Panzer Paladin's True Retro Cred Lies in a Soundtrack That Never Gets Old

Almost exactly one year ago, in the (literal) heat of the pandemic, one of my favorite indie game studios, Tribute Games, released their latest project: Panzer Paladin. The game is modeled after classic platformers like MegaMan, with an 8-bit graphical style to match. It was one of my favorite games of the year, despite not quite making my GOTY list

Although, looking back with the wisdom of another year under my belt, maybe that was an oversight…

This morning, I opened up the Bandcamp app to check out their new update that lets you listen to your collection offline. Staring back at me from the top row of my library of albums was the soundtrack to Panzer Paladin. While I remember liking that game a lot, what I remember even more is that the soundtrack absolutely slaps. Hard.

This has been the case for most of Tribute’s games, with recurring composer Patrice Bourgeault putting in some seriously heavy lifting in each release. With Panzer Paladin, it feels like his work has reached entirely new heights, and not just because almost every single track is a stone cold bop.

To me, the mark of good video game music is repeatability. I know this sounds foolish at first blush; all good music is repeatable. But video game music has something working against it that most music does not, which is of course the fact that you might die while playing the video game and have to start your current level – and therefore that level’s music – over again.

If a video game’s music is in any way still bearable after repeat deaths, that’s a solid soundtrack. The fact that almost all of Panzer Paladin’s level music still gets my head bopping after the fourth or fifth or sixth death, and in so doing relieves any frustration I might be feeling toward the game itself (or more accurately, my ability to play said game), is a towering achievement worthy of Sonic-The-Hedgehog-like levels of praise. And there are plenty of Sonic tracks that get old faster than I’d like.

When I went back and hit play on the Panzer Paladin soundtrack this morning, not only did I not want to stop listening even as it clashed with the music from the game of Animal Crossing New Horizons I had playing in the background (I am in fact still listening to it even as I write this post several hours later), but I was also hit with a wave of nostalgia not dissimilar to that which I feel from the classic game soundtracks of my childhood – Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country, etc – for a game I played last year. And I didn’t even play it for that long! I beat the game, yes, and got the “good ending” to boot, but it’s a short game!

I knew that I loved this soundtrack at the time, hence my Bandcamp purchase, but the fact that these tunes are able to elicit such a response from deep in my soul, and actually make me want to revisit and maybe even replay the game to which they are attached says a lot. It legitimately made me rethink the way I feel about this game, and where I ranked it in my GOTY list last year.

I should mention, none of this is to diminish the other facets of the game in any way. Rather, the music pairs so perfectly with everything else going on – the tight platforming, the strong visual style, the extremely cool weapon system – wraps it all up in a beautiful bow, and takes it to a level it could not achieve on its own. A level of love and nostalgia befitting its retro style and inspiration.

This soundtrack owns. Looking back, I think it might even elevate Panzer Paladin to True Classic status in my mind. Maybe I’m wrong. But I’m really feeling like I missed a beat last year by not heaping upon this game the praise it is owed. Take a listen to this music and decide for yourself (and maybe buy it on Bandcamp while you’re deciding):

(Personal faves: Tanzania, Scotland, Canals, Sky Gates)

Other titles for this post:
“Revisiting Panzer Paladin’s Banging Soundtrack a Year Later”
“Oh No I Think I Loved Panzer Paladin and I Missed Out on Its Physical Edition”

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