The late 80’s and the early 90’s were the heyday for the side-scrolling platformer. I think that’s really when the games finally settled on many of the elements that would make up the core design of games in the genre. Sonic the Hedgehog, Mario, Bonk, Rayman and many others all got their starts during that time and people have a fondness for those titles to this day. The first game from developer Too Kind Studio is called Pankapu and it hearkens back to those early days of the platformer, but adds a few modern elements to the game to make something magical.
The game is presented through the guise of a children’s story. It opens up with a father reading a book to their child. The book just happens to be called Pankapu and tells the story of a Dream Warrior who is trying to save the land of Omnia from the evil of a monster known as Gangreyn. The story throws a lot of names and lore at you quickly and at times it can be hard to keep track of, but as a vehicle for getting you to push farther into the game it worked really well. I found myself just sitting back and listening as the father read the story of the game to his child.
As for the game play itself the platforming is pretty standard. You’ll jump gaps, attack enemies, find secrets areas and then come back to places you’ve visited before as you gain new powers. Initially you start out as Pankapu and have the ability to wield a sword and a shield. As you progress you’ll gain new powers such as the ability to throw your sword to attack enemies from a distance or slam your sword down into the ground from above to attack monsters in small spaces. These special attacks will consume a meter that can be refilled by blocking enemy attacks with your shield. There’s a fine balance between being on the offensive and holding back to refill your special attack meter.
Reaching checkpoints, of which there are many in the levels, will allow you to refill your health and get a chance for a much needed rest. The checkpoints are usually behind places filled with lots of enemies or challenging platforming sections so having the small chance for a breather is nice to have. As you get closer to the end of the game you’ll gain the ability to transform into different versions of Pankapu. One will give you a bow and the ability to double jump, but it comes at the cost of being very fragile and taking large amounts of damage. One other turns Pankapu into a wizard who can unleash small area of effect attacks and float long distances to cross large gaps.
The game really opens up once you get access to all three powers at once. At that point the developers go crazy with fun level designs that incorporate all three elements together. For example the Knight version of Pankapu weighs so much that he breaks crystals beneath him. There will be a set of thorny vines in a hole below that. You’ll have to use the knight to break the crystal and then switch to the archer version of Pankapu to get a double jump as you’re falling. Other times they’ll have enemies placed so that you’ll need to double jump to reach them and as soon as you land on a platform you’ll have to switch to the knight to block a projectile. Boss fights also incorporate these abilities in interesting ways, such as the giant dog that you fight where magnets are on the wall that the knight can latch onto and then double jump over the dog because of his height. Then when you land you can use the wizard abilities to freeze time and attack the boss.
Visually the game is simply beautiful. It evokes thoughts of games like Rayman Legends, a boy and his blob, Shantae, and other highly colorful platformers. The characters all melt away as you attack them, magic effects, fire and other elemental bits all have highly detailed effects.
There are some things that hurt the experience some. The difficulty, much like platformers of old, has some serious spikes. Some points you’ll fly right through levels with no problems only to hit a wall when a section seems nearly impossible to overcome or bosses don’t display any patterns to recognize or areas where you can sneak through attacks. They’re few and far between, but when you encounter them you’ll find yourself raging. I had to put the game down a couple times and come back to it later. Usually when I did I was able to clear the sections in question pretty easily. There are also some bits to the overall presentation of the game that just seem to get in the way. Menus filled with bits that seem to have no point or give you seemingly unnecessary information. Some of it is nice to read, but I didn’t find myself checking those pages often. They’re presented in a nice story book style, but to get to some of the more important menus you have to scroll past those pages and it just takes valuable time. Switching back and forth between Pankapu’s different forms can sometimes be a hassle. It’s tied to the bumpers on the controller and you really have to know the exact order of the appearance of the different forms. It would have been nice to be able to tie them to separate buttons so you could choose the one you want every time without having to scroll through them.
Overall Pankapu was a very fun game that took me close to 12 hours to get through. There is plenty of backtracking to be done once you gain access to all three of the different forms that Pankapu can take. I would have liked to see more platforming done that utilized all three of Pankapu’s forms. It’s a beautiful game that is full of nostalgic elements with modern, updated visuals and elements. If you love platformers and you’re looking for something to play now that you’ve finished Rayman and we’re a few weeks away from a new Mario game you should check this one out.
Review copy of the game provided by the developer.
Played through the full game
Total Play Time: 12 hours