In the age of Hollywood-quality AAA video games, the indie genre is sometimes looked down upon within the gaming community. Don’t get me wrong, it’s much better than it used to be, but there are still some gamers that get a little hesitant when they hear the words “indie game.” I’m quite the opposite as I regularly seek out new indie games and get as excited as I did when I was a child when I see something that piques my interest.
Now you may be asking yourself “where’s is he going with all this,” so I’ll get to the point. Indie developers such as Yacht Club Games, Devolver Digital, and Sabotage Studio have kept the platforming genre alive by developing video games that take the core values of the genre and push the boundaries, resulting in games that have become unique and beloved. Tribute Games is the next in line to carry the torch of the retro platforming genre with their 8-bit adventure, Panzer Paladin.
Panzer Paladin is developed by Tribute Games, an indie game developer founded by ex-Ubisoft employees Jonathan Lavigne and Jean-Francois Major who most notably worked on Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game and Mercenary Kings.
We find Flame, a rescue android with the heart of a hero piloting the Paladin known as Grit, who must stop the invading Occult lead by Ravenous from consuming the Earth and starting the Cosmic War. Flame and Grit must use their wits, but also the enemy’s weapons to defeat each of the 10 Weapon Masters strategically stationed around the globe before taking on Ravenous in his Inverted Tower fortress.
Along with the main story mode, there are four additional modes that you can choose from. Players may decide to craft their own weapon with a unique design and stats in the Blacksmith Mode. Speedrun Mode offers players a chance to complete a level as quickly as possible against a time-trial ghost of their best previous time. Once you complete the game, Remixed Story Mode will be unlocked, where players can experience Panzer Paladin’s New Game Plus, which features altered versions of the original levels. (Spoiler alert: THEY’RE TOUGH) And finally there’s Tournament Mode, a non-traditional boss rush where the player is rewarded with points on how quickly and efficiently they defeat their opponents. Think of it as the scoring system in a fighting game. The better you do, the more rewards you gain.
Drop Dead Gorgeous
Before we go any farther, I must make it clear that I am a sucker for good sprite work. Most of my favorite games revolve around the 8-bit and 16-bit era, so when I first saw the opening cinematic, I was immediately hooked. I mean look at the level of detail in this opening!
It still gives me chills when I watch it, and on more than one occasion I’ve caught myself yelling out “SO GOOD,” especially when that main theme kicks in. Speaking of themes, the music in Panzer Paladin kicks major butt! Powerglove released a cover of the main theme a couple weeks ago and that’s the version that starts the game. If you want to hear the original, you can toggle between the Powerglove version and the original in the options menu, which I thought was a cool addition.
So, we’ve established that the visuals and the music of Panzer Paladin are killer, but how does it feel? Is it just a beautiful husk of our past loves with no soul behind its ebony doll eyes, or will it transcend your expectations for the future of indie games? Let’s find out!
Homage to the Greats
After sinking about 12 hours into the main story, I have to say that influences from Blaster Master, Mega Man and Ducktales shine through immensely in the design of Panzer Paladin. Not only are you traversing the world in Grit, but there are segments where you must exit your Paladin pal and go on foot as Flame. Along with this, Grit has an incredibly useful back-dash in his repertoire that can be used to evade enemy attacks and traverse areas faster.
I have to give it to Tribute Games and their design for the first level/tutorial of the game. It teaches you everything you need to know about Grit’s controls and how to use the weapons you pick up along the way. It’s not Mega-Man-X-opening-highway-stage-level of good, but it’s still quite solid.
When I play a game with resource management, I tend to bank items I find and never use them for fear that the game will require me to use them at the end. Thankfully, I didn’t fall into this trap as Panzer Paladin gives you A LOT of weapons to use throughout the game, and this is because it pushes the player to utilize two mechanics, which admittedly took me awhile to get my head around: throwing and breaking weapons.
Using weapons as projectiles or breaking them for temporary buffs is the key to success in many situations. Don’t be like me and try to muscle through, only to start back at a checkpoint or beginning of a level. Once Grit breaks the weapon its holding (indicated in the top right of the heads up display), it will receive a temporary buff such as a heal, increased weapon durability, or reign down lightning to deal massive damage to surrounding enemies! Mastering the weapon’s spells you find along the way is key in progression through the game.
Believe in the Me That Believes in You
Panzer Paladin offers three traditional difficulty levels for players (Easy, Medium, and Hard) and allows you to change the difficulty level at any point in the stage select screen. So if there’s one particular stage or boss that’s giving you dangerous levels of rage or you feel like the stage is baby-mode, you can lower or raise the difficulty at your leisure.
I’ll be honest, there were many times in my multiple play throughs of Panzer Paladin where I got so frustrated that I had to walk away from the game for a bit, but I always found myself wanting more. I wanted to get better at the game because I knew I could if I practiced. It became a matter of not accepting my personal failures as finite and learning from my past mistakes. Building upon myself and helping to better the worl… Oh right, I’m reviewing a video game. *ahem*
If I could give one nugget of advice when playing the game, it would simply be: BE PATIENT. Every time I assessed my death, it boiled down to that I was trying to power my way through an area too quickly and recklessly. There’s an area at the end of the game where it wants you to slow down and be more careful in your execution of moves and attacks. I died SO many times in this level before it clicked, and I adapted my play-style. The bottom line: don’t give up because you can do it!
Tribute Games outdid themselves with Panzer Paladin and their passion for the 8-bit and 16-bit era of gaming is illustrated through the game’s pixel art, game design and musical direction. It pushes the boundaries of the traditional action-adventure platformer while also honoring its video game ancestors. I look forward to more and more people having their first-time experience with the game. Readers can pick Panzer Paladin up on Steam and Nintendo Switch, and hopefully a physical version through Limited Run Games, but that’s just a personal dream of mine.
- Stunning pixel artwork
- Simply resource management
- Interesting boss designs and mechanics
- New game plus, weapon creation, and non-traditional Boss Rush modes
- Killer music composition
- Interesting and comical weapon designs
- Uhm, no multi-player, battle royale, Esports mode? I literally have no complaints with this game.