Tag Archives: retro

Panzer Paladin – Review

Whether you’re a long time player who’s chasing the thrill of childhood nostalgia or a more recent arrival to the gaming world who is simply trying to live the highlights of an era gone-by, there’s nothing quite like a great retro-styled platformer. After a few hours with the recently released game from the platforming gurus over at Tribute Games, I can report that Panzer Paladin is exactly that – a great retro-styled platformer that will certainly scratch your itch for all things 8-bit.

Gundam style


The game opens with a quick tutorial level, which introduces the core mechanics of Panzer Paladin‘s gameplay. In short, you play as the pilot of a powerful mech suit – the titular paladin – and must utilise this suit to navigate sprawling levels populated by evil demons which have escaped from the underworld. These demons appear in a number of forms including horrible insects, evil knights and even knife-throwing goblins. Each enemy poses a unique challenge, with distinctive attack patterns with must be learned to ensure success in combat.

Players can employ the mech’s in-built defences, a somewhat weak fire-ball attack, or take advantage of the plethora of oversized medieval melee weapons dropped by enemies. Paladins are able to carry a large number of these dropped weapons, each of which carries its own attack range, damage stat and durability meter. These values, which can be viewed in the game’s pause-menu work about how you would expect. Weapons like spears have large ranges and high durability but comparatively low damage when put against the likes of swords or clubs. Having your items frequently break may sound like a chore on paper, but in practice it ensures you experience the wide range of weapons on offer and incentivises you to pursue higher-level, and therefore more durable, weapons.

You can manually break your weapons by holding a button. This destroys you currently selected item but unleashes a unique-power attack, the strength of which depends predominantly on the power of the weapon you are sacrificing. It’s an enjoyable and effective way of disposing of any lower-level items you might pick up and can come in extremely handy in a fight. Weapons can also be tossed a high speeds and throwing a spear at an out of reach enemy is an awful lot of fun. You still have to be careful though, because tossing away all your weapons willy-nilly can leave you highly vulnerable until they are retrieved.

In addition to combat the game also features some light platforming elements which have you avoiding trapdoor platforms, exploding mines and spike pits galore. These sections are made easier by leaving ejecting from your power-armour which renders you more smaller and more mobile at the cost of lower health and the inability to pick up and use weapons. There are also some small puzzle-like optional elements in levels centred around breaking parts of the environment or ejecting from your suit at specific points to enter small gaps. Completing these is often rewarded with a bonus health regeneration station or unique weapon.

A world at your fingertips:


One of the first thing’s you’ll notice about the game is it’s striking art-style, a faithful recreation of colourful 8-bit graphics. Each of the thirteen levels is based upon a real-world country, selected from a world map-style level select screen, and carries its own distinctive art style. The portrayals of each country may be a little on the stereotypical side but they provide a great variety. One minute you’re taking in the spooky gothic atmosphere of an ancient Scottish castle and the next you’re navigating the bustling streets of New York. I was also pleased to notice that the game’s bosses, which are situated at the end of each level, were all loosely based upon mythological creatures native to each country’s lore. The stages themselves are accompanied by their own fantastic theme songs, featuring an exciting blend of typical 8-bit beeps and more sophisticated elements clearly inspired by each nation’s traditional instruments. Each boss fight also comes with its own, more generic, combat theme.

From the map-screen, players can also access the “laboratory” in which they can use their “spirit points” – gained by completing levels – to upgrade their weapons. An upgrade system is a nice feature to have, but it is made pretty redundant by the fact that you still have to find the weapons each level to use them with the large number of available weapons making it quite tricky to actually encounter the specific one you have just poured all of your points into. Luckily, although these upgrades do undeniably improve weapons they are certainly not necessary to complete the game and in my playthrough the availability of powerful weapons in levels meant I never really felt held back by a lack of upgrades.

The game also features an in-depth weapon creator which allows users to create their own pixel-sprites and stat sheets. Your creation uploaded directly to the Steam Workshop on PC and automatically integrated into everyone’s games. Players can find community created weapons dropped randomly by higher level enemies and the potential of finding all-new weapons contributes greatly to the replayability of the game. If for some reason though you want to stick to only the developer-made weapons, the community content can be disabled at any time via the settings menu.

In addition to encountering all new weapons, replays are encouraged by the remix mode and speedrun mode. As the name would suggest, remix mode alters the levels of the campaign mode by altering enemy placements to create a more challenging experience whilst speedrun mode challenges players to beat “ghost” versions of either their previous playthroughs or those of the top global players.

Lost the plot


I found the only real major issue with the game to be the result of questionable PC optimisation. The default keyboard control scheme can be described as ‘unintuitive’ at best and makes a game with an old-school approach to difficulty borderline impossible at times – even on easiest settings. Thankfully, this is easily remedied through either picking up a cheap PC compatible controller or purchasing the Nintendo Switch edition of the game; it is worth noting that this edition doesn’t include the Steam Workshop features, however, for obvious reasons.

The game’s plot, which is presented through some admittedly superbly drawn retro pixel-art cutscenes, is pretty straightforward and I found that, despite their prettiness, being bombarded with walls of text at the end of an otherwise exciting level made me pretty eager to skip them; particularly in some of the longer story segments. It would also be nice to have the option to change the in-game font as, although the blocky text is undeniably authentic, I found it a bit hard to read at times. These criticisms may seem to be a little nit-picky, but there’s really very little wrong with the game besides these minor niggles.

Verdict:


When it comes to retro-styled platformers, this is certainly one of the best we’ve seen yet. It may not entirely reinvent the wheel conceptually but Panzer Paladin still has a host of fantastic features and a great art direction. Any fans of the genre will certainly appreciate a particularly well crafted set of maps, some killer music and gameplay which has undeniably been tweaked to perfection.


Just so you’re aware! In order to facilitate a review this product was given to our organisation free of charge.

Killer Chambers – Review


Disclosure: To aid this review a copy of  Killer Chambers was provided free of charge by Village Bench


Killer Chambers is in many ways a wholly unique kind of bullet hell plat-former. Ditching the traditional sprawling arenas that have come to define the genre for minuscule micro-chambers, the levels force you to manoeuvre a highly claustrophobic environment, dodging a plethora of deadly traps as a timer excruciatingly ticks down to your release.

From a game-play perspective, Killer Chambers is relatively simple. You have the arrow keys that control your movements in the cardinal directions, including crouching, and a jump button. These help you evade everything from shooting projectiles to laser beams which are fired at regular intervals in patterns and combinations in each room. With practically unlimited lives (and extremely quick deaths!) the fun of Killer Chambers comes from learning the almost musical rhythm behind each set of traps.

Each stage offers three levels of difficulty which range from somewhat infuriating to downright impossible, and are sure to offer even the most hardened bullet-hell fanatic a tough time. There are five worlds to conquer, each with an incredibly difficult boss fight and a unique visual style.

The inclusion of shops in which you can spend your hard earned in-game gold is a nice addition, allowing you to purchase hats that drastically alter game-play to keep your experience fresh and often providing a slightly easier path to completing rooms.

Despite such items, you will still die. A lot. This is by design and the game deliberately punishes you for failure with a meter that increases each time you die. When full, you’re transported to a dark alternate realm with its own set of unique rooms to beat. Although this may sound particularly annoying, I often found this forced change of level very refreshing and kept repeating the same room over and over again from seeming quite so monotonous.

Further breaking up the experience is the story which is presented through delightful little dialogue boxes in-between levels. Entertaining writing with a cast of surprisingly developed characters and a lot of genuine laugh out loud moments make the short segments of story one of Killer Chambers’ best attributes. Seriously, the writing punches well above its weight and often the wish to see the next cut-scene gave me the motivation to keep going through the most difficult parts of the game.

The comic-tone of the dialogue and characters is complimented by the cheerful chip-tune soundtrack, which although somewhat repetitive at times is certainly satisfactory. It is nevertheless impressive that any music at all managed to be crammed into the game’s absolutely microscopic 85MB download size which, combined with its meagre running requirements, is sure to keep it a mainstay on all of your PCs.

With a great deal of replay value, a huge variety of levels and some of the best writing we’ve seen in an indie title, Killer Chambers is a game that despite its gruelling difficulty manages to be accessible, highly rewarding and extremely memorable.

Did we mention that Killer Chambers has a price of admission lower than your average sandwich? At only £3.99 on Steam, Killer Chambers is an essential purchase for anyone who wants a great value title which is sure to keep them coming back for years to come.

Max Payne – How writer Sam Lake’s face came to define one of the most iconic characters of a generation

Anyone who has even glimpsed gameplay of Remedy‘s Max Payne knows that face. The iconic look of a man having just eaten a lemon that appeared plastered over protagonist Max’s polygonic profile throughout your playtime. A facade so iconic it’s endured two console generations, a mobile port and even been poorly replicated in a Mark Wahlberg film. It’s a pretty perfect profile for a violent vigilante but did you know that this physiognomic phenomenon actually has an amusing anecdote attached.

The look of biting into a lemon more bitter than Max’s past

To understand the origins of Max’s mug it’s important to know something about the climate of game development way back in the mid to late 90s when Remedy‘s ideas for a new third-person shooter title first arose. In a world where the multi-million dollar budgets of your entertainment seem to increase year on year it’s hard to remember a time where game developers were not corporations with thousands upon thousands of employees but rather a small group of guys and gals on a hamstring budget trying to cobble together the best game they could.

A graph showcasing development budgets source: venturebeat.com

That’s not to say they didn’t do a good job. In fact, developers in the 90s with their miniscule budgets managed to make games that are a damn sight better than the titles today into which millions upon millions is poured. For a particularly relevant example, just look at Max Payne 3. Max Payne 3 cost over 115 Million US$ and although it is undeniably a great game, it just can’t compare to the first in the series accomplished with a mere 3 Million2.

The development of the first Max Payne was a very careful game of compromise. One of the biggest compromises was made with the cut scenes which, although intended to be rendered in-engine, became real life photographs filtered and set out in the now iconic comic-book style.

Whilst using photos is visually more impressive and far cheaper than rendered cut scenes it did open up the need for models to portray the characters. As the comic panels were static images, and had narration placed over the top of them, it allowed the studio to skip out on hiring professional actors. Why spend all that extra cash hiring someone to model stills when you can come up with a far more creative solution.

Enter the Remedy staff who, along with their friends, families, distant long lost relatives and pretty much anyone they could convince to come along with them, ended up becoming the game’s impromptu models. The game’s lead writer, Sam Lake, took the starring role as the titular hero and, looking at the end result, it was a match made in heaven.

A even lesser known is the fact the game’s villain, Nicole Horne, was Lake’s mother which puts a new and slightly uncomfortable spin on the hero-villain dynamic.

Although only a character model, with Max’s voice portrayed by the excellent James McCaffrey, Lake’s impact on the character is palpable. It’s safe to say that Max Payne just wouldn’t carry the same B film charm without him.

How useful is this information? Not very. I suppose it could save you quite a fright if you bumped into Lake while you’re holidaying in Finland and thought that your childhood videogames were somehow coming to life; perhaps as a twisted form of revenge for all those years you never cleaned the discs. No, more than anything this little story into Max Payne’s development highlights a sense of humanity that may have been lost in the modern age of game development – an age where games no longer come with anecdotes.


References:

1https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_most_expensive_video_games_to_develop
2https://www.gamespot.com/articles/remedy-talks-max-payne-1-and-max-payne-2/1100-6337795/