Pankapu is a brand new 2D platformer that is reminiscent of the 90s era, and indeed, it takes a lot of influences from past games and franchises. Trying to save the dream world from hostile invaders, Pankapu must jump on platforms, defeat baddies while meshing a solid offense and defense, and discover secrets to upgrade health, abilities, and armor.
I would label this game an action platformer, but there are many moments where intelligent tactics need to be employed to defeat enemies and survive daunting level design. Pankapu starts off easy, but the game is increasingly challenging; dying to figure out the layout of a level, making mistakes with obstacles, and warding off new foes is all well crafted and allows the player a true platforming experience that isn't too easy nor too hard.
Too Kind Studio's new game can be purchased on the PSN store for just $11.99.
The game takes place inside the dream of a little boy who is having trouble sleeping. The dream world was once peaceful, but terrible hordes of foes have been invading and taking it over. Pankapu is a warrior who is sent to fight off the invaders and help the dream world return to peace.
The story is the weakest part of Pankapu: the game functions well, and it could be argued it doesn't even need a plot, or that players could just skip it, but the fact of the matter is, Pankapu has a fair amount of dialogue and plot points that do affect the pacing of the game. There is some funny dialogue, but the plethora of random item names and smaller quests in the game were confusing and became forgettable. I sometimes even found myself skipping through the dialogue entirely to return to the gameplay.
I love a good story, but the narrative just never seemed to build and hit me emotionally the way I wanted it too. Instead, it seemed to meander and dance around whimsically, while trying to seem more important than it really was.
At first, Pankapu may seem a bit overwhelming. The menu has a ton of different options, encyclopedias, and a list of upgrades and special items. However, the gameplay is far more like many 2D platformers that already exist–not to say Pankapu has no unique features or qualities. Much of this game revolves around jumping on platforms, recognizing enemy patterns, and avoiding in-game obstacles such as spike walls and rolling boulders (sound familiar?).
The game features a world map–which definitely reminded me of old school games–; it's literally a scroll with paths that lead to other destinations. Instead of the more popular metroidvania format, Pankapu allows players to return to individual levels, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, except that the game offers a lot of return exploration. There are places that are too high to jump too and red crystals that cannot be destroyed until certain powerups are acquired later in the game. Maybe a fast track option or a level exit feature could have been employed for convenience.
The levels in Pankapu run about five to ten minutes each; there are a lot of side creatures called "mudjins" to collect that give you extra heart pieces–much like Zelda, four of these pieces will give you more health–, and there are many checkpoints along that way that fully restore your HP.
The combat is simple but innovative. You start off with the knight, who wields a sword and a shield. There is a standard slashing attack as well as the ability to sword drop down on enemies. Where things really get interesting is with the shield. Blocking attacks is not only possible, but it restores an MP meter that is used for special attacks. The MP powered attacks are used to defeat certain foes who are invulnerable to normal blows, but they can only be used a few times before being depleted. This means that players will have to use both offense and defense wisely to survive. The archer and the mage come later in the game, and they both come with some really cool abilities to add to the arsenal. The archer can double jump and slide-dodge through obstacles, and the mage can freeze certain obstacles and foes.
Fortunately, jumping, and switching between classes, is a cinch, and it feels great. Holding the jump button allows for longer jumps, and the player can still change direction mid-jump. There are a lot of fun platforming elements where jumping too high or too far can cause serious damage or death, so the controls are thankfully tight and responsive. Whether it's jumping between falling scree, on platforms that automatically bounce you up, or through alternating flower-pads, the platforming in this game is done right. There are some frustrating parts, particularly when enemies, such as the bats, sit between them and shoot acid at you, but it never takes long to figure out how to overcome the challenge (though it can take a while to actually complete it without dying). I really enjoyed that this game required me to be smart: it forced me to be able to respond intelligently and move quickly at the same time. The game is almost always cleverly balanced between brains and raw reflexes.
The levels are varied; usually, a few levels follow a theme, such as dark caverns or rolling hills, before changing. This works well since it gives the player enough time to adjust to new challenges without it ever really getting stale.
I do need to mention that the PS4 version of Pankapu still comes with some lag. It doesn't really affect the gameplay, but it does occasionally happen, especially at the end of a level, and it's a bug that slightly takes away from the experience as a whole. I also wish that I got to utilize the mage earlier in the game: it's amazing how late in the game you get this class.
There are a ton of secrets to find; the mudjins that give you extra health are the most common. Each level has between ten-fifteen mudjins hidden inside of it; a sound plays when you are near one, so a little extra exploration or platforming can often add a mudjin to your collection. Every twenty-five mudjins gives the player a new heart piece (1/4 of a whole heart). Finding all one-hundred mudjins in a world also offers a greater prize.
Outside of mudjins, there are extra heart pieces and mp boosters that are hidden in areas that are tough to access. They are not nearly as common, but it feels good when you find one. As stated earlier, there is a lot of backward exploration that is possible, so if the game becomes too difficult, players could take newfound abilities and classes and return to earlier stages for extra upgrades.Other stuff like aegises and nebulas that allow for stronger defense and attacks are also out there to find.
The secrets add an extra layer to the gameplay, one that is largely optional, but it does offer the willing players worthwhile benefits.
visuals and sound
Pankapu is visually stunning with bright colors, layers of terrains, and beautiful 2D level design. Just looking at Pankapu's detailed sprites, and otherworldly levels immediately tossed me back to my childhood gaming experiences. This was a good thing: the sparkly visuals and beautiful worlds hit me like a youth getting surprised by the raw beauty of an unimaginable universe.
The sound, however, could not have been less alive. Most of the time, the music is absolutely underwhelming. Yes, there are a lot of beautiful piano arrangements, and the music is often pleasant, but the music is vapid and lacks any sense of tension. There is combat, tough jumps, and a narrative, and the music rarely reflects these spikes. For example, one boss fight featured light piano tones while another boss fight had no music at all. Seriously? There was another point where a level had no music until I died, and then it finally started.
I wish I could say that the musical trouble is not a big deal, but the music just sucks out the emotion and ability of the game to grab the player and to get fully engaged. Instead, everything just seems dainty and dreamlike, even when it calls for the exact opposite tone. It's surprising to see the developers this far off the mark with an appropriate soundtrack.
Though I have a number of minor complaints about Pankapu, like the extraneous menus, plot annoyances and acquiring the mage too late in the game, at its core, this is a very solid platformer. Rarely has a modern 2D platformer so successfully straddled the difficulty line. This game will offer plenty of challenge, but it's a challenge that most gamers should be able to overcome without feeling overwhelmed.
The strategic combat and constant platforming offer an engrossing adventure that is really fun and constantly tossing in new elements to play with. There is a solid five-ten hours of gameplay here depending on how many secrets a player wishes to find, and the game has a lot to explore.
I am happy to hear that the developers have been fixing a lot of the bugs that were originally present, and stuff like the lagging and the lack of music is already being fixed. This game would certainly deserve a higher rating after these fixes were made. Yes, the game has a lame duck plot, and there may be better platformers out there, but if you are a fan of the genre, Pankapu will definitely offer a fun and rewarding experience that hails back to retro-gaming while being different enough to warrant a purchase.
|+ Solid platforming experience||– Music was sorely looked over|
|+ Beautiful worlds with tons of detail||– Still some occasional lag present|
|+Combat is unique and fun||– Mage is acquired too late in the game|
|+Lots of little secrets||– Story falls completely flat|