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Hands-On: Panzer Dragoon Remake

Genre: Shmup Developer: MegaPixel Studio Publisher: Forever Entertainment Players: 1 Released: 2020

A big selling point of the Sega Saturn was the arcade ports it brought into the home. While not all of these were quite up to expectations, a great many were and some of the best titles available are home ports of Sega’s more notable games of the time. What can easily be overlooked is that many titles that were developed specifically for the system also had heavy arcade influences such as Nights into Dreams and the first two Panzer Dragoon titles. The remake of the original Panzer Dragoon is the subject of this article.

It is important to start out mentioning arcade-style games because this style of game is no longer common in yearly release schedules, making remakes and re-releases of games like Panzer Dragoon seem like odd curiosities to the average consumer. Arcade games are action-heavy titles that burn more like fire crackers than candles, so judging Panzer Dragoon as a game that is over in less than an hour fails to appreciate that it was simply designed that way. It is meant to be replayed over again and for players to get better, improve their score, and have fun doing it. It wasn’t an arcade game but these roots are obvious in its design. Panzer Dragoon was also a technological show piece for the system, something that is difficult to appreciate if you weren’t there to see it in the mid-1990s. I didn’t own a Saturn when it released, but I do remember seeing the game in action and being thoroughly amazed.

For those that are unfamiliar with Panzer Dragoon, was a rail-shooter developed by Team Andromeda for the Sega Saturn. The same team produced a sequel (that was a prequel story-wise) and the widely acclaimed Panzer Dragoon Saga, an RPG set in the same universe that became something of a swan-song for the Sega Saturn. Following this, the young team was disbanded but many of the same people were involved in Smilebit’s Panzer Dragoon Orta on Xbox which returned to the rail-shooter gampelay and the best in the series — at least in my opinion. The series had a unique setting in a world that had survived a cataclysm and where relics of the past were being re-discovered, including mysterious dragons. Much of this was fleshed out in Panzer Dragoon Saga. Outside of the intriguing setting, the games were unique for allowing multi-directional aiming, which made combat far more engaging (and often demanding) than the average rail-shooter. Basically, nothing like this series has been seen since Panzer Dragoon Orta on the original Xbox.

With regards to gameplay and structure, video game remakes usually either make significant changes or stick mostly to the source material, and Polish developer MegaPixel Studio has very much done the latter. This remake contains the same levels, and everything from the intro movie to through to the end credits sequence will be very familiar to anyone who has played the original — only with a significant visual overhaul.

I played the remake well after launch, and features that weren’t in the initial release were included by the time I got around to it. This includes an arranged soundtrack and a Pandora’s Box cheat screen that can be unlocked with a code after completing the game once. The Pandora’s Box was a great bonus in Panzer Dragoon Orta on Xbox and includes a level select, a God Mode, and some other options unlocked in the original game with different cheat codes. Unlocking this also lets you view an image gallery and the end credits but annoyingly has to be re-entered each time you start the game. The hidden Level 0 was also added in a patch! Other new elements are updates to the controls, some moves not found in the original and a Photo mode for taking in-game screen shots.

The main draw to fans of the original then is the visual overhaul, and for my part, I was very impressed with what was done. However, I can also see that opinions will be divided here. I played the Nintendo Switch release and have only seem videos of the game running on other platforms. From my perspective, the desolate, mysterious, and beautiful world of Panzer Dragoon is a wonderful re-imagining of a setting originally designed on far less capable hardware. The more obvious technical limitations, such as draw-distance, have been eliminated and the frame-rate has been improved — though it is not always consistent. My only major criticisms would be the mildly long load times and the occasionally blurry textures in-game that I assume could be the result of a variable resolution. I don’t expect these to be significant problems on more powerful systems, but they are certainly present on Switch.

Panzer Dragoon: Remake‘s main issue is really to do with the available audience. Many who enjoyed the original probably still own it but might be curious enough to try the remake. The average consumer may not know what to make of it, though. It is expensive for a game that, except for limited physical releases, is digital-only and being able to play through it in a short sitting doesn’t help. There is also the fact that the superior Panzer Dragoon Orta is available quite cheaply to anyone who owns any Xbox system, and Orta includes the full original Saturn game as an unlockable bonus. The developers have announced they are also remaking Panzer Dragoon II Zwei and including both together would have been a more attractive package, though I do realize the reality of development time and costs prevented this.

There aren’t a great many rail-shooters at all anymore, and with the mild commercial and generally critical failure of Star Fox Zero on Wii U a few years ago, it is unlikely they’ll be making a comeback. Panzer Dragoon is certainly appreciated by many but it is not as well-known a series as it deserves to be. In reviewing this game, I’m not focusing on the quality so much because I believe that is understood but am focusing more on the market to which it is being released. I do recommend this remake to anyone curious, even if they want to wait for a digital discount before investing. I can certainly see that this remake won’t please all fans of the original but overall, I believe the developers did a great job recreating the experience on modern systems. There are few series so unique as Panzer Dragoon, and seeing this series become more appreciated could lead to a re-release of Panzer Dragoon Saga and maybe even new games, which is certainly something I hope to see.

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