I beat up a massive dragon using a mech wielding a hockey stick. That’s more than enough to get me on board with Panzer Paladin, a solid retro-inspired action game where you’ll find yourself slamming monsters with whatever weapons you can grab.
Demons are up to no good, as they tend to be, but Flame, an android, aims to take them down with the use of the Paladin mech. While this heavy machine is quite capable of punching enemies until they explode, why would you do that when you can grab an absurd amount of varied weapons from fallen foes, using them to lay beatdowns and create useful effects for yourself.
Weapons are the main draw of this sidescrolling, melee-based title. A variety of knives, clubs, axes, spears, swords, and even hockey sticks round out your potential arsenal, with weapons being hidden in the environments or dropped by enemies. You can equip four of them at a time, swapping between them with a button press, but can keep as many as you like in reserve. These can be switched into your main arsenal on the pause menu, allowing you to swiftly choose the best tools for the job.
What’s the best weapon to be using? Panzer Paladin offers a rock/paper/scissors style combat system where each weapon has types that it works better or worse on. It’s an interesting idea to keep you swapping weapons, but you’ll probably need to be playing on a higher difficulty than Normal to feel any need to use it. It’s easy enough to slam foes with long weapons, striking hard and fast, to take them out. These weaknesses help with some bosses, but you can honestly just stick with whatever tool works for you.
The weapons break after a set number of uses, though, which eventually forces you to change up your strategy. That said, you can always throw a nearly-busted sword at a distant enemy to dispatch them fast, you can plunk it in a checkpoint to save your progress (each checkpoint requires a placed weapon to activate).
However, you’re far better off breaking these weapons on purpose to unleash their special effects. Weapons have random abilities attached to them that allow you to heal, increase damage, bolster defense, or blast everyone on the screen, but using them breaks it. So, in a pinch, you can snap a weapon to unleash some extra power (heals during a boss are super handy). It takes a second to use but the results are well worth it, often turning the worst situations around.
As your weapon stockpile increases throughout Panzer Paladin, you can scrap them between levels to purchase health increases for your Paladin. This is a great use of your basic weapons, but there were only a handful of upgrades I could do, leaving me with an ever-increasing pile of unneeded tools. You could always break them on purpose to get rid of them, but that felt like a waste. The game also mentions a mechanic where keeping too many weapons makes things harder, but I never saw any appreciable change in challenge from its supposed effect. I just held onto everything.
These few systems make combat into a chaotic dance, with you swapping weapons to deal with each threat, crushing nearly-broken tools to turn the tide when you’re near death, having to recover when your favoured tool crumbles mid-attack, or just hauling out something funny to slap a foe with. It makes combat great fun, although some of these abilities are so strong it made Panzer Paladin feel a bit too easy on the Normal Difficulty. Except for the bosses, which provide some memorable matches and really pushed me to be careful with my weapon choice.
The boss fights were great, but they looked spectacular on top of that. The pixel art in Panzer Paladin is stunning, with each creature being filled with details and moving parts to take in. Levels are packed with unique scenery and background objects. It’s hard not to get caught up in pogo stabbing enemies with an axe, but you should take a moment to look around every once in a while. There’s always something sharp to look at.
That includes your Paladin mech. This thing moves with a feeling of weight, its steps losing clouds of dust with every heavy footfall. When it slams a sword into a checkpoint, the screen shakes. Its legs seem to slide forward on whirring mechanisms. Its chest can open up, letting Flame hop out (which you do for some sequences, but she’s not terribly durable in this state). When it does this, its head and chest slide back with this delightful bit of detail, creating this impressive feel of piloting some smooth-moving heavy machinery. It makes it feel good simply to move and act in Panzer Paladin.
It is even more impressive during its cutscenes. The game draws inspiration from older anime, capturing a similar style with its characters, mechs, and their interactions, delivering story in captivating cutscenes that show off just how impressive Tribute Games’ pixel work is. The look alone is enough to make it worth grabbing.
When you manage to pummel your way through Panzer Paladin’s initial storyline, the game also features some nice bonuses to keep you busy. There’s an unlockable Remixed Mode that offers altered versions of the already-long regular game (kind of like a New Game + that really changes things up). There’s a Boss Rush and Speed Run mode if you want to see how fast and skilled you are. Most fun is the Blacksmith mode, which allows you to create your own weapons to put into the game, allowing you to make ridiculous tools as often as you like. Yes, you can do what you’re thinking. And it’s wonderful.
Panzer Paladin is a sharp-looking action game that offers solid movement and varied combat through its weapon system. It’s often a light challenge, but when you want to feel like a powerful mech rider, it can’t be beat.
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