no longer the same, and additional pits and platforming make their appearance.
Additionally, a Speedrun mode is unlocked, giving runners their chance to break the game wide open.
Most interestingly, players can craft their own weapons (including a workable, if limited, drawing tool) for later use and to share with players around the world. As long as the options are set to “Personal,” created weapons will drop whenever the Horseman miniboss is defeated. Otherwise, players have access to any and all created weapons at random, which can lead to some interesting and amusing items of destruction to wield.
I don’t know whether it’s a testament to the design or just my stubbornness, but while I didn’t enjoy Panzer Paladin much the first time through, I do want to go back and master it in the future… just not right away.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Tribute Games Inc. It is currently available on PC and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 9 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E, and contains Fantasy Violence. The game features 2D side-scrolling platforming and combat against fantastical monsters/demons that could potentially be scary to the youngest children. The combat is not gory. However, enemies disperse in a puff of smoke containing a skull. Skulls are prevalent throughout the game.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All game dialogue is provided via text. There are some musical cues that denote a potential mid-boss battle in each stage, but this cue is accompanied by a pause in the action to alert the player to the arrival of the opponent.
Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.