There’s no getting away from it: Panzer Bandit is obviously “inspired” by Treasure’s seminal SEGA Saturn classic Guardian Heroes. Fortunately, there’s far more to Fill-in-Cafe’s beat-‘em-up than merely imitation for imitation’s sake, as what we have here is a stunning game that not only serves as a reminder of the PSone’s outstanding two-dimensional capabilities, but also a title that finds a worthy place within what was a pretty crowded genre.
The main story mode takes place across eight stages, the first four of which can be played in any order. Your goal is a familiar one: along with a friend, you must walk from left-to-right, knocking seven bells out of anything and everything that you encounter. There are initially four characters that you can do this with: Kou, Kasumi, Miu, and Ein. It’s the cutesy little Miu that actually turns out to be the game’s unlikely heavyweight, thanks to the mechanical companion that she rides around in, which itself serves as a reminder of Baby Head from Capcom’s legendary Captain Commando.
Once you’ve chosen your character and selected the stage that you want to tackle, it’s on to the bit that you actually came for: conducting “aggressive negotiations” with the enemy hordes. There are just three buttons to get to grips with: weak, strong, and special attack – but don’t mistake the ease of use for simplicity, as this game has a great balance of accessibility and depth, allowing you focus your attention on when to actually use each protagonist’s special move rather than how to pull them off. Add throws, blocks, counters, and air recovery capabilities to all of the above, and you have a well-rounded system that gives you a number of tactical options in just about any situation.
While you’re free to choose which order you approach the first four story stages, the levels themselves are completely linear, with no alternative routes or secret bosses – however, you can play as all of the main antagonists upon completing the game with each of the four regular characters. In addition to that, there’s a four-player versus mode that’s designed to keep you occupied once you’ve had your fill of the campaign. Versus offers 1-v-1, team, and battle royale-style combat, with full flexibility to create any setup that you can think of, including mismatched 1-v-3 teams for those that feel like they can take on everyone at once.
At the end of the day, this isn’t as good as Guardian Heroes – but how many games are? If you give Panzer Bandit the chance to come out of the aforesaid treasure’s shadow, you’ll find a title that isn’t just “good for what it is”, but also a solid experience in its own right and one that any genre fan deserves to try. Doing so may prove difficult if you’re after a retail copy, as this not only remained exclusive to its native Japan, but is also relatively expensive. Fortunately, the release can also be snapped up from the PlayStation Network for about ¥600 ($6.00/£3.50), which is steal considering that it's a lot of fun.
Have you got a hankering to hit something in the face? Have you played the brilliant Panzer Bandit before? Punch out a response in the comments section below.