Pankapu (Nintendo Switch)

To be frank, I’ve been approaching Kickstarter funded games carefully over the past few years. The crowdfunding platform has no doubt turned up some amazing stuff, such as Shovel Knight, Shantae, Yooka Laylee (yes…I enjoyed it. Sue me.) , and most recently A Hat in Time. However, I can’t help but feel that there’s a couple of turds for every success. There’s even been numerous instances in which projects met or exceeded their goals, but the developers decided to just take the money and run as Youtuber Larry Bundy Jr points out in one video .

After seeing a few videos of Too Nice Studios’ Pankapu, I couldn’t say I was too impressed beyond the hand-drawn visuals.  I sat on it for a while, and after deciding that I needed a little something to play in waiting for Super Mario Odyssey to release, I went ahead and bought it since I’m such a sucker for the action/platform genre as well as hand-drawn graphics.

Honestly? I’m wishing I would have grabbed this one sooner.

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There’s no doubt about it- Pankapu is a treat for the eyes. The hand-drawn sprites and watercolor background here show that a lot of time went into giving the game a stellar presentation.

 

Pankapu’s story is told in a narrative format similar to that of a children’s storybook. While it’s the age-old “good versus evil” setup presented in just about every game of this genre, I can’t help but feel that they tried to make it more complicated than it should have been. There’s a ton of strange names, that “made-up” language in the dialogue sequences (similar to Klonoa), and a few wrinkles that aim to add depth to something I honestly feel did not need it. Platformers are seldom played for plot in the way that RPGS are, but it’s there for those who want it.

The game’s early stages and progression remind me heavily of the Rayman games. Fortunately, you can at least run, jump, and attack from the get-go with Pankapu. At first, there’s nothing that generates much interest. A few levels in, however, and you’ll begin to learn new moves and ultimately discover different forms that change the protagonist’s appearance and abilities. Not only that, but secrets will come into the equation (finally giving an incentive to explore the areas and not just rush through) as well as a ramped up difficulty. This is where Pankapu really begins to shine.

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This creature will grab Pankapu and chuck him backwards if he gets too close. Fortunately, once you unlock the first transformation, these guys become less daunting since arrows give the player far more range than a plain ol’ sword.

Each form Pankapu takes on has its pros and cons. For instance, the first allows him to double-jump as well as providing him with a bow-and-arrow that makes some monsters easier to defeat. Eventually, this sort of “archer” form ends up being the only one that allows the player to float along air currents as well as the only one light enough to travel across certain platforms. However, it doesn’t do nearly as much damage as the form the player starts the game with, and when wall-jumping and smashing up certain crystals comes into play…you’ll need to learn to switch forms. Knowing what form to use when becomes a key aspect in the platforming, puzzle sections and boss fights and it really helps set Pankapu apart from its competition in a market saturated with “retro-inspired” action and platform games. And, while this is by no means a Metroidvania game, the new transformations give reason to backtrack and find areas that were once unreachable and acquiring more collectibles.

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The level design usually does a good job of nodding the player towards what transformation would work best. Here, it’s obvious that being able to double jump and fire a ranged weapon would suffice. Then, it’s just a matter of making your way from Point A to B.

As mentioned before, Pankapu’s difficulty ramps up quite rapidly once you’ve cleared the first few areas. While getting the platforming and puzzle-solving sections just right often proves to be a satisfying experience, the combat is a little tame in comparison for a couple of reasons.

First, no matter how much your vitality increases (which will occur after defeating bosses and finding heart fragments cleverly tucked away in a handful of levels in each world), Pankapu can be taken down in three to five hits from just about anything. I’m not complaining or trying to say the game is too hard- the best platformers often leave little margin for error. However, it just doesn’t make sense to even have a life bar or a means of expanding it through exploration if it barely makes a difference in how much punishment the character can take. Second, there’s no incentive to fight the enemies other than to get them out of the way. They don’t drop items, nor is there an XP system. In most cases…you’re better off just avoiding combat altogether unless your adversaries are blocking off a certain path or platform that you need.

Despite these odd design choices, Pankapu still manages to be a joy to play thanks to its usually well-crafted levels, numerous secrets, and puzzle solving. There’s a lot here for the $10.99 asking price in comparison to many other games in the genre being released at this pricepoint (or, in some cases, for more than double the amount). If you can get past the needlessly complicated plot and the few quirks it has, Pankapu will prove to be a good time if you’re a fan of the genre. Not only that, but I think it’s safe to say this is a welcome addition to the slowly growing list of crowdfunded games that deliver handsomely (which, if the ratio of success to failure with Kickstarter is anything to go by, is a very good thing for those looking to take this route in game development).

The Good

+ Great level design and clever puzzles

+ Fantastic presentation

+ A lot of content for its asking price, especially when considering its competition

The Bad

– Plot is a little more complicated than it should have been for something in this genre (though this could be a good thing for those who want it)

– Some questionable design choices in the combat department

 

 

4 comments

  1. It’s good you mention about Kickstarter, Shovel Knight is awesome! I’ll play the socks out of it! There’s one other game I’m waiting from 90’s it’s Aquanox-Deep Descent. I’ll check Pankapu later big fan of platformers! 🙂

    Like

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