Like I mentioned earlier, Pankapu will be released on the 21st of September.
Which is today. Yay.
I have played the game for about 3 hours up until I came to a roadblock that I will explain later. Don’t know if said block was poor design or a flaw that is unique to the pre-build. In either case, expect a timely review now and a thorough review later this week. Once I beat episode one, I will have even more info and insight as to what I think of the “ending”. Yes. There will be spoilers. Not in this review but in the next one. You have been warned.
Before I get into the Good, Bad, and Summary of my gameplay experience thus far, let me recap briefly on how I got this game so early. Like many of the indie reviews I do, the source comes to me rather then the other way around. And as is becoming fairly common for me, the messaging system of choice tends to be through my profile on LinkedIn.com. I was approached by a representative of Too Kind Games and was asked to review it. Upon accepting, I was given a press kit with the pretty pictures you are about to see and a steam code. Perks of being a game reviewer, I suppose.
If you haven’t read my previous post yet, let me recap what this game is about. Real quick; boy has PTSD, his dad cheers him up with a bedtime story, story is about dreamland being taken over by nightmares until dream god creates a hero to save that world RPG platformer style. There. Your all caught up now.
Pankapu is a kickstarter project of a very small indie studio called Too Kind Games, is the dream product of two talented frenchmen, and has been released for the PC as well as pretty much any next gen console you can afford. There is even hints about it being for NX, so you’ll be able to download it if and when you get it for Christmas.
Okay, as always we start nice and positive. Here’s what went right.
The game in question can be as smooth and polished as you’d expect. It’s an indie game for sure, but one with low-maintenance graphics that feature beautiful artwork, flowing animations, and responsive control schemes that are intuitive to master. So intuitive in fact that the game manages to keep handholding tutorials down to a bare minimum; a godsend in the age of annoying information blips every time you try something new. All in all, maneuvering between enemies and platform is easy enough, and the challenges can require great precision without being unfair. That in and of itself is a staple of good design.
The narrative seems a little too simple at first, right up until you remember that the game itself is actually a child listening to a bedtime story. The game reminds you of this subtly with characters that resemble people who for the sake of this game’s meta story exist “in the real world”. Even when you level up your hero with new magical abilities, you get sparse flashbacks that tell the story of what exactly happened that made the child listening to the adventures of Pankapu wind up with real nightmares. This promises to come together at the end to provide a real sense of closure to what is bound to be a tragic tale of trauma and rehabilitation.
I wasn’t able to play all three character classes yet, but got a good feel for the one called “Bravery”. Its basically when your hero dressed up like a crimson knight complete with shining armor (beautifully drawn shining armor, I might add) a sword you can throw, and a shield that absorbs attacks to restore your magic. It’s annoying to see places where your hero can’t reach because it lacks the ability to “double jump” as promised by the green archer class, but you can always work with what you are given up to a certain point.
The lighting effects of this game contrast sharply and add subtle effects when needed and dramatic effects when appropriate and impressive. The music is soft and peaceful enough to be engaing without being annoying. The levels are well designed, and while it is sometimes tough to play, the game is always fair in a way that tests your skills rather then your patience.
That’s it for the good. Now for the other stuff.
Just like I called it, the gameplay narrative is EXTREMELY reliant on cutscenes that aren’t so much cutscenes but slightly animated graphic novels with moving text. The only human voice you can understand is the narration of the father telling the story. Everything else is either mute, or speaks in sound effect gibberish, while you rush through a non-rewindable wall of text that you can easily skip over without meaning too. What’s worse is the annoying habit of the narrator to deviate from the storybook text printed on the page. It’s a minor complaint, especially given the developer’s lean resources, but I can’t help but feel a little confused and snapped out of the moment when I see the game spell one line of text and hear the narrator say something else that is the same but completely different. You never lose the gist of what is happening, but I still would like to hear the father read the story in front of my eyes and not in the designer’s head.
Like I said earlier, the story of the actual game is a little bland. If you ever played a video game since the 80s, you know the basic narrative pretty well, and the plot doesn’t get interesting without the flashbacks or the meta underneath. What’s worse is that some of the characters can be annoying. The spider sidekick you get stuck with seems to quote the obvious a lot, and is the kind of annoying guide that hasn’t bugged gamers since Navii. See Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for details on that infamous character.
While the spider has some moments here and there, even the good parts of the game fail to make up for what appears to be a very severe design flaw. I can honestly say I would not be able to complete the game even if I tried. Unless they update this one major flaw or I find a way around it (will let you know if that’s the case), I find that while exploring a deep cave, one with ledges and platforms jutting out of the walls, there is literally one space that is JUST OUT OF REACH. I cannot jump high enough with my current abilities, and the game will not let me progress without making the impossible jump. Literally an impossible jump is blocking me from completing a single level in the game. To call it a game breaking bug is an understatement, and it needs addressing ASAP if its worth even a dollar to play, let alone 5. Hopefully, by the time you read this article, they will have addressed it in time for you to buy the game.
That’s the Bad. Time to wrap things up.
All things aside, if they can fix that one game-breaking bug this game is worth much more then the five dollars advertised. Even if this is episode one, it promises to be worthy your money and your time. It takes real guts to start an indie project like this, and these guys bang out an awesome product that would make and humble bundle an awesome holiday gift by virtue of gracing it with its presence. By itself, I would pay three times this amount for the experience it offers, and despite having some dark undertones, this game is bound to be a family favorite for the budget conscious.
The only thing holding this game back from being an instant classic besides that one bug (which they can fix with a 5 minute update) is the fact that the bedtime story narrative is a little weak and some of the narration doesn’t sink up. Both can be fixed easily by tweaking some of the text elements in the game in a way that perfects the already glorious design.
That’ll end this review. Next up on my list is a game from Telltale, about another kind of knight…
See you then!