Available Now on Switch – £22.49 – Developed by: Megapixel Studio SA – Published by: Forever Entertainment
The original Panzer Dragoon was a launch title (in the West, at least) for the Saturn, Sega’s ultimately ill-fated 32-bit console. It was lauded upon release for it’s impressive presentation, with some very impressive (for the time) pre-rendered cinematic sequences and fast-paced on-rails shooting. It felt like the kind of arcade shooter that Sega had been so great at delivering in the 80s; an evolution of games such as After Burner or, even more closely, Space Harrier.
The remake doesn’t do anything to mess with the basic formula; it seems to be to be firmly an audiovisual polish, with the same basic gameplay in place. I have to admit before proceeding, however, that despite playing the original game on the Saturn a number of times, I’m not intimately familiar with it, having owned neither the game nor the console that played host to it.
If you’re familiar with the original game yourself, you’ll know what you’re in for; for those unfamiliar, Panzer Dragoon is an on-rails shooter with a twist, in that you can rotate your mount – a fantastic looking blue dragon – in increments of 90 degrees, giving you four views of the action unfolding around you. The rider of the dragon has two weapons available: a gun which can be fired as fast as you can mash the fire button, and a more powerful but slower blast that can lock onto multiple targets at once.
There are no power ups; no variation in weapons at all. It’s very straightforward, no nonsense shooting with an emphasis on watching your radar for threats and adjusting your view accordingly.
The enemies in the game are a mixture of creatures and vehicles; there’s some incredible design work to be found here – one thing that can be said about the Panzer Dragoon series as a whole is that it has an incredibly unique look, with – as an example – lots of protruding, bone-like elements seen on the dragons, along with fantastical looking, steampunk-esque airships and other structures.
The remake does a fantastic job of updating the visuals. It’s an absolutely beautiful game with an almost painted look to backgrounds and characters. The colours are vibrant, bold and varied, with your blue dragon mount in particular looking absolutely wonderful. Environments have been given a great level of detail and life in comparison to the now 25 year old original game – and the animation, along with the camera work present in the cinematics (which now more closely ape the look of the in-game visuals) has also been subtly upgraded.
Where it falls down, however, is with things like load times – which are very long – and some of the gameplay elements. Though I’m not as familiar with the original as I’d like, I think the issues with the game design are more faults of the 1995 title than anything wrong with the Remake itself. It feels as if you – and your dragon – are far too close to the camera to dodge attacks or deal with incoming projectiles at times. There are also points where the only way you could realistically expect to deal with an enemy without taking damage is to have memorised the sequence in which they appear. Switching between the four viewpoints sometimes means an enemy doesn’t quite fit adequately in your field of vision either, which can present problems. Other than those gameplay issues, however, general play is smooth and satisfying; it’s a throwback to a very different era of gaming – I can’t think when I last played a new on-rails shooter, for example.
It’s a short game – with only seven stages – and you’re likely to have seen the whole game within just a few hours, unless you’re playing on the hardest difficulty level, which does put up a notable challenge. That said, there’s definitely replay value to be had – regardless of the difficulty level attempted – in aiming to shoot down 100% of the enemies in any given stage, for example.
I enjoyed Panzer Dragoon, but the game design itself has undoubtedly aged; it’s easy to imagine players unfamiliar with the original game being disappointed by the remake, given how fondly remembered the original game is by those players who experienced it the first time around.
Fans of the original are sure to have an absolute blast here though; the Remake pulls that neat trick of giving you a game that you remember playing, rather than the one you did play (seriously, I don’t remember the original looking so rough – but check it out now and the visuals really haven’t aged well at all).
Though the stage load times are a bit of a pain and there’s a few niggles with the gameplay that could have been smoothed out, Panzer Dragoon: Remake is a faithful rendition of the source material with gorgeous visuals and uncomplicated, arcade-style shooting fun.
Megapixel Studio SA are reportedly going to turn their attention to Panzer Dragoon’s sequel for the remake treatment too; should these games be a commercial success, would they also be able to have a crack at remaking the still highly sought after RPG, Panzer Dragoon Saga? Fingers crossed – on the strength of this particular title, I think they’ve already earned a shot at it.
Note: Forever Entertainment kindly provided me with a code for Panzer Dragoon: Remake for review purposes.
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