What do giant robots need? I didn’t know the answer until yesterday when I first played Panzer Paladin, but now it seems obvious. Of course! Giant robots need a hockey stick to hit people with.
Panzer Paladin is one of those faux-8-bit throwbacks that exists to remind you that faux-8-bit throwbacks can be great. It’s a chummy muddle of influences – you can do a bounce attack move that reminds me of Duck Tales (and by extension Shovel Knight) and you can tackle stages in any order like Mega Man. That said, it’s never just its influences. This game has hooked me in deep. It’s special.
So you’re a giant mech wandering around scrolling levels and smacking people about. You can use your fists if you really have to, but it’s much better to collect special melee weapons that litter the landscape and use those instead. Besides giving you extra reach they tie into a neat system. Each weapon can be destroyed to utilise its specific spell – a boost in durability perhaps, or a magic attack that’s just called THUNDER in all-caps, and earns those all-caps. But then you won’t have the weapon anymore! Also, weapons break after a while if you use then to, you know, hit people with. So it’s a trade.
Luckily you can collect a bunch at any one time and swap them around tactically. This is particularly useful when you get to the game’s sparse checkpoints, because to activate the checkpoint you have to insert a weapon into a plinth and leave it there. I love that: a checkpoint that is also a choice.
In between levels you can even cash in any weapons you’ve collected to earn health upgrades. Another neat idea, mainly because as you throw in weapons you get to watch a meter build up. It reminds me of the sort of thing Sakurai might have done in his Kid Icarus game. I love risk/reward things when they involve chunky sliders like this. I am a sucker for it.
I am also a sucker for a mission list that sees you hopping around the world and taking on local bosses. Anubis in Egypt? Just done him in actually. Baba Yaga in Russia? Why not? Levels are delivered with lovely spritey flair and a wonderfully garish 8-bit colour scheme that reminds me of the lurid colours used in Watchmen. Everything feels slightly radioactive. Oh yes, and what’s the fun of a mech if you can’t get out of it from time to time and scurry about hitting people with a big mace. The mace allows you to access special charge stations which let you top up the mech’s health. Risk/reward and a lovely swinging mechanic thrown in. This game is a veritable Quackshot of simple ideas nicely handled.
This should not surprise me. Panzer Paladin is from Tribute Games, a studio I now realise I am deeply in love with. The last thing I played of theirs was Flinthook, which is probably my favourite spin on the roguelite since Spelunky, and another game where simple things like getting around were elevated to the point of being a total joy. I’m now eyeing the studio’s previous release, Mercenary Kings, on the Switch store.
But first! Baba Yaga awaits! And I have that hockey stick that is ready to be put to work.