This is a follow-up to our original Pankapu review, which can be found here.
Yeah, no. No, I’m not doing this.
There’s no intro paragraph, no failed comedy routine, because I’m sick of giving the benefit of the doubt. Pankapu was a game I attempted to review a few weeks ago but was met with boredom, and a broken save system. Given that I never leave a journey halfway, I decided to give a first impressions and return to it, due to the fact that there were other, more interesting titles coming out. So here we are, back into the fray.
Pankapu is a Kickstarted platformer released by Too Kind Studio and published by PLAYDIUS and Plug In Digital, with the latter being a publisher that I have a love/tolerate/HATE relationship with. On one hand, there’s the sublime Neurovoider. The other hand? The polished but wonky Steredenn. The third hand? Transcripted, *Shudder*. Where does Pankapu fall?
Pankapu tells the story of Pankapu, The Dreamkeeper, a guardian of all things sweet and sugary, until one day, black blobs ascend from the puddle they resided in and decide that now’s the right time to take over the world. All of this is told through the framing device of a scene girl who had a nightmare, who is being told the story by her creepy father.
Alongside Handkerchief, The Snotkeeper are otherworldly beings who keep an eye on him throughout his adventure, including fat ghosts and a golden spider. One mark that I will give Pankapu is the clean and mildly mesmerizing art style. The worlds are well-drawn, and it reminds me of the beauty that was Rayman Legends. Now, if they could steal everything else from Legends, we’d have a top notch platformer here.
I don’t know if you can tell through my scathing remarks right now, but playing through the rest of Pankapu was like pulling teeth with a rusty set of pliers. It’s almost the polar opposite of Playdius’ other recently published title, Splasher, with both of them making the same severe mistakes from different angles.
Splasher was a big empty sack of nothing, populated with a few select pudgy robots dotted around the level which you had to slaughter. Pankapu, on the other hand, decides to squeeze everything in tight corridors where you cannot predict what will come towards you, due to the camera being so zoomed in. It makes combat a tight mess, but the combat is the least of Tyler, The Creator’s issues in gameplay.
Pankapu also suffers from a painfully saccharine tone and atmosphere, with it all being sunshine and smiles. It makes you beg for the enemies to burn this entire kingdom down to the ground in a blaze of madness and hellfire, and it’d certainly make for a more bearable game. But even if Pankapu had to keep a fire extinguisher on him at all times while dream spirits scream and perish in the background, there’s other issues that my dreams cannot fix.
Despite the combat being pointless, due to the fact that it can easily be replaced by a Mario-esque smack on the head, it becomes ridiculously easy about three levels in, as the golden spider Chii will grant you with unstoppable power. Monsters will almost always be able to be defeated in one or two hits, and the only card Too Kind have up their sleeve is making sure you aren’t fast enough to defend yourself, meaning you’ll always take damage, no matter how fast you are.
Slappadabooty also gives you a varied move set, with the handicap of it being stupidly stiff. Your most powerful attack, a boomerang sword throw, freezes you in place which becomes a hassle when half of the platforms disappear after 3 seconds. Everything else sort of works, but it comes across as sticky and unfulfilled in general gameplay.
Speaking of, the progression for this game can’t decide whether it wants to reside on a rail-road track, or a massive field filled with opportunity. On one hand, Chii will practically scream at your face, “OH DAMN, IT SEEMS LIKE WE CANNOT GO FURTHER TO PROGRESS THROUGH THE STORY FOR TWO MINUTES BECAUSE WHAT WE NEED IS OVER HERE”, or “WE ARE STUCK PANKAPU. HERE, LET ME GIVE YOU THIS POWERFUL MOVE BECAUSE YOU DIDN’T NEED IT UNTIL RIGHT NOW”. On the other hand, it employs a maze-like level design that isn’t intuitive in any way, due to the aforementioned zoomed in camera.
But it’s what this game does with the maze-like level design that caused me to throw my controller out of the window is vile. Something that can only be described as “evil” – it’s the kind of stuff Mario ROM hackers love to add in their games and is only for the stupid and the sadistic; “Leap-of-faith” platforming. Oh my god, I despise leap-of-faith platforming, and yet this game REVELS in it.
A common case you’ll experience in Mantheharpoons is wondering where the next platform is. You won’t be able to see it, because the camera is focused on Pankapu’s sweet pecs, and you’re forced to do nothing but make a jump into the void in the hopes that you land on the platform. And if you fall and die? You’ll probably be a pixel away from it, with it staring at you, grimacing at your pathetic attempt.
Collectible-hunting is another part of the game, with small fat fireflies being dotted around the levels for you to find, sometimes in spots which may require you to return to later, due to you missing something. And that’s fine, it’s a staple of many a platformer. But it’s the fat fireflies that are hidden in the foreground that prove to be such bitter frustrati- Actually, there’s another point.
** This is a PSA to all developers: Stop hiding obstacles, collectables and enemies behind foreground foliage, especially when the foliage in question is just an opaque black blob taking up a fifth of the screen. It’s not smart or clever level design, it’s you essentially pulling a middle finger to the player and farting in their face. Too Kind should be on some sort of FBI Most Wanted list for the crap they’ve pulled here, with fireflies being hidden behind thick trees and crevices you wouldn’t even think about. It’s like how you tried to find secret rooms in the original DOOM by spamming the ‘use’ key on every wall, and hearing the famous “UNGH”.**
“Oh, but the fireflies glow! That’s intuitive! It means you won’t have to blindly search every crevice!” Yeah, that’s a great point Mr. Voiceinmyhead IX, but the foliage moves with the camera focused on Pankapu. It also doesn’t disappear when you’ve discovered a secret pathway so you’ll be fumbling with the walls like you’ve just drank an entire bottle of Captain Morgan by yourself. So, that glimmer of light that shows a fat firefly is nearby? Moot! Worthless! It may as well not be there because it’s one of the Mount Everest of issues that fill this game!
I don’t mind being blunt, so I’ll be blunt right here. Pankapu is bad. It’s inherently bad, awful even. It’s poorly designed, annoying and dull. What little imagination that lives in this archaic platformer dies as the developers think of more ways they can say “Haha, you’re shite” to the player. It’s not the worst platformer, by any means, but Sweet Jumpin’ Christ, it went off the rails here.
What annoys me is that the blueprint for a good platformer is here, it’s just buried under confusing choices of how gameplay is handled, and it suffers for it, wholeheartedly. And I’m sick of being angry about it, because it’s giving me a headache. So here’s to the future, Too Kind. Maybe you’ll learn something.
This review of Pankapu is based on the Xbox One version of the game.
A great platformer buried underneath insanely stupid design choices.
Owner of the largest collection of indie games in the Western Hemisphere, and TimeSplitters’ biggest fanboy.