After the disappointment that was The Waste Land, I was pretty hesitant to get near metroidvania related anything at least for a good while. Enter the Steam week-long deals with its usual dozens of indie games I’ve probably never heard of before, which led my eyes to a peculiar title that I, indeed, had never seen or heard of before. Super Panda Adventures was looking right back at me, its tempting trailers edging me towards the add-to-cart button as the simple yet age-old premise of fighting evil robots and saving a princess hopelessly bribed my inner child as easily as anything with the word “panda” in it would.
A pretty world where humans and anthropomorphic animals peacefully coexist, with rich natural beauty and magic becomes the backdrop for a fantastic adventure. Set in a context heavily derived from Chinese background, the story revolves around Fu, a young panda that has just completed his training to become Princess Maya’s bodyguard. But on the day the two were supposed to meet the princess is suddenly abducted by a mysterious foe that turns out to be one of the leading perpetrators of an evil robotic invasion force. With this threat looming over the entire planet and the Princess’ safety at risk, Fu grabs his training sword and sets off for the biggest adventure of his life.
On the outside, Super PandaAdventures is a pretty unassuming title that doesn’t draw enough attention to its solid and action-packed gameplay. Colorful levels, enemy design and a masterfully composed soundtrack keeps you wanting to revisit every level if just to fight and enjoy yourself as exploration seamlessly incorporates itself with fast-paced combat. Fu is tasked with one quest after another, all of them involving short objectives such as exploring an area, beating a boss or finding an item to upgrade their character. During combat, you never have enough time to think about a single enemy as taking an active/offensive approach is both key to survival and instrumental to character development.
Super Panda Adventures has a combo counter that registers accumulated damage dealt to any number of enemies for a certain period of time as long as you’re beating things up; once that period of time is up (due to battle inactivity), the game calculates bonus EXP that exponentially grows the more damage Fu has dealt during his latest encounter. EXP is gained by fighting and by finding EXP items of varying size and rarity, with all of the points going towards level ups. This introduces an RPG mechanic that gives the player direct control over Fu’s growth as they will instantly see improvements based on which attributes they choose to enhance with their level ups. Fu has a number of classic melee options, as well as defensive and ranged tools, and even magic attacks to help him against foes. The shield, in particular, counts as a separate gauge which depletes every time you’re hit, whether you’re actively using it for protection or not, adding another layer of tactics for tankier players. Fu's Magic and Shuriken are two valuable tools that can be used in conjunction for some devastating combos, if you’ve the patience to learn them and the attribute point investment. It’s an all-round yet simplistic approach to multi-build character management that grows fast into even the most obtuse of players.
The metroidvania chunk of the gameplay comes in the form of item upgrades the player must find in order to unlock several exploration-related abilities such as ledge-grabbing, swimming and the ability to interact with certain contraptions. There are also hidden artifacts which grant considerable and permanent boons to the player, which must be found in pairs before their effect can be applied. This means a lot of backtracking is involved when hunting for goodies such as EXP items and Power Orbs, which are used to strengthen equipment; I absolutely love it when a game rewards diligence and exploration.
Content is plentiful. The game doesn’t feel lengthy by any means, especially when you consider it uses sealed-off sections of the same levels you’ve visited in order to add to the exploration on subsequent story-based visits. But the cast of quirky characters combined with clever dialogue and endearingly minimalistic art style make every visit to Bamboo Town bearable, no pun intended. References to video-game pop culture are present and they add to the light-hearted humor while Super Panda Adventures’ own brand of happy-go-lucky logic manages to keep you entertained as well. The only thing that would’ve made this game better is a mini-map for each level to help you keep track of the areas you’ve cleaned out for the sake of saving time, but like I said, revisiting doesn’t feel like a pain in the butt; it’s actually fun, since the combat involves running, button mashing and simply being awesome at both!
If you don’t want a game that takes itself insanely seriously but do want to have a good time with this wacky story and simple yet rewarding experience, pick Super Panda Adventures up now. It’s available, it’s a lot of fun for your buck, and it is simply amazing.