The Sega Saturn will live on in history as a much underappreciated console. It’s up there for me as one of my favourites of all time – partly the time in my life it came in, but also it had some incredible games that seem destined to be stuck there forever. Happily, Forever Entertainment seems to have taken it upon themselves to help out here; in addition to remakes of the first two House of the Dead titles (the original got a slightly wonky port to the Saturn), they have also resurrected a long dormant franchise that is the focus of this review – Panzer Dragoon. While it might not be the one we need from back then (I can’t express how much I hope for a remake of Panzer Dragoon Saga) it’s still great to see the series again, even if the gameplay might not quite hold up to modern standards.
Panzer Dragoon takes the form of an on-rails shooter, the kind of which were very common back in the early 90’s. Riding the titular Dragoon, we sweep the cursor around the screen and take out enemies as they approach. Unlike most of its peers though, the danger in Panzer Dragoon can come from all four directions. We’re able to pivot the camera in 90 degree increments to track enemies, with a handy little radar in the top corner showing the nearest threats. Holding down A lets us paste multiple enemies with a lock on target, then releasing the button sends out a cavalcade of lasers to attack, while tapping A fires of single burst shots from our gun.
That’s the jist of it here; there are no upgrades or options outside of this, as was the case in the original. It preserves the simplicity of the Saturn title while presenting the action in much improved visual fidelity. I’ve always enjoyed the Panzer Dragoon art style, and here it looks better than ever. The weird, stone-looking ship structures are excellent, while the levels benefit from a great level of detail as we fly over head. The gun shots and lasers give off a glow to the surrounding environment which is especially cool looking in one of the later underground stages. The Dragoon itself looks excellent in the few close ups we get too. There’s still a whiff of 90’s era CG to the people and some of the prerendered scenes, but I fell it adds to the retro charm in a good way – it almost looks as it does in the minds eye when thinking back to playing it on the Saturn.
Unfortunately the gameplay doesn’t quite fare as well in my eyes. While it’s simple to get into there are still the same bug bears I had with the original that soon reared their head; incoming projectiles are too tough to dodge with any consistency, while if an enemy is in the corner of the screen there’s no easy way to aim at them as we can only turn in those strict 90 degree increments – more than once I found a tricky git hitting me just out of eye sight. The aiming reticule is much improved over the original, but it’s still tricky to get used to where our hits will interact with the enemies. Levels are short enough, but also have no checkpoints at all, so a death to the boss sees us repeat the whole stage again. Oddly, the level five (of seven) boss was supremely tough, while the final boss was defeated in less than a minute.
Despite these niggles I am very pleased to see the series return to the fold, and hope that Forever Entertainment can keep on working with Sega to bring back more Sega Saturn classics (may I humbly pitch Burning Rangers?).
Part of the joy of these remakes is when an old game is taken and made to feel fresh again, keeping the essence of the old but making it more palatable for a new audience. While Panzer Dragoon gets some nice visual upgrades, I would have liked to see more put into updating the gameplay to suit. As it is, it strictly sticks to the formula laid out 25 years ago, even ignoring improvements made within its own sequels. It’s not exactly a bad game, but unless you have some serious nostalgia for the Saturn original then this might not stick around for more than a single run through.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.