Playing Pankapu Is like Playing a Beautiful Storybook. A Really, Really Hard Storybook.

OVERVIEW

Pankapu is the hardest new game I’ve played in a long time.  It’s not bad hard, like Silver Surfer for the NES, where terrible controls make the game frustrating.  The controls are amazingly tight. It’s devious hard.  It tests your platforming mettle in a multitude of ways, and I found myself continuing through death after death without a second thought… it’s that engaging.

That is some boss art style.

Developed by Too Kind Studio, Pankapu is the very definition of an action platformer, hearkening back to the days of Mario and Mega Man.  The player takes the titular role of Pankapu, a being called a Dreamkeeper, who is tasked with saving the land from evil.  There’s another layer of story here, as the entire game is set in a child’s troubled dreams.  That’s there if you want it, and it does add depth, but it wasn’t a focus or motivator for me.

Pankapu feels very familiar, and that’s a great thing.

GAMEPLAY

The primary hook of Pankapu is switching between the three forms for the player character.  Pankapu starts as a knight (Bravery), with a melee attack and shield, and through his various trials, gains (and loses at some points), two other forms, an archer (Ardor) and mage (Faith).  All three forms have unique capabilities and attacks and play very differently.

Where the developers shook it up is how you change between the forms.  Once you gain a second form, the swap is instant with a button press.  That seems typical, but you quickly run into situations where it’s absolutely necessary.  Swapping forms mid-jump becomes a requirement.  Shield block with Bravery, swap to Ardor, dash through the enemy’s defense, swap back to Bravery to deliver a killing blow.  

Platforming, anyone?  I’m guessing we should avoid the purple shocky stuff.

It’s complex, but not punishing, again thanks to the tight controls.  It rewards mastery, which really gives the player a sense of accomplishment.  When I finally beat the second world boss on my (I’m guessing, but in the ballpark) 72nd attempt, I actually shouted triumphantly and did a fist pump.  That’s an experience I haven’t had with a game in a long time.

GRAPHICS & DESIGN

This game is gorgeous.  It’s a visual treat from start to finish, with amazing colors, amazing linework on the art, smooth animations, and dynamic panel-style cut-scenes.  The art alone makes this game worth playing.  

I can’t say enough good things about the aesthetic of this game!

The level design is outright nefarious at times.  There are many, many leaps of faith required, both in the normal gameplay path, and to find hidden secret items.  The controls being so responsive assist in staying engaged through the challenges.  When I failed, I felt like (rightly) I made a mistake, as opposed to the game not registering an input.

Thankfully, there are checkpoints generously placed throughout the levels!

The one minor gripe I have with the design (and really, it’s the only thing I can find fault with in the entire game) is that Pankapu himself is essentially an Orko/Black Mage/Marvin the Martian copy, but that is an iconic look, and it fits beautifully with the style. It simply stands out as slightly less original than the rest of the material here.

Pankapu’s model is slightly derivative, but that only stands out due to the amazing design work throughout.

MUSIC

As noted, you die a lot in this game.  Pankapu pulls out all the stops to keep you going, but it has one very subtle trick that makes all the difference.  I didn’t notice at first, but the music does not stop or restart a loop when you die and reload, like practically every other game out there.  The same musical track continues to play underneath the death animation, the loading screen, and seamlessly continues into the next attempt.

On that note (pun intended), the music locks in with the visual aesthetic in a very pleasing way.  It’s very ambient and calming, which really helped me from getting too frustrated.  The composer, Matthieu Lobiere, definitely knew what he was doing with this game, and the music perfectly supports the design of the title.  It’s one of my favorite soundtracks of the past year, so much that I bought it on Steam to listen to while I worked.

CONCLUSION

Pankapu is an incredible experience, not just a game.  It’s a feast for the eyes, controls beautifully, and provides a lot of challenge.  The game greatly rewards you for success, but doesn’t hold your hand or do you any favors.  That’s really the only  drawback… if you can’t handle a hard game, this isn’t going to be for you.  But, if you love taking on a challenge, there is so much great gameplay, art, and music here to experience.  I assure you, it’s worth it.

Platform – Nintendo Switch eShop Download, Steam
Developer – Plug In Digital
Publisher – Too Kind Studio
Price – $11.99
Genre – Action Platformer
Size – 1.7GB

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