Fantasy platform games are hardly few and far between on the Xbox One store, but that’s not a bad thing by any means because this genre is more than flexible enough to justify the over-saturation. We’ve enjoyed some truly in-depth and captivating titles such as Ori and the Blind Forest and both of the Shantae installations, and on the other side of the spectrum we’ve endured some less than passable titles such as Mighty No. 9 and Cobalt. Pankapu sits somewhere between those additions, and although it misses the mark and falls short of greatness due to lingering issues and lack of depth, it’s surprisingly enjoyable nevertheless.
Pankapu is described as a neo-retro adventure that channels that 90’s platforming vibe in an oneiric world. The whole experience is told through the reading of a fable to child, in which the game has two levels of reading: the tale of Pankapu, epic and naive, and the one about Djaha’rell’s (the child) life, in the real-world, dark and tragic. Right off the bat I’m going to start by letting you know that the story isn’t at all interesting, in fact it’s quite boring and bland. It does nothing but linger in the hopes that it can attach your emotions to the characters within, but fails to do so either convincingly or correctly. Safe to say that if you’re looking for a platformer with a solid story concept, providing you haven’t played the above comparison titles, you should stick to those instead because Pankapu undeniably fails on this front.
Mercifully the actual gameplay and platforming is far removed from that criticism. You take on the role of the titular Pankapu throughout the entirety of play. You begin the game as a Warrior type character but as you make progress and sink deeper into the adventure, you’ll unlock two additional character types, Mage and Ranger. Once you’ve unlocked all of these abilities you’re able to switch between each type on the fly, and it’s right here where Pankapu shines at its brightest. Each type comes with unique perks and controls differently from the other class types, but it has to be said that all three types are collectively enjoyable and well designed. These implementations add variety to the combat and platforming, which are easily the best aspects in the game, by far.
The level design toys with the class types quite well, often pushing you into carefully deciding which type you should proceed with when you hit that proverbial brick wall. There’s a lot of variety when it comes to the theme and design of each level, and although they tend to vary quite drastically, they do indeed remain clear and colourful throughout. Pankapu isn’t overly hard to begin with but the difficulty curve does take it up a notch towards the second half of the game. This can range from more enemies, tougher platforming sections and even vertical screen sections that will push you into a tight spot if you’re not quick on your toes. That being said the checkpoint system is quite lenient, so if you do bite the dust, you’re never too far from your last failed attempt when you respawn. The camera is also zoomed in nice and close, giving you clear insight as to what’s happening on-screen.
Pankapu is further packed out with several collectables that can be obtained throughout each level, and although these are optional, they do prove to be useful via upgrading Pankapu to some small but noticeable degree. It’s almost as if developer ‘Too Kind Studio’ were trying to add a blanket layer of RPG into the mix, but this isn’t upheld by other aspects of the game to credit Pankapu for that. Take for instance the combat, although it’s certainly enjoyable to dispose of the several enemies within, you’re not rewarded for anything. You can see how hard you’re hitting them via hit-points, but there’s no XP handouts to soak up. Because of this I often found myself bypassing any enemy that I had the chance to outmanoeuvre, simply because you’re given nothing in return for your hard work.
Why risk taking on a band of foes when you can jump over them and reserve your life bar? Exactly. It’s a missed opportunity to say the least, and easily something that I suspect will be picked up by anyone who invests in this game. Another gripe of mine is the lack of enemy variants and weak enemy design. Much of your first hour of play will consist of fighting the ever so typical blob like enemies, all of which come in varying sizes and predictably split into small blobs once you strike them enough times. Don’t get me wrong there are other enemies (and better designed ones) as you climb deeper into the game, as well as interesting boss battles to take to, but nothing particularly stands out as memorable, which is a shame in the face of everything that Pankapu gets right.
Pankapu makes a valiant effort to squeeze into an already over-saturated genre and stand out, but it never truly feels unique enough to totally grab your attention. The gameplay is tight and responsive across all three class types that you can enjoy on the fly, and the gorgeous level design and visuals do well to toy with the types that you can take to. With that being said there’s a confusing RPG blanket that’s been thrown in via the hit-points and the character upgrades, but a complete lack of reward for beating down enemies makes this implementation almost pointless. Don’t get me wrong, as a platforming game alone Pankapu succeeds through excellent controls via combat and movement, but this isn’t enough to save the game from its faults. It doesn’t help that the story is boring and not at all interesting, but if you can overlook those flaws, you may be able to get more from this than I could. In summary, there are better platforming games on the Xbox One Store for the same price or less, so be sure to browse before you shop.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.