Pankapu (Xbox One Review)
I’m an old hand at platforming. 2D jumping and fighting just feel like home to me. I grew up on them, after all. I pretty much ate, slept and breathed Sonic as a kid, nevermind all the time I spent on Alex Kidd, Mega Man and Castlevania over the years.
By that token, Pankapu is a little home away from home. It’s got its share of modern trappings, but by and large it’s a relic of a time when games came on big blocks of plastic and Sonic was still good.
Jumping from platform to platform, you’ll slash, shoot and zap your way through Pankapu‘s vibrant, eye-catching world taking the form of one of three avatars of the main character. The influences are clear, a course of Trine with a dash of Castlevania, but with a unique art style and a little bit of a slower pace.
Pankapu is a very methodical game, for the most part. It requires you to take your time, and often enforces this by ensuring you can’t actually see what’s waiting for you when you land on the next platform or make it up to a new height. This is mostly done via panning, and sometimes by obscuring details with foreground details. This also adds a bit of cheeky difficulty to the whole affair as you can often accidentally run face-first into hidden bad guys. And it’s a symptom of one of Pankapu‘s biggest issues.
The game design on show here is a tad silly at times. Unavoidable bad guys, difficulty spikes, very little broadcasting of what a player is supposed to do. That last one is forgivable, obviously, but might be a bit brutal for new gamers. The formers? They can make Pankapu extremely frustrating. Especially with contrast to how easy certain parts of the game can be, even later on, luring you into a false sense of security before savaging you with a boss. This might be intentional, but it still put my controller in grave danger once or twice.
Over the course of the game you’ll unlock or acquire a set of new abilities and attacks, mostly for making your way around the game’s beautifully realised environments. You learn to double jump, stick to walls, glide, freeze deadly obstacles to get past. Like a true Metroidvania game, your skills and abilities continuously grow and evolve, keeping the gameplay varied and engaging.
But while the gameplay is interesting and well executed, it’s also by-the-numbers. Pankapu does very little to make itself stand out from the crowd of similar 2D action platformers. Yet another game where you can double jump, cling to walls, magnetise to specific surfaces to walk on ceilings. You name a movement skill from Symphony of the Night and Pankapu probably has some version of it split amongst it’s avatars.
Speaking of which, one of the most interesting additions to Pankapu‘s arsenal is the ability to switch between bodies at will, Trine style. Doing so gives you access to a whole set of new abilities. This is where the majority of Pankapu‘s movement skills come from, and you’ll often need to string together movement skills with switching up avatar mid-air on the fly in order to glide to safety or leap out of the way of an enemy.
It’s a good challenge, but it can also be fiddly and annoying given how you’re expected to select which set of abilities you want to be using at any given time. You scroll linearly through your avatars with the shoulder buttons, instead of having avatars bound to specific buttons. In the middle of a jump it can be very easy to forget which button will take you to which avatar and get murdered.
Another thing that might prove frustrating is an issue I encountered with stuttering that got me killed more than a few times mid-jump. It’s probably a bug as it only happened during one of my play sessions, but it’s worth keeping in mind.
It’s particularly infuriating later on when boss fights rely on this feature and a single confused button press will undo all of the fight progress you’ve made.That said, a player that properly memorises and masters this will not have any issues. It’s more of a failure to account for human error than an error on the developer’s part.
Overall, Pankapu is not a failure. It’s a very good looking, competent 2D action platformer with a decent amount of content (it originated as an episodic game) and design that ranges from infuriatingly difficult to mind-numbingly simple. Unfortunately, none of this makes it particularly unique or interesting.
Chances are you’ll have a good time playing Pankapu if you pick it up, but it’s very unlikely that anyone will be putting it on their list of best games ever made. It’s good, not great, and slightly lets down its beautiful art style with its unremarkable gameplay.
Pankapushing it’s way into the console space, this episodic platformer lacks innovation.