Having punched my hours in at the PAX East mines, there are a few certainties of that show floor pickax life: hour-long lines, no food under $10, and the indefatigable faces of Tribute games. This dev team has been hauling their wares down from Canada for years, and I remember getting a taste of each of their fantastic platforming throwbacks, from Mercenary Kings through their most recent zip ’n ripper Flinthook. Each Tribute game has built upon the lessons learned from the previous, and year after year they prove a mastery over the 8- and 16-bit forms.
2019 was no different, much to my delight, as Tribute brought the recently revealed Panzer Paladin to the expo floor. I spoke with Game Designer/Animator Justin Cyr about this NES-style mech stomper, which at first glance gives strong fantasy Titanfall vibes. You play as a young knight who is piloting a two story suit of power armor that primarily hacks and slashes with melee weapons. You’ll have to hop out on occasion to recharge your armor’s batteries, whipping around on a smaller scale, but Justin says the bulk of the game takes place in the power armor in melee combat.
There are a lot of different piercing, bludgeoning, and slashing weapons, and like Breath of the Wild those weapons have a limited durability. You can also sacrifice a weapon to cast a powerful spell that usually fills the screen with some crazy magic, but you’ll need to be judicious in your use of these items. That isn’t the only Zelda game to inspire Tribute though, as Justin says the team has reached through time to pull a lot of moves from The Legend of Zelda II: Link’s Adventure, the unfairly maligned early sequel. Link’s juicy down thrust comes into liberal usage in Panzer Paladin, and these kinds of moves will come in handy in sweeping up the main stage peons and the grand boss fights.
The demo at PAX East felt natural, crafted by experienced hands, but I was still surprised to learn from Justin that the game had only been in development for two months at the time of the show. But that was the nuts and bolts, he clarified that the idea had been kicking around Tribute teammate Jonathan Lavigne’s skull for years. It was the relatively recent release of the Godot game engine that spurred him and the team to begin work in earnest on Panzer Paladin.
There’s plenty of room and time for innovation though, including a possible gameplay mechanic that Justin wouldn’t outline but insisted that, if they could pull it off, would really set this game apart from the other finely honed retro-inspired titles. Given what Tribute has already accomplished, this notion cemented my attention after already snaring my interest. To be fair, my eye isn’t hard to snag—a pinch of Titanfall, a little Mega Man, a fair shake of a couple Zelda’s, all coming from the well-seasoned sprite chefs at Tribute, I was already on board with Panzer Paladin at the launch trailer. But having spent a little time with the game and getting even the tiniest taste of the chicanery the team hopes accomplish, I’m fully salivating.