Panzer Paladin is a 14 year old’s wet dream: you get to travel to exotic parts of the globe fighting cryptozoological and mythological creatures in a giant robot suit, consequence-free. You can sell insane weapons to upgrade your mech, GRIT, into an ultimate killing machine, and when you’re not selling weapons you’re shattering them to release the diabolical magic spells contained within them. Jump, duck and dive past your enemies’ attempts to annihilate you, or block and parry a well-timed strike to turn the tables and hit back with a killer blow. You can even become a blacksmith and design your own weapons! If this came out when I was a kid I would have done practically anything to play it.
With three different difficulty tiers and a gameplay structure inspired by an era of brutal 8-bit and 16-bit games (although thankfully more forgiving on the checkpoint front) Panzer Paladin is one of those games you could spend an entire summer obsessing over. Even now I will accidentally punch through a wall and uncover a hidden weapon, and it only excites me more that there are more secrets to be found. Panzer Paladin has a magnetic draw about it and I think it comes from a place of nostalgia. Because of this, it won’t feel like an instant hit for everyone but it’s bound to satisfy anyone past their 30s.
Panzer Paladin is the most advanced GameBoy game of the 21st Century. If it came out in 1999 it would have been lightyears a head of its time. That might sound silly to some but what Tribute Games have achieved here is an experience that would have been a serious contender for my time as a youth if it came out two decades ago. I might not ever have picked up Pokemon Red if Panzer Paladin was on the cards. It has a complexity about it that is absent from its pedigree. That complexity is obviously a culmination of game design cultivated over years of experimentation, and it’s extremely unlikely back then that developers had the technical knowledge or hardware to pull off what Panzer Paladin does today.
I know it may seem unfair to compare Panzer Paladin to a game that came out the same year Titanic dominated the box office but playing it was a bit like entering a time machine: It reminded me of the days when you would save all your pocket money for that one anticipated game of the year, and you would spend every waking minute playing it. Not only because it was the only game you had but because you wanted to know all its secrets. You wanted to nail every boss perfectly. Now, as a grown-ass man with a beard, a wife, a dog and a fabric business, that twinkle of timeless joy is lost on me. However, for a split second Panzer Paladin sent me back in time and I was a kid again, sitting in the arm chair in my mum and dad’s living room, all cozy under the corner lamp, my GameBoy bouncing back the glare like a dirty green mirror. And you know what I felt?