On paper at least, it would appear that I am the ideal candidate to review the remake of the fabled Panzer Dragoon. At the time the original launched, I was snug and secure in the world of Sony and the Playstation 2, and the only person I knew with a SEGA Saturn lived 200 miles away. What I’m getting at is that I can come to this review with no preconceptions, no rose-tinted glasses and no nostalgia – reviewing this game as a game, not a historical artifact. Obviously, Panzer Dragoon has been around for so long, on such a variety of consoles and platforms, that it’s impossible to be ignorant of it, but until now I had never played a single one of the series. So come with me to a world of dragons, evil empires and lots of things to shoot.
Continuing the fashion for game remakes that has seen recent entries such as the likes of Need for Speed Hot Pursuit Remastered, Panzer Dragoon has now been updated and dragged, kicking and screaming, into the modern generation. The game starts out a little mysteriously, seeing our hero riding what appears to be a dinosaur through a canyon, before he spies some battleship/hot air balloons in the sky. Chasing after them, he seems to startle some scorpion-looking things, which he proceeds to chase into a cave before being attacked by a large creature. Luckily, the roof falls on the creature, squishing it, and our hero runs outside to meet a man on a blue dragon. This man then promptly pops his clogs, and our hero takes his place on the back of the dragon. This intro is way too long for its own good, and appears to be rendered in the original game’s engine, as the animation and look of the cutscene is extremely retro, and had me flashing back to the ’90s.
Now, the first thing that I have to mention is the tutorial, or lack thereof. You are flung into battle on the back of a dragon, and there are absolutely no clues as to what you are supposed to do. I found out “A” allows you to lock on to enemies and shoot them down, and it wasn’t until the end of the fifth level, when I kept dying to the boss, that I discovered that “B” is also a shoot button, which doesn’t lock on and instead shoots where the sight is aimed. Along with “LB” and “RB” which rotate the camera 90 degrees in either direction, these are all the buttons that you need to know.
The only other control that you have over the dragon is a sight or aiming reticule, that is controlled with the left stick. As the dragon flies through the levels, the path it takes is predetermined and very much on rails, but the dragon will also fly where the sight aims, allowing you to dodge enemies, projectiles and obstructions on the level in the way. It is upsetting to see your dragon fly face first into a bridge, because the game hasn’t explained anything about what you are supposed to do. Still, after a few runs through, you’ll be swooping and diving around with the best of them.
As you’d expect, there are a wide variety of things to aim at and shoot in this Remake, ranging from tiny fish-looking things right up to giant bosses at the end of the levels. The enemies are certainly a varied bunch, all with different attack patterns and projectiles, and can swarm the poor dragon from all sides. Luckily there is a radar in the top right of the screen that shows where the enemies are coming from, and it is but the work of a moment to swing the camera into the correct position. Again, this soon becomes second nature, and not even the tricky bosses that swing and lurch around the sky to try and break your lock will escape your steely gaze.
Graphically, Panzer Dragoon: Remake is certainly a good looking thing, with silky smooth shooting action taking place across a number of very different worlds. The action is never massively frantic, so the Xbox One I was playing on never felt stretched, but on the harder difficulties there’s certainly enough happening on screen to keep your hands full. The sounds are as you’d expect also; screeches from your dragon when it gets smacked with a rock or lots of “pew-pew” effects from the two weapons you have. The commentary in the cutscenes in the in-game language is pretty cool as well.
But how does it play, I hear you ask? The short answer is very well: the game is smooth, the action just the right level of frantic, and it is very challenging on the harder difficulties. Most of all, it’s actually fun to pick up and play just for a short blast, with each level taking around five minutes from start to finish. If you die, you have to start the level again, so that is a good tick in the challenge box. But finding out about the second mode was a game changer for me, literally. What this is then is a return to gameplay over all else: it’s not the hardest and it’s not the longest; what it does do is make every moment that you are flying around on Dave the dragon fun and memorable, and the challenge is against yourself to try and beat your score or accuracy percentage for each level. Completing the game once also gives you access to a “shadow” menu, where you can turn on God mode and other cheaty settings, but it seems that these disable achievements, as they jolly well should.
So, a conclusion is required and Panzer Dragoon: Remake on Xbox is very much a product of its time, but give it a chance and it will grow on you. The challenge of keeping your dragon alive and kicking to the end of the level is a tricky one, and the desire is always there to go back and do better on the level than you have before, especially on hard mode. With only seven levels, it’s not going to last forever, but it is fun, challenging, and I have enjoyed my time with it.