How Metroidvania is it? Medium Fit. Super Panda Adventures uses a level selection map and each level follows a specific formula that accentuates that structure. You still need to find abilities to unlock everything in each individual level however.
Primary Challenge: Melee Combat
Time to beat: ~9 hours
Review Info: Super Panda Adventures was played on Steam
Buy Super Panda Adventures if you like…
- Tons of Meaningful Collectables
- Leveling up and Customization
- Goofy satirical humor
- Difficult Bosses
▼ Review continues below ▼
With its budget price and general production values, I went into Super Panda Adventures expecting a Mini-Metroidvania, but instead found a very much full-length game that’s way overqualified for its paygrade. Its theming and story a simple lighthearted romp bordering on parody, matching those initial expectations more closely. If you like collecting Metroidvania upgrades however, its frequent rewards for your obsessive search into every corner of the map will doubtlessly leave your brain full of delicious dopamine, and it will do so for a great amount of time. While it’s certainly not without flaws, you’re going to get way more than your money’s worth if you’re just looking for a fun time.
Super Panda Adventures starts satirizing video game tropes right from the start. Your oblivious Panda hero is sent on a menial series of fetch quests as things immediately start to fall apart. Some robots kidnap the Panda princess and you’re tasked to travel excruciatingly long distances to try and save her. While all of the story beats are intentionally derivative, the cast of characters is still delightfully entertaining. Even as the game starts to get a little repetitive in the long run, you’ll still be looking forward to the next weird situation your quest will lead you to; and that’s really all a video game needs. While most of the game’s humor is based on tropes, it’s not just a series of referential callbacks to better games. At important key points the game subverts the cliches you’re probably familiar with resulting in some hilarious “why don’t characters in other stories do this?” situations. The characters and plot are cute enough that I even recommend playing on the easiest of the five difficulty modes mode just for a cheerful pick-me-up – if harder modes are too frustrating anyway.
The meat of the game is the exploration. While most games with leveling systems are more combat focused, you can find experience points just by wandering the map, letting a good bulk of your power come from this splendid activity and not just from grinding monsters. Enemies ramp up significantly, especially the bosses, so finding orbs to power up your weapons and armor, and leveling up is not only rewarding, it’s completely necessary on the normal and higher difficulty settings. While there’s no map system that you can reference, the game is divided up into many literal stages so covering an entire area is never overwhelming. Each stage follows similar rules, namely each one has three keys you must find to access all of its areas. They function both as just another reward and as a progress meter; once you find that last key you can pretty well conclude that you’ve found most of the important items in there. This formula starts to age out by the end of the game, if the game was any longer I’d probably have been completely sick of it. Thanks to the movement-based upgrades though, the novelty of traversing stages both new and old keeps the loot-gathering fresh.
The loot-gathering itself is a sugar rush and this is completely thanks to the incremental rewards of the leveling and skill-tree system. Every level up you get two points to spend on upgrading one of your abilities. There are a lot of bad decisions in this tree, but at the same time there’s just enough customizability to keep you looking forward to the next level. The typical route of creating a glass canon vs an invincible tank is available, but you can also specialize in spellcasting or your ranged shuriken attack. Because of some of the clunkiness of the controls, bulking up is probably the optimal way to survive on higher difficulties, but patterns are still recognizable enough that it might be fun to challenge yourself with other strategies. The most important aspect of the whole system regardless of your choice is how it accentuates the fun of checking every nook and cranny and really putting your new ability upgrades to the test.
While it’s always fun to level up, after the dopamine high of powering up wears off the weakness of the game’s combat system becomes more apparent. There aren’t any options that deal significant burst damage, so being able to sit in your opponent’s face and brandish your sword becomes the dominant strategy. Boosting your sword damage is partially contingent on RNG critical hits, so a lot of fights can swing in and out of your favor based on pure luck. Most bosses have a pile of HP you have to get through, and while many have (good) Zelda-style weaknesses you can exploit, the bulk of your damage for most of them must come from chipping away at their health with whatever ability you’ve specialized in. Boss patterns aren’t particularly well-telegraphed either, and while eventual memorization will prove that no-damage running is feasible, it takes a bit of trial and error to get there if you’re a glass cannon. If you build defensively – which is what I did – your strategy is often just eating up the damage with your hardened fuzzy flesh while poking the boss until they give up out of pure annoyance. While this anecdote is somewhat hyperbolic, my point is that when it’s not frustrating, it’s not particularly engaging. I don’t want to sound too harsh, because it’s not THAT bad, it just detracts a lot from my desires to take advantage of what would be an excellent system for replay value.
I think that people who enjoy frequent rewards and a heavy exploration focus will be able to easily look past any faults Super Panda Adventures has. Even for those who would be annoyed by the game’s bosses I think there’s still value to be found, given that you can always just turn on the “Cakewalk” difficulty to enjoy the game’s strongest points. Speed runners, and people who just like trying new builds in games may also get a lot out of it, and I think there’s still an audience even for the game’s impossible difficulty. While I can’t see myself putting this game in the same tiers as the great Metroidvania games, it’s at least well above the average – especially considering you can get it for just a little more than a dollar on a sale. It might not be the best game for everybody, but it’s certainly a game I’d recommend to everybody.
Combat is more affected by leveling up than getting more skilled. Your primary attack is brandishing your weapon rather than well-timed hits
Platforming is rarely about challenging the player, but rather just to provide an obstacle in the exploration
Racing around the world to find power-ups is easilly the best part of this game, though with all the systems that encourage replay, it's also the least repeatable
Not a major focus
The story is never meant to be serious. There are badguys, you must hit them.
The graphics are colorful and apealing, but also basic
Appropriate but not particularly memorable.
Multiple difficulty modes and a plethora of ways to build your character to challenge yourself
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