“It’s hard to mess up a cute 2D platformer.”
Well, that’s what I used to think, at least. Panda Punch, from Ratalaika Games and Ninja Rabbit Studio, manages to fail at its basic design premise: it’s not a good platformer, it doesn’t trigger nostalgia, and it’s not enjoyable. It’s more or less an uninspired, monotonous experience that goes on and on without realizing it just needs to stop.
Panda Punch borrows a lot from the games that ruled the 8 & 16-bit generations — Mega Man, Super Mario World, Duck Tales, Sonic the Hedgehog. It often grabs ideas (downward punches, earning the powers of bosses,) but doesn’t understand that each of those games had purpose in why their mechanics worked the way they did. Panda Punch seems to just steal a cool idea and mash it with another cool idea, and hope it works somewhere. But it’s lacking that coherence, that consistency, that makes all of these work. And most importantly, it’s lacking the simplicity. It’s a game that’s so over encumbered with making cool ideas that it makes things needlessly frustrating.
Why are even the initial areas, where players tend to learn the mechanics of how a game controls, filled with bad gameplay? The main character’s “weight” makes jumps feel off, and drives us to have to retry what should be a simple jump over and over again because we fall back to a midpoint. Most enemies are placed so that they hit us before we even see them. Pits and spikes are placed seemingly at random. And perhaps most indicative of the issues, why should I have to punch a heart container several times to break it open? It should all be easier, cleaner, and simpler.
The game claims to have 50+ levels, but they’re really just a couple of biomes with the assets rearranged. There’s nothing memorable about any of them and they all blur together, and they feel like Unity assets bought in a bundle looking for a place to be used. It’s tiring.
At best Panda Punch is a frustrating drudge, but it rarely ever makes it to that point without leaving us tired and lost in the woods.
This review is based on a Steam code sent to SideQuesting by the publisher. It originally appeared on the March 1st episode of The SideQuest. All images and video courtesy Ratalaika Games.