Posted on 25 Jul 2020 by Jay Shaw

Panzer Paladin

The Defence

Developer: Tribute Games Inc.
Publisher: Tribute Games Inc.
Genre: Action, Indie, Platformer
Platform: Consoles, PC
Review copy: No
Release date: 21 Jul 2020

The Prosecution

OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core i3 2.6 GHz
AMD equivalent
VGA: Nvidia 8800
AMD equivalent
HDD: 200 MB
DirectX: OpenGL
Controller: Full
Mod Support: No
VR: No
FOV Slider: No
FPS Lock: 120+

The Case

The genre of faux-retro platformers is pretty crowded these days so it’s difficult to stand out no matter how good your game is. You know the type – Shovel Knight and The Messenger are arguably the peak of this type of game but that doesn’t mean there isn’t more room at the top; so where does Panzer Paladin rank? Keep reading and we’ll tell you.

The Trial

Panzer Paladin puts you in the shoes of Flame, a female android, and Grit, her mecha. Large weapons have fallen from space and impacted all over the world, demons invade via a portal and it’s up to Flame and Grit to travel all over the world and save the day. Surprisingly for a faux-retro platformer, the story is quite involved. Presented via Ninja Gaiden style cutscenes between missions, they largely consist of still frames or very basic animation but the style works spectacularly well with the beautiful pixel art and expressive characters. Also, the doctor is my waifu so hands off.

Once in a mission, it’s striking just how much attention to detail and effort developers Tribute Games have put in. Each stage uses unique art from the platforms and ground to the background and sky, pretty standard stuff, but then you realise that even the extra life pick-ups are level unique and so are the enemies. For example the Japanese stage has you facing long-haired Onryo and the boss of the stage is a Gashadokuro, a huge skeleton that leans into the edge of the stage like they often do in Japanese woodcut depictions. Every stage is like this – there are some overlapping enemies like spiders, and a couple of others, but largely the rogue’s gallery is an impressive collection of cultural touchstones.

Gameplay has a surprising amount of depth too. While in Grit you’re equipped with a shield and weapons picked up from the ground. Each stage has its own unique weapons and each weapon is unique: they consist of a damage type such as cutting or piercing, an amount of damage, durability, and a magic spell. Naturally, using your weapon depletes the durability and it’s gone for good when used up, most weapons last for quite a while though and weapons are plentiful so you never feel like you’re scrounging and will gradually grow a sizeable backup arsenal. To use a weapon’s magic you have to hold two buttons for a second and then the weapon is instantly destroyed and the spell cast. Magic varies between attacks and buffs and all are useful; Deflect will give you a single-hit invulnerability, Wings gives you temporary wings, Beam makes each attack shoot a projectile, and there are plenty more – we’re not even sure we used all the spells in our playthrough. Weapons can also be thrown, which deals a large amount of damage but also destroys the weapon.

Medusa makes a pretty funny face in her intro.

Combat is deeper than just whacking enemies with your weapon too. Your shield is always up, much like Zelda 2, and you can block high or low so using your defences is as easy as pressing nothing or down. A back-dash with good range enables you to get away from unblockable attacks, it can’t be spammed though. You can also parry and disarm enemies – both are done via the same action, attacking as an enemy hits your shield but the timing varies. Parrying will temporarily disable an enemy’s defences and let you wail on them for several hits. Disarming will have the same effect but also cause an enemy to drop their weapon for you to steal.

We’re not done with combat yet. You can also attack upwards and downwards. Attacking up while standing on the ground will only cause you to poke your weapon above you, useful, but doing it in the air gives you a little extra height. It feels super satisfying to pop it at just the right time and save yourself from falling into a pit. Your downwards attack can only be triggered in the air and, much like Shovel Knight, will bounce you off the heads of enemies so you can chain kills together or abuse a boss. The up and down attacks can even be chained together in a single jump.

Getting out of Grit gives Flame some new moves. Much like Blaster Master you’re smaller and much weaker when on foot but Flame has an energy whip with decent range so she can take out melee enemies before they even get close. Flame can use the whip to swing from preset grapple points but this can take a little getting used to because she loses momentum quickly after releasing from the grapple so you have to time your release fairly well. Swinging sections are pretty forgiving for the most part and you get a chance to learn how to swing in safety early on but some of the optional areas will throw a bit of a challenge at you. Optional areas are often hidden behind breakable walls and usually require a brief easy challenge that will reward you with an extra life.

Flame can't take much damage so being careful is important.

Flame is required to get out of Grit semi-regularly. Most levels have a point where Grit can’t fit through or an alternate route just for Flame. The length of these areas varies but always conclude with a teleport pad that will bring Grit to your location. Flame isn’t all swinging and fitting in places though – she can also interact with large energy tanks to refill Grit’s health and collect smaller tanks to refill her own. Okay, so she’s mostly swinging and being small in gameplay terms but that doesn’t take away from how much of a badass she is, single-handedly taking on a demonic invasion and looking like a big-haired 1980’s anime mecha pilot has to count for something.

Musically, we have nothing bad to say. Panzer Paladin‘s soundtrack also sits in the faux-retro camp, not bleepy-bloopy but not a high fidelity orchestral score either. The title theme by Powerglove is an awesome metal track that gets you pumped up for piloting a mecha before you’ve even hit start. Each track fits the location it’s tied to too; Russia sounds like traditional Russian music, the USA sounds like an American rock song, Canada gets a keyboard heavy pop-rock type track, Egypt has a wonderful foreboding but energetic track, and Tanzania steals the show with a track so good I just stood in the starting area for several minutes to listen to it. To repeat, for clarity: Panzer Paladin‘s soundtrack is a masterpiece from start to finish and sets a new bar that other games are simply going to struggle to surpass.

Lastly we have a few alternate modes – a boss-rush type tournament which saves high scores and the best run of all your save slots is kept as a ghost replay. A speedrun mode slaps a timer on the game. Finally there’s the Blacksmith – a built-in weapon editor where you can create your own new items to put in the game. You can draw the weapon with four colours and set where on the image Grit will hold the item as well as setting its various statistics and spells. Naturally we drew a giant penis and gave it a lot of bludgeoning damage. Weapons created here can be dropped in others games by the Horseman, a recurring boss that often appears before the actual boss of a stage.

The Verdict

We never once felt even a twinge of frustration when playing Panzer Paladin and every death was our fault. From the visuals to sound, each new level was a pleasure to explore and multiple runs still had us finding breakable walls and power-ups. We didn’t touch on it in the review proper but there’s also a second remixed campaign that unlocks when you finish the standard campaign that contributes considerably to replay value. The Blacksmith is a stroke of genius too. Though Panzer Paladin borrows heavily from Mega Man for its structure, Strider NES for level intros, Blaster Master for getting in/out of a vehicle, and a few other classics, the whole thing comes together into a package greater than the sum of its parts.

Case Review

  • Mecha: Grit has a very cool design and is fun to play as.

  • Replay: The remixed campaign makes for a great second play-through.

  • Soundtrack: Play it again, Sam!

  • Characters: Flame comes into her own as the story progresses but she’s a badass from the start.

  • Combat: Fighting feels good and is never about just mashing attack.

  • Levels: Unique visuals and masterful level design go the extra mile.

5 Score: 5/5
Simply put, you'd be a fool to pass up playing Panzer Paladin.


  • General: Language selection, vibration toggle, blacksmith item drop list selection
  • Audio: Music and sound volume selection, theme music selection
  • Video: Fullscreen/windowed toggle, window scaling, scanline overlay toggle
  • Controls: Fully re-bindable keyboard controls, gamepad support
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