I have reviewed several Ratalaika Games titles on this site, in fact, they’re probably my most-played developer. They’re famous for publishing simple indie games with easy achievements. The level of fun varies drastically, but honestly, I’ve been pretty happy with most of them.
Platformers are a staple of my gaming experience, so I eagerly accepted a key for Panda Punch. The trailer looked exciting, and I fancied a new challenge. I’ll be honest, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would, but maybe your experience will be different. So, let’s get into my Panda Punch review for Xbox Series X!
Panda Punch jumps straight in with a cutscene to bring you up to date on the story. You see a panda named Zeep being chased by robots. With a name like ‘Zeep’, maybe they just wanted him to join their ranks since he already sounds like a robot? Anyway, they’re firing rockets at him, and he only narrowly escapes them. I quite like the heavy action as it’s immediately engaging for the player.
It seems like these robots aren’t giving up, and they’ve settled in your land. For some reason, it’s the sole responsibility of this tiny panda to get rid of them. You have assistance, though. Your father is a dab-hand at building things, and he creates a cool mechanical arm for you. It’s capable of taking out the robots, and with that, Zeep is sent on his way.
There’s not much story development throughout the game. You just go through the levels taking out robots. Annoyingly, any time that there’s dialogue, it’s unskippable. The letters appear one-at-a-time on screen, and it takes forever to get through a single sentence. It’s also accompanied by annoying sound effects for every single letter, and it breaks the immersion.
The movement in this game is really basic. It’s a 2D platformer, so you can move left and right, and you can jump. There’s something clunky about the movement that I can’t quite figure out. It does respond to you, and there’s not lag per se, but something about it doesn’t feel particularly smooth. I appreciate that you can jump while moving though, as I’ve played games in the past where you had to stand still in order to jump, and that was awful. So although they’re simple, I will admit that the general mechanics of Panda Punch work well.
You play through the game one level at a time. Each one has a different layout, and you’ll need to defeat the enemies within. Well, technically you don’t need to, but some of them are hard to skip. As well as getting to the end of each level, you can collect coins which are used for buying upgrades from your father. There’s also 1 PP token hidden in each level, and these are also used for buying upgrades. I have to say, though, the upgrades are very overpriced, and I was almost to the first boss before I could purchase even one extra heart container. You start with 3 lives and you can go up from there. You can also upgrade your punch.
Some levels have flags as checkpoints, so you can return to them if you die. This is useful in the longer levels, as there are some tricky jumps where you land on spikes if you fail. I appreciate them adding the checkpoints into the game to save time repeating the start of the levels, which is often pretty boring.
The platforming elements are pretty much the industry standard. You move around through the level, jumping up and down over obstacles. There are switches that can be pressed by moving objects onto them. Some platforms move up and down or side to side. Some are completely solid, others you can jump through from underneath. There’s a little worm thing with a trampoline on its back that you need to move into place, but even that’s similar to elements I’ve encountered in other games.
It all works fine, and I don’t have a problem with the mechanics, but it’s just boring. I wanted something that felt at least a little unique. Perhaps a new take on a staple of the genre. But there was nothing. This felt a bit like a game developer’s first project when learning a new software. It’s all stuff that I believe could be pretty easily implemented. Again, it’s not done badly, but I just don’t really see why you’d buy this particular game instead of something more exciting.
You have exactly one combat move – punch forwards. That’s it. No rolling, no ground-pounding, no uppercuts. You just press X to punch the enemies and depending on how strong they are, you may need to punch a few times. It’s dull and requires no effort or skill. By removing the sense of challenge, it takes away from the feeling of accomplishment.
When I got to the first boss, I was hoping to finally have to push myself, but alas, no such luck. Once again, it was just a matter of punching repeatedly, except this time I had to jump in the air every now and then. I defeated him first try and only lost 2 lives (from accidentally walking into him), and the whole thing took less than a minute. That’s not ideal for a boss fight, and I found it even easier than most of the regular levels. All you needed to do was punch a lot and stay out of his way. Boring.
Audio + Visuals
The music in Panda Punch is pretty annoying at first. It has a repetitive underlying base track that drills into your skull. Admittedly, it’s reminiscent of old arcade games, which I think is the style they were going for. After a while, you do get used to it, though, so it’s not as bad as it seems at first. The sound effects are okay, albeit, again, a bit annoying. There is cohesion amongst all the sounds, though, and they gel well together, so credit where credit is due.
There’s not much interaction with your environment, but there is one detail I quite enjoyed. There are a few flowers sprinkled throughout the levels, and they wiggle when you punch them. This was a cute addition that gave some personality to the game, and I was thrilled that they included it.
Panda Punch uses pixel-art style graphics that feel nostalgic despite being made in the modern era. The game is optimised for Xbox X/S, so the colours are really vibrant. Even though I’m not overly keen on pixel-art, I have to say I like the general look of the game. It does what it sets out to, and I can appreciate that. One of my least favourite things is when indie games try too hard to have detailed graphics and fail miserably. I much prefer simple styles that are well-executed, like this one is.
Overall, I wasn’t particularly impressed with Panda Punch. The developers have done a decent job of creating a solid game, but there’s nothing special about it. To me, it feels like pretty much any other 2d platformer out there. Everything about it is ‘fine’. That’s not what I’m after in a game, I want ‘fun’, not ‘fine’. I feel like I’d have enjoyed this more 20 years ago when there weren’t so many better titles to compare it to. Back then, having any video game at all felt like a novelty, but these days, I want to focus on quality.
However, I must admit, the achievements were very easy to get. I got all of them after about 1.5 hours of playing, so that’s a super quick 1000 Gamerscore. If you’re after something that’ll push up your numbers for achievements (or trophies if you’re on Playstation), this’ll do nicely. But if you want an exciting platforming experience, I’d still recommend something like Spyro.