4 out of 5. Pankapu is an underrated linear platformer with a gorgeous dreamlike atmosphere and some Metroidvania elements to enjoy. Technically incomplete, but the story vagueness may be a feature.
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How Metroidvania is it? Barely Comparable. Pankapu is a level-based platfomer. You get some permanent power upgrades that improve your mobility, and you can use this to go back to previous levels to unlock optional upgrades and story content, but it's not required for game progression
Primary Challenge: Tricky Platforming
Time to beat: ~7 hours
Review Info: Pankapu was played on Steam

More Info

Developer: Too Kind Studio
Publisher: Dear Villagers
Sub-genre: Linear Platformer Hybrid
Features: 2D Platformer, Auto-Save, Melee Combat, Ranged Combat, Puzzle Platforming, Story Rich, Narrative/Cutscenes Story Telling, Collectathon, Character/Class Switching/Transformation, Family Friendly
Difficulty: Medium, High
Linearity/Openness: Level Based
Platforms: Windows, Steam, Switch, PS4, Xbox One
Release Date: 2016/09/21
Available Languages: English, Japanese, French, German, Spanish, Russian, Simplified Chinese

Store Links

    Amazon    Steam    Humble Bundle    Playstation    Xbox Store    Nintendo eShop    

Buy Pankapu if you like…

  • Beautiful Hand-Drawn Style
  • Challenging Platforming
  • Obscured Story and Double Meaning
  • Character Class Switching
  • Whimsical Characters and the Hero's Journey

▼ Review continues below ▼

The world of Dreams is threatened, and only the eponymous dream warrior Pankapu can eliminate the threat. The game opens with a father reading to his child, suggesting that all of the events in the game are written on those storybook pages. However, past that intro, the game plays out as if you are Pankapu, with only glimpses of the real world being revealed to you as you collect items. It gives the game in its entirety an interesting double meaning, and contributes to the surreal atmosphere that this game excels at. Like a dream, you can read into it as much as you want, or you can just enjoy it for its solid platformer challenges.

Like a coming-of-age transition between innocence and experience, Pankapu presents an excellent difficulty curve that is welcoming to gamers of all levels of play. Since Pankapu is linear, the obstacles it presents train you on all of your abilities before ramping up the difficulty. The design seems very simplistic, and indeed it never gets cumbersome with complexity, but there are just enough options to test your manual dexterity that success brings satisfaction. It most certainly gets challenging once you get to the later chapters of the story, but at no point does it ever feel unfair.

The core of this difficulty curve, and the main unique draw of the game, is the ability to switch between three classes, each with its own set of abilities. This concept isn’t anything particularly new, but it is rare for a game to so fully realize the potential of each of its character options. No single character is completely dominant over the other. You have your warrior class that takes less damage, has a reflective shield, and a powerful magical sword attack – but is otherwise short ranged and has no special movement abilities. There is an archer class with a double jump and an always-useful ranged attack. Lastly there’s the magician class who can slow the rate Pankapu falls, stop time, and has medium-ranged area-of-effect attacks.

The primary challenge of the game is tricky platforming, so the class with the double jump is undoubtedly going to see the most use for many players. However, even the starting class with no special abilities is given ample opportunity to show off the usefulness of its defenses and magic attacks. Once you’ve gotten control of all three classes, you’re often required to switch classes mid-air. The class with the double jump can be combined with the magician class to add a float and increase the distance you can travel. Walls that can only be broken with the Warrior class might be placed in an area where urgent speed is required. Switching between classes could be a headache, but the level designers knew when to introduce a new class, and even when to remove a class from your options in order to maximize play potential. By the time your powers are combined, you are likely experienced with the nuances of each option.

Because of the unique movement capabilities of each class and their gradual introduction, it only seems natural that the game includes some Metroidvania aspects. Earlier levels have areas inaccessible without special abilities or new classes. Hidden in those areas are life and mana upgrades, as well as damage upgrades. Each of these power-ups have story cards to be collected together with them, so getting 100% is necessary to really get the full story of Pankapu. I think that some Metroidvania fans will appreciate this to some degree, however you may find playing an entire level to get one upgrade to be tedious.. This is especially true if you’re going for the white sprite collectables since they’re often well-hidden. It’s reminiscent of some of the secrets that require special powers in the Kirby series – in fact much of the game’s atmosphere and style echoes that game. Repeating levels is a feature by design though – not just because of the power-locked collectables, but also because of the time-trial mode for speedrunners.

On the subject of the story presentation, most the points I’d give it come from its special way of presenting it. It flashes ideas at the player without any explanation, leaving you to fill in the gaps. It creates narrative game where the player will likely get out of it exactly what they put into it and makes for a fun discussion topic on internet forums and with friends. If you’re looking for something structured, or even complete, you’ll be disappointed, especially since the game ends on something of a cliff-hanger, without any necessary promise that a sequel will actually be made. The general vagueness of the “Truth” behind Pankapu’s story is something I consider attractive, and with a story that invites you to fill so much in with your own imagination, being open-ended is perfectly fine for me.

I really enjoyed Pankapu, I think it’s underrated and I really do hope a sequel gets made. I think it would be really cool if they went full out Metroidvania next time – because of course I would – throwing in a whole world to explore just seems natural. The artists, level designers, and story writers at Too Kind Studio really demonstrated their talent here, and I think they deserve support. Without any announcement of a follow-up, the cliff-hanger ending may be bothersome to you, but it wasn’t a deal-breaker for me. If nothing else you get a very solid 2D platformer, but I think there is some good potential that it may become something more to you as well.


Final Score

4/5

Scoring system overview


Metroidvania Breakdown

Combat
– 4

Bosses can be a little hit and miss, since they're ''Zelda'' style, but overall combat is varied and challenging

Platforming
– 4

Switching between classes to overcome the challenges is a highlight and is used to great effect

Exploration
– 3.5

You have to replay old levels to get all of the collectables, which may get repetitive, but some of the offshoot areas are the best designed challenges

Puzzle
– 3.5

Pankapu isn't a puzzle platformer, but occasionally you have to sort out which class to use to solve an area

Story
– 4

The way the narrative is told through collectable story cards is intriguing, inviting the player to get out of the story what they put into it. Unfortunately, the story isn't complete with this entry and ends on a cliffhanger.

Graphics
– 5

The Cosmic style of the graphics contribute perfectly to the dreamlike atmosphere the game is going for

Music
– 4

While the tunes aren't particularly memorable, they're crucial to the important atmosphere of the game

Replayability
– 3.5

There are speed run challenges, and of course the 'metroidvania' collectables to entice you to replay levels


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