Sunday, May 31, 2020

Panzer Dragoon: Remake Review

Developer: MegaPixel Studio
Publisher: Forever Entertainment S.A.
Price: $25
Available On: Nintendo Switch, Google Stadia, and PC in the future.
Version Played: Switch

Panzer Dragoon: Remake is, of course, a remake of the 1995 Sega Saturn launch game. That’s what the icon on my Switch says it’s called. I don’t make this stuff up. They really couldn’t come up with something a little more creative? The unimaginative title pretty much lets you know what you should expect from this remake. It’s a barebones, low budget remake lacking many of the cool extras you might expect from a modern remake of a cult classic. They might as well have called it Great Value Panzer Dragoon. They didn’t even put the original game in here. And the few new features and extras that did make it in are either poorly thought out or on the skimpy side, for the most part. Nearly every addition to the game was screwed up in some way. There is still a great game here for fans of on-rails shooters, though. This remake at least gets the gameplay right.

If you’re not familiar with Panzer Dragoon, it’s basically the spiritual successor to Space Harrier and Sega’s answer to Nintendo’s Star Fox at the same time. It's a 3D shoot 'em up in which you ride on a dragon flying on a predetermined path. You don't have control of where you're going, but you can fly your dragon around the screen to avoid enemy attacks. You control your reticle and the dragon with the left stick, at the same time, and use the L and R buttons to change the direction your rider is facing. Your dragon is always flying in the same direction, but enemies can come from any direction, so you need to keep an eye on the radar and look around you to take them out. That’s probably the biggest difference from Star Fox in terms of gameplay. You can mash the B or A buttons to shoot, but like in Star Fox 64, the shooting game is really all about locking onto multiple targets and unleashing powerful homing attacks. You lock on by holding down the attack button and running the reticle over the enemies. Then you release the button and watch things blow up.

There are no barrel rolls (or dragon rolls) in Panzer Dragoon, but there is a dodge move you can do by double tapping and holding left or right on the d-pad. But it doesn't work with the analog stick, so I found myself switching to the d-pad when I really needed it. Mostly during boss battles. The Saturn didn't have an analog stick controller at launch, so you had no choice but to play the original with the d-pad, but I think they should have put in an easier way to dodge. You really need it for some fights, and using the d-pad just doesn't feel as good as using the analog stick. That's just one of the many obvious things missing from this remake. I tried mapping left and right to ZL and ZR through the Switch's options, but I never really got used to double tapping and holding them down to dodge like that.

There are also a couple of new control options; modern controls and Gyro controls. Modern controls are basically FPS controls. They let you move the dragon independently from the crosshairs and shoot with ZL or ZR. I don’t get what they’re going for with the gyro controls. They’re just a mess. The lack of customization options pretty much ruin both configurations for me. The only things you can do in the control options is change the look sensitivity and invert the Y axis, and when you invert the Y axis, you do it for both sticks at the same time, which makes the modern controls unusable for me since I play with inverted aiming. I don’t want to invert my movement when using FPS-like controls, just my aiming.

The Gyro controls feel like the developers didn’t really know why people were asking for them in the first place. The way they have it set up has you moving the dragon and the crosshairs at the same time with motion controls on the left joycon, or the whole controller if you’re using a Pro Controller or are playing handheld. What you’d want to do with motion controls in an on-rails shooter is what Sin & Punishment: Star Successor did on the Wii. You moved your character with the analog stick on the Nunchuck, and moved the crosshairs with motion controls on the Wiimote. It was awesome! It felt as natural as using a mouse on a PC. I Tweeted this to the developers, and they told me tweaks are coming, so hopefully they get it right eventually.

Panzer Dragoon might have been a graphical showcase for the Saturn back in the day, but most of the time, it looked like a bunch of rocks surrounded by fog. This remake adds a bunch of new stuff to the backgrounds. The first level actually looks like the flooded city it’s supposed to be, and not the bunch of pillars in the middle of the ocean it looked like in the original, and the forest level is actually surrounded by trees and mountains instead of simply having a forest canopy texture on the floor. It looks very different from how it looked on Saturn, but it fits the art style of the series, and kind of reminds me of Panzer Dragoon Orta.

This remake definitely isn't a graphical showcase for the Switch. On the default mode, the game runs at somewhere between 30 and 60fps and 972p docked. The framerate goes all over the place depending on the area and enemies. The graphics aren’t that amazing, so I don’t get why it can’t run better than that. There is a “Performance Mode” that runs the game at more like 50 to 60fps, but also lowers the resolution to 504p in both docked and handheld modes. It doesn’t look great, but it feels much better to play than at 30ish. The game also has some horrible load times. I’m talking like 20 seconds to load a cutscene and around 40 to load a new level. Keep your phone handy.

There is a new version of the soundtrack, with arranged songs by Saori Kobayashi, who isn't the composer of the original game's OST, but did work on Panzer Dragoon Saga and Panzer Dragoon Orta. The new versions of the songs are really good. Kobayashi remade the synth tracks with an orchestra, some of the original orchestrated songs now have a more robust sound with more instruments, and some tracks were stripped down a bit for a more dramatic sound. It's still the same songs, though. You can also play with the original Yoshitaka Azuma version of the soundtrack, which is still amazing.

There really isn’t much in terms of extras. Like I mentioned earlier, the original game is not included here. It was included in Panzer Dragoon Orta, which is backwards compatible on XBO, if you want to hunt that down. The only unlockables in this game are some cheat codes and a gallery with some production art. After beating the game, you’ll be able to enter a version of the Konami code to go into “Pandora’s Box”, which is a menu with a stage select and toggles for different cheats, like god mode and easy bosses. Some other cheat codes will also randomly appear during loading screens after you beat the game, or you can just get them from GameFAQs.

I don’t have enough sugar to coat all of this game’s issues, but this is still a fun on-rails shooter despite them. I think it actually plays even better than the original. If you enjoy games like Star Fox 64, Rez, and Sin & Punishment, you’ll probably love this. The gameplay is tight, the art style is spot on, and the soundtrack is still great, but nearly everything else about the game feels unfinished or poorly thought out. The framerate, resolution, and control options are especially puzzling. If you’re still interested, I recommend waiting for this to hit Steam since it’ll probably run better on PC.