Pankapu

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Too Kind Studio for PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, Xbox One, and Switch, originally released episodically in 2016.
Pankapu tells the tale of the eponymous Dreamkeeper of Omnia. In the opening cinematic, a girl named Djaha ‘rell has a nightmare and is awakened by her father who offers to read her a story that will help to rid her of her nightmares, setting the tone of the game as a fairytale adventure. In the story, the peaceful dream world of Omnia is invaded by nightmare creatures that corrupt the land. Iketomi, the Hymn of Dreams, uses concentrated “dream matter” to create a guardian to defeat the invaders. This guardian is Pankapu.


The fairytale setting carries over into the game itself with vibrant and colorful locales, mystical oddities, overblown villains, strange creatures, magical combat enhancements, and a fantasy score composed in part by Hiroki Kikuta, composer of such titles as Secret of Mana and its sequel, Seiken Densetsu 3, giving the entire experience a feel of something pulled from the pages of a storybook.


Pankapu begins the game equipped with the Aegis of Bravery. Each Aegis impacts Pankapu’s weapons, armor, and environmental navigation abilities, and there are two additional Aegises to be found over the course of the adventure. With the Aegis of Bravery, Pankapu can perform a single 2x variable jump, swing his sword for a 3-hit combo, hang in the air a bit by performing an air combo, and hold up a shield that absorbs most enemy attacks, including contact damage. Most early enemies are killed with one or two strikes of the sword, with the most complex encounters taking the form of shadowy foes with huge metal claws which the payer must block with his shield before retaliating with strikes of his own.


Pankapu’s first mission is to help a forest spirit, and this mission ends up being spread across the game as the forest spirit’s friends have been kidnapped (called Mudjins), which takes on the form of a secondary objective to find these creatures tucked around the levels, mostly in hidden areas. Additionally, one of the boss encounters sees an enemy creature taking over the forest spirit’s house, which is destroyed in the course of the battle, adding an additional objective to find a new home for the displaced spirit. Pankapu is joined by a spider named Chii who provides details about the game’s world and often speaks on behalf of the silent protagonist.


Pankapu has a 3-gem health meter, which can be lost in quarter-gem increments. Spread around the world are a handful of red gem fragments, and finding four of these permanently increases Pankapu’s health meter by one unit. Additionally, for every 25 Mudjins rescued, the player earns one of these red fragments, and there are 100 Mudjins to be found in each chapter (though not all are accessible with Pankapu’s starting abilities).


There are no enemy drops, but red gems are occasionally discovered around the environment, each of which acts as a partial health restorative. Checkpoints, which appear regularly, restore Pankapu’s health to three units if he has less than this, or record his health if he has more, allowing him to respawn at that point with the amount of health he had when the checkpoint was activated.


Eventually, Pankapu earns a couple of additional abilities that he may use while the Aegis of Bravery is equipped. One is a downward sword strike, which can be used in combat – although it’s not particularly effective – or used to break certain blocks to drop down and access new areas, usually leading to hidden Mudjins or other rewards.


The other ability is a sword toss that allows Pankapu to hurl his sword a short distance away, spinning as it goes and causing massive damage to enemies at a distance, even cutting through multiple foes. This is useful as it gives the player an alternative to up-close melee attacks, and it also makes short work of stronger enemies and can destroy certain foes that are immune to sword attacks. Using this ability drains a magic meter which may be restored a little at a time by blocking incoming attacks (including contact damage from weaker enemies). Players may also locate items that permanently extend the magic meter.


Other upgrades include damage increases for your weapons, as well as Nebulas (Nebulae?), which act as enhancements to your regular attacks. Nebulas may be swapped on the fly and include area-of-effect damage for regular attacks, as well as explosives, new defensive abilities, and much more, allowing players to select the playstyle that most suits them, or make quick adjustments as the situation demands.


More important than this is the acquisition of new Aegises, which occurs a set points in the narrative, and there are three of them. The first Aegis (red) is Bravery and includes the player’s default sword attacks and shield, as well as the unlockable downward strike and sword throw. The second Aegis (green) is Ardor, and this completely changes the player’s movement and combat abilities, allowing for increased agility and the ability to strike enemies from a distance. The third Aegis (blue) is Faith, allowing the player to use magic and glide over long distances.


With the Aegis of Ardor equipped, Pankapu becomes a veritable Robin Hood / Green Arrow, complete with green garb and a feather in his cap. In his Ardor form, Pankapu is able to perform double jumps, and he has a backwards dodge instead of a shield, as well as a forward dash that allows him to pass through enemies and environmental hazards unharmed.


More importantly, with the Aegis of Ardor equipped, Pankapu ditches his sword in favor of a bow and arrows, allowing him to strike enemies at a distance. Additionally, his magical abilities allow him to toss a swirl of green light on the ground to cause damage to enemies that run into it – great for strong charging foes – and he can target up to three enemies, unleashing arrows that seek them out, even passing through solid objects. Of note is the fact that Pankapu can slow his descent by firing arrows forward or downward, allowing for more midair control.


Levels are accessed via a world map, and the player is able to go back and replay any previously completed level, although narrative progress remains linear and requires players to seek out highlighted levels in order to move forward. The enhanced movement abilities offered by each Aegis allow Pankapu to reach a number of areas that were formerly inaccessible, allowing players to backtrack if they desire, seeking out missed Mudjins, as well as heath and magic upgrades.


Level designs are layered, so returning to a previous level with new abilities and more health allows players to access branches within the level that are tougher and offer fewer checkpoints, offering a greater challenge to players who have grown more powerful and more skilled.


The game starts out very simply, with basic combat against slow and unintelligent foes, but things begin to escalate as new enemies are worked into the mix, along with tougher level hazards that require more precise use of Pankapu’s double jump and dash abilities. Moving into underground areas reveals a number of tougher foes, including exploding slime enemies (which unfortunately only hurt you and not surrounding foes), giant slimes that spit out smaller ones and can also explode with a wide area-of-effect that deals a ton of damage, and white versions of the clawed enemies encountered on the surface.


These white clawed foes attack very quickly, making the block-and-retaliate strategy virtually useless. Instead, players must seek out certain kinds of mushrooms that illuminate the area – and temporarily activate other mushrooms that act as springboards and platforms – and the light temporarily blinds these creatures, leaving them open to a series of attacks that can destroy them before they retaliate.


Thorny vines are the game’s most common hazard, and these appear with greater frequency as the game progresses, eventually being placed under moving platforms, crumbling platforms, and flowers that open and close with a set timing.


Other obstacles include insta-death rolling rocks, exploding orange mushrooms, and electrical orbs. Some challenging sequences appear over insta-death water, requiring players to hop between small platforms and even ride a spider-boat in a pseudo-forced scrolling sequence where players must chase after the boat while dealing with platforming challenges and enemies that encumber their progress.


The game offers the occasional boss and miniboss battle as well, and these can be fairly challenging, although they generally boil down to memorizing a cycling pattern and dodging attacks until the moment arises to strike back, often with a long duration between vulnerability periods. The boss battle at the end of the second chapter is particularly drawn out, requiring multiple attempts to experiment with viable solutions and a long fight through a forced scrolling sequence with little room for error, which must be repeated from scratch upon failure.



2D CRED
Pankapu was developed by Too Kind Studio, which was founded in 2014 and is based in Lille, France. The game was developed by creative director Jimmy Kalhart, art director Jérôme Brulin, technical director Jérémie Planckaert, and animator Nathan Dupouy, with music by Matthieu Loubiere (a.k.a. Ganaé Music Maker) and famed composer Hiroki Kikuta who has previously composed for such titles as Secret of Mana, Seiken Densetsu 3, Koudelka, Shining Hearts, and Indivisible, among others. The game was funded in part by a successful Kickstarter campaign.


The game was published by Plug In Digital.

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