My new favorite thing is chilling in the pool while trying not to drop my Switch in the water as I bash pixelated sprites in the face. This is more relaxing than it sounds. In fact, Panzer Paladin is the 8-bit inspired fuel holding my summer together.
In Panzer Paladin, out today on Switch and PC, you play as an android who pilots a mech called Paladin and is tasked with saving the world from an army of invading demons using an arsenal of giant medieval weapons. The arcadey action that results from this “what if a robot, but also a knight” thought experiment is snappy and fun, but the NES-on-steroids art and chiptune music bring the whole package together. When I play, it’s like every adult responsibility weighing on me disappears. No job, no school, just me frittering away a sweaty, cicada-filled afternoon jumping over pits of spikes and slamming a claymore into an evil snowman’s face.
At first glance, Panzer Paladin seems like a lot of other retro-inspired action platformers, and it mostly is. You start at a mission select screen, choose from over a dozen levels scattered across the globe, and kill a bunch of stuff on your way to a boss fight. What helps keep Panzer Paladin interesting is its novel weapon system. As you kill enemies and bosses, and loot hidden locations, you collect swords, spears, and other ancient melee weapons. Each has its own attack and durability stats, and after a certain number of hits it will eventually break.
But you can also beak the weapons yourself to release magical spells, like a lightning bolt that roasts everything around you or special auras that boost your strength or defense. You can also throw weapons like projectiles, or stow them away in your inventory to be pulled out later on. After you collect enough weapons you can break them down and use their magical energy to upgrade your Paladin’s overall health stat. It’s a simple equipment system that adds a deeper, vaguely more RPG-ish layer to the game without getting too much in the way of its underlying beat ‘em up sensibility. Tribute Games, makers of Mercenary Kings and Flinthook, have always been great at putting fresh, original spins on classic game archetypes, and Panzer Paladin is no different.
There are hints of Mega Man and Ninja Gaiden, but also Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, the side-scrolling sequel where Link gets magic spells and battles against enemies with swords and shields of their own. Panzer Paladin gives you a shield that can block certain incoming attacks and occasionally throws enemies at you who also have shields. These mini-duels are fun, aided by a backwards lunge for dodging attacks that are too big to block, though I haven’t found any that reach the length or intensity of some of Zelda II’s toughest encounters.But there’s also a harder difficulty and remix mode I haven’t gotten to yet, so it’s possible these more white-knuckle affairs are buried deeper into the game. And given how frustratingly punishing Zelda II is, I’m glad Panzer Paladin errs on the side of a more breezy adventure. There’s plenty of challenge, but nothing that stopped me in my tracks for more than a few deaths. Which is good, because like I said, I’ve mostly been playing Panzer Paladin on my Switch while floating in the water.
It’s not something that I encourage others to do, for obvious reasons (I’ve already lost one phone to my pool), but with the ongoing pandemic I’m hard up for stuff that makes me feel like summer is fun and not just someone turning up the temperature on the current covid-19 horror show. With no picnics, barbeques, movie outings, or beach trips—the stuff that normally anchors my summers—I’ve been searching for things to fill the seasonal void in my soul. Multi-month not-E3 has turned out to be a real drag in this regard, and long gone are the seasonal mini-events spotlighting retro-inspired indie games like Microsoft’s Summer of Arcade. Fortunately there are still individual, arcadey nostalgia trips like Panzer Paladin to make summer feel a little more like a vacation.