Game Review: Pankapu Harkens Back to a Golden Time of Gaming

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What it is:

Pankapu is a colorful action-platformer with RPG elements from Playdius and Too Kind Studio.  Players choose between a soldier, mage, and archer, changing characters at will.

The game is out TODAY! on PS4, Xbox One and Steam for $11.99.

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What I love about this game is the old-school vibe it secretes out of every digital pore.  The craving to feed our nostalgia is rampant right now, as though the 80s and 90s were a drug that we just can’t get our fix of.  We didn’t like those decades as much when we were in them, but now with the current political landscape and the high price of gas, I suppose the past looks a whole lot brighter now.

As a result of this, a lot of modern games come out with retro graphics, 8 & 16-bit games that definitely look the part.  Pankapu gets mad props for looking utterly gorgeous, yet feeling more throwback and retro than most current games could hope to be.

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Story:

The story is simple: you follow a little floating jeweled spider around, collecting fat, adorable little fairy orbs and power ups, to try to help the spirit man that looks like he’s made of flames.  While wearing heavy armor, you fight your way through the wilderness, killing black blobs and trees that spit purple ooze.

Alright, full disclosure: the game’s a little hard, folks (but not in a bad way), and I haven’t gotten too terribly far into it.  I was going to wait and review it when I got a little further, but the wonderful folks that made it requested I post the review today, since the game is launching.

According to the press materials, the game is:

Told in the manner of a fable read to a child, the game has two levels of reading: the story of Pankapu, epic and naïve in the DreamWorld, and the one about Djaha’rell’s life, in the real-world, dark and tragic.

Pankapu’s quest is to fulfill his destiny and defeat the nefarious Gangreyn, the Prince of Nightmares!

Controls:

Controls are a little more involved than most games of this ilk that I’ve played, which is good, as it means you can do more things.  Attack and jump, obviously, each have their own buttons.  There’s also a button for your magic/special attacks, which drain your meter and must be used sparingly, and another activates the warrior’s shield, which absorbs energy from blocked attacks to fill said magic meter.

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Art/Animation:

This game is all kinds of pretty.  I pick up the controller and feel like I’m playing a Don Bluth movie.  That reference is intentionally dated, go look it up.

Why you should play it:

“Jump into a neo-retro adventure with Pankapu : a taste of 90’s platformers in an oneiric world.”

I ripped that quote from the Playstation store because I couldn’t say it better myself.  Now, I’m just going to say it longer.

Did you grow up playing games in the late 80’s and 90’s?  I’m talking NES/SNES/GENESIS days?  This game gives me all kinds of crazy throwback vibes in ways that games that more closely mimic the genre (Shovel Knight, as just one of many examples) fall slightly short on.

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My son called this game “Shantae meets Mario,” and I can see his point. It does have those elements, but with the timing of the jumps over both platforms and bullets, the selective attacks…just the general flow of the game…if I close my eyes just right, it almost feels like I’m playing Mega Man again for the first time.  Mega Man with a sword, and that’s maybe the highest compliment I can give the game.

If you don’t like that comparison, then let’s use the Disney Afternoon games. I’m not a game designer and I’ve really only started reviewing games, so I can’t comment on all the nuances of the game’s components, the way a writer from Rolling Stone talks about the specifics in a drum style or the melancholic vocals on track 7 of the new album.  I have no hard evidence for this, just my gut reaction and way the game makes me feel when I play it.  It reminds me more of the games for Ducktales and Darkwing Duck, the old Bugs Bunny games, things like that… There’s a true nostalgia here that keeps me coming back, keeps me glued to my screen.

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I’m stuck right here /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ (are those arrows?), unable to get past the symbiote hands that grab me and throw me before I can strike them down.  I must have played this part two dozen times, and I get a little further each time, but I won’t quit.  It’s so frustrating that I’ve almost thrown the controller a couple times, but something keeps me coming back.  That’s how it was when I played as a kid.  That’s what I mean by that “gut feeling.”

There’s a purity to this game that many (read: most) modern games simply don’t have.  Sure, games today dazzle you with brilliant colors and pretty visuals (which this has both in spades)…but they somehow lack the magic that made gaming…pure.

There are some games that I’ve reviewed that have been a struggle to get through, to play enough to get a handle on it so I can write something up.  I don’t touch those games again once the review is posted.  This isn’t that kind of game.  I’ll be finishing this one, and I’ll be telling all that ask for a good game that they need to pick this one up.

And at only $12 bucks…you’re not going to find a better value.

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Let us know what you think of Pankapu in the comments section below!

 

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