Monday, October 2

Review: Pankapu [ Nintendo Switch eShop ]

Pankapu is an action / platforming adventure title where you take on the role of a hero who is (eventually) able to change forms to solve jumping puzzles, defeat enemies, slay some bosses, and spend entirely too much time dying for aggravatingly stupid reasons. You see, though the art direction in the game is fabulous, and there’s a surprising amount of verbiage dedicated to trying to establish a lore around the characters you meet and artifacts you find… it unfortunately can only do so much to redeem the often flawed gameplay.

Starting with the positives the art direction in Pankapu looks like it pulled a page from the latest Rayman titles. Everything is whimsical and well-detailed, the colors are often vibrant, and there are even small details you can pick out often that show love and effort. The enemy and hero character animations are also fabulous and look great whether in motion or in still screen shots.The thing is, in some regards it is those same great animations that I think help bring the game down.

A great example of one of the problems in the game is your sword throw when you play in your Warrior mode. The throw animation looks great but it also takes a bit of time to execute and whenever you use it you’ll find yourself sitting there vulnerable for a few seconds. During that time whether you mash your buttons, get hit by an enemy, or whatever else you’re staying in that pose. This is also true when you use your downward sword move and take a moment to recover from that as well. What you’ll find is that for being a brave and capable warrior in all configurations you’ll tend to find and need to live with things you’d expect you should be able to do but you can’t. You have no forward attack as a Warrior because your sword throw key is the same one you’ll use for your downward attack and you can’t use your shield while you’re in the air, in your Archer form you are unable to simply shoot up or even at an upward angle. This isn’t an accident, it is absolutely by design, but it is limiting and frustrating as it often makes things far more difficult than they need to be.

That brings us into the level design that seems to suffer from a split personality. The checkpoints you’ll hit in Pankapu are a mystery in their planning throughout the game. You’ll often breeze through a few and wonder why you needed a new one already but then in other cases you’ll hit a difficult stretch that you’ll get stuck on for eons where there seems to be a sensible spot where one could have been, but instead you’re left to try to survive through some combination of painful obstacles. Contributing in this same space is the fact that your character is unusually fragile, having a health meter that can grow as the game progresses but that takes unusual damage. Getting hit by projectile took 1.5 diamonds from your health and hitting thorns took 1.25 in a particular stretch where I decided to start taking note. This choice seems peculiar and manufactured only to increase the odds of you dying while making as few mistakes as possible. Health scarcity is also an issue as aside from lone diamonds of health will show up randomly every once in a great while the only other way to heal is to get to those same checkpoints. When you put this together with the unusually long and brutal segments in places, the disappearing platforms over stretches of bottomless pits, and a number of situations where limitations in your moveset complicate your ability to either attack or defend yourself properly as you move from platform to platform it too often makes for an exercise in frustration.

Pankapu does seem to try to compensate with carrots to go with that stick in the form of the gorgeous artwork, glimpses of some greater story that you’ll want to fully reveal, and a pretty abundant amount of lore. Unfortunately those are mere baby carrots against practically a redwood tree full of aggravation. In many regards even though it has a very modern look its gameplay execution reminds me most of old 8-bit action / platformers with awkward and stilted controls mixing with level design that is in desperate need of tuning and rebalancing. I think it’s the irregular damage amounts you take that compound my irritation. Rather simply having you take damage of 1 from all threats they’ve gone back in and made variable tweaks so that your health gauge doesn’t mean very much at a quick glance, to know what you can survive from where you are in the level you’d need to pull out a conversion chart. None of this is to say that the game is impossible to beat, just that the process of doing so too often feels like a manufactured ordeal where your tools for being effective are deliberately compromised.

Score: 6

  • The artwork in the game is polished and gorgeous
  • Some elements of character design and execution are excellent
  • If you enjoy old school action platformers this may feel familiar

  • Checkpoints are irregularly placed, varying from stupidly easy to reach to aggravatingly difficult
  • The health system has been played with in a way that make the gauge useless in many ways unless you’re keeping track of the fractional damage each type of attack inflicts
  • For all of their visual flair the heroes in Pankapu lack fluidity and versatility in battle, with their well-animated attacks feeling stilted and too often leaving you vulnerable for the wrong reasons