Despite originally brushing off Super Panda Adventures
as just another throwaway (and ugly) platformer when I purchased it in a bundle many months ago, once coming to Steam, I opted to boot it up and actually experience the trainwreck first hand, if only for the card drops. If there was ever a grander example of the wisdom, “never judge a book by its cover”, I’ve not found it (at least on Steam). A word to all: Ignore the obvious warning signs of a budget price and lackluster art; SPA
is a surprising amount of fun, and offers a stupendous metroidvania adventure, despite a few small flaws along the way.
What surprised me most about SPA
wasn’t the notably tight controls nor the exceptionally entertaining notion of controlling a panda with a katana. No, what surprised me was the sheer size of the level layouts, and the many paths therein. Levels are typically huge, and often reach deep into the ground and high into the clouds. While there are plenty of collectibles and upgrades waiting to be discovered, the emphasis on exploration and pathfinding is based more on your abilities and equipment as you find them, rather than on hidden paths or destructible walls. Meaning, the passage to a new upgrade is usually only blocked by a wall higher than your current jump, or a door requiring a key that you can’t reach for a similar reason. Repeat exploration is encouraged, and most levels feature something
new to do after each new ability is earned.
Combat is also surprisingly prevalent and entertaining, but then, the prospect of a sword wielding panda is an entertainment in its own right. SPA
features a leveling system, powered by hidden caches of points and killing enemies alike. Typical upgrades are standard fare, but by finding special orbs in each level, your armor and weapons can be upgraded, and changed in appearance as a result. Although I never became bored with the combat, exploring and re-exploring the same levels over again could
have felt more tedious without the consistent rewards of combat or in seeking out hidden caches.
Not all is well, however, and while minor, there are several notable flaws that hamper the experience. Boss encounters typically carry a massive disparity in difficulty from the rest of the adventuring, due to enormous health bars and attacks equally both powerful and annoyingly difficult to avoid. The large levels, while a joy to run around in and explore, have no map system to fall back on, and so path finding relies solely on memory. When looking for each and every collectible and upgrade, that fact becomes irritating quickly, especially on the more vertical levels. Worse, there is no “percentage complete” function, and so those missing odds and ends could literally be hidden in any level, and there’d be no solid clue as to which.
Regardless of listed faults, SPA
is an absolute delight. While the unenthusiastic art design would normally all but promise a similar quality of gameplay, SPA
provides a metroidvania styled adventure similar to what you would expect of a higher priced title. Given the quality, this game could
have been sold at a standard $10 price point. For a standard asking rate of only $4, it’s an absolute steal.