An initially charming, retro-styled platformer with light puzzle elements, Panda Punch starts off well but, ultimately, doesn’t quite hit the mark.
Red Panda Zeep has an upgradeable bionic arm to punch enemies with, which is satisfying and doesn’t take too long to power up to the max.
Each level’s goal is to reach the end – and to get there, you’ll usually need to navigate traps and enemies, as well as finding moveable boxes to trip switches and open up otherwise inaccessible paths or add new platforms to the stage.
Though in theory this sounds like pretty much any old school, 16-bit puzzle/platformer you can think of, unfortunately things have gone awry with the level design of Panda Punch.
Not only can levels veer between feeling completely empty and then suddenly busy to the extent that they feel unfair (with enemy placement seeming pretty thoughtless and random at times), but there are points where you can legitimately get stuck with no option to restart the level
Backtracking through levels after ridding them of bad guys to find the path you’ve just opened thanks to triggering a switch can be incredibly tedious too.
This isn’t helped by the fact that it takes far too long for the biomes to change; the layouts, backgrounds and even level music remains the same for absolutely ages before reaching a boss and finally getting a change of scenery.
Boss fights are poorly designed too; something about the timing and reactions of enemies, including bosses, just feels off somehow.
Defeating a boss bestows a new skill upon Zeep, but again this seems to arrive after a slog through stages where the only upgrades are to the strength of your punch and your health; in the case of the latter, no upgrade seemed to make any difference – which was very strange indeed.
The pixel art visuals are lovely, it must be said. The music is ok, but really does need some variety.
Ultimately, Panda Punch is pretty disappointing. The early promise is squandered through repetition and incredibly poor level design, with upgrades dished out at a snaol’s pace.
Though it isn’t an expensive game, there are countless retro-styled games in the same price range as Panda Punch that your time and money would be better spent on.
Many thanks to PR Hound for providing me with a code for review purposes. Panda Punch is available now on PS4/PS5, Steam, Switch and Xbox consoles.
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