In the era of gaming we find ourselves in today, it’s easy to forget that you don’t need intricate storylines, or character development. You don’t need lifelike realistic graphics and eyeball melting special effects. Twenty years ago, generations of kids and adults were glued to their console screens making blue hedgehogs or Italian plumbers jump around the screen avoiding repetitively pathing enemies. This is why it has been such a joy playing Pankapu, developed by Too Kind Studio. Pankapu feels like a classic console platform game with all the benefits of crisp 21st Century graphics.
The story starts with a beautiful idyllic land called Omnia, The Land of Dreams. Djaha’rell, a boy is being told a story by his father of the shadow warrior Pankapu, the Dreamkeeper. When nightmarish creatures invaded the peaceful lad of Omnia, Pankapu was created to destroy the darkness. Of course, when I say nightmarish I mean in a sort of Disney way, think Kingdom Hearts not Dark Souls. Pankapu, a being that looks a bit like Zool in a roman centurion uniform must find his friends, and using the skills they teach him rescue the dreamland of Omnia from this nightmare.
Storyline-wise you can’t really go wrong with dark forces attacking a peaceful land and only one person able to stop it. It’s a tried and true format. Sure, it loses a few points on the originality scale, but for a platformer with a non-changeable story they’ve clearly focused their attention where it needed to be. Namely, on the other elements of the game, in a platformer like Pankapu gameplay is more important than an epic involved story.
It’s also worth noting that the game is episodic, and each extra chapter after the first costs a bit of cash. There are only two episodes at the moment but they promise more to follow. Not a great fan of this approach but there you go.
At its core Pankapu is a platform game. Pure and simple the format hasn’t really been mess about with. As the Shadow Warrior you have to jump up or across the various levels killing or avoiding enemies and using your increasing repertoire of skills to avoid any hazards. The first few levels teach you about Pankapu and the basic skills he has at his command.
As the storyline continues you come across new hazards and new friends who teach you more abilities. Throwing your sword and smashing through areas with your sword are the first two. There are also ways to increase your damage and health by finding monoliths and crystals. In short the Shadow Warrior you start with will not be the same basic Shadow Warrior you become.
The biggest change that any growing Shadow Warrior will have is the finding and activation of different Aegis. You start with the sword and the shield Aegis, which is supposed to represent Bravery. There is also the Ardor Aegis which gives Pankapu a bow used for long-range attacks and sidestepping through obstacles, and a Faith wand that uses magic to attack, float over gaps and heal. Once you have unlocked these Aegis’ you can switch between them at any time to solve the various puzzles that the levels will throw at you. Sometimes the solution is not so obvious and you’ll have to think creatively.
The reason for the continual development of your character is that the levels themselves are always trying to kill you. There are moving and disappearing platforms, spikes, deadly water and sheer drops, and barricades which only certain skills can get you past. You have a small health bar of hearts which go down a little every time an enemy hits you or you land on a hazard. Lose all your health and you restart from the last checkpoint. The deadly water and drops kills you instantly so it’s always worth timing your jumps correctly.
The gameplay is a stunning piece of nostalgia, and racking up 3 hours of play on my first try without being able to put the controller down speaks for itself.
What can I say, the graphics are beautiful? As soon as I started playing the game, the art style and brilliantly crisp look to everything from the main character, background and enemies, through the comic book style cut-scenes that push the story along, captivated me. It was the equivalent of having your sight massaged by a kitten wearing suede gloves. It’s just pretty.
It’s like they took a platformer from my childhood and smoothed out all the pixels and polygons. It’s sheer nostalgic platforming prettiness.
For me the difficulty increased gradually, maybe I was channeling my dexterous younger me who was raised on games like this, but I didn’t find myself stuck on anyone thing for long. At the start you have several health hearts and very few instant death situations, more levels in and there are whole areas where one slip-up can mean a restart.
Sure, there are some bits where you have to be a little too precise in your controls or you die. This lead to a few near misses in regards to rage-pad smashing for me but you’ll always find some areas like that in platform games, and always should. Control
As a platform game, areas such as different storylines or different ways to play your character are not available in Pankapu which makes reasons to come back and play a little lacking. For the more completionist of you out there, there are a number of Mudjins, little almost emoji looking things that represent joy in Omnia hidden throughout each level. There are bonuses if you do find them all, but how long is this hunt going to stretch the replayability?