The last few weeks have seen a handful of remakes of beloved games from the ‘90s, and Panzer Dragoon: Remake is certainly the least of them. The original was ideal for its time: an on-rails shooter in a 3D environment inspired by post-apocalyptic sci-fi and medieval fantasy, with armored dragons replacing the spaceships typically seen in shooters, Panzer Dragoon introduced a world with potential, while boasting mechanics and a control scheme that were fully in-line with what was possible and expected in 1995.
We’ve come a long way since 1995.
Panzer Dragoon: Remake doesn’t know that. It holds the original in too much reverence. The original camera system remains intact, where your view can only change at 90 degree angles, focusing either forward, backward, or to the right or left. It offers an optional and modest upgrade to the original control scheme, letting players directly control the targeting reticule with the right joystick, but that doesn’t solve the core problem of dropping us in a fully-formed 3D environment with a limited and unwieldy pre-Mario 64 camera.
I’m an inordinate fan of old shoot-’em-ups. It’s why I’ve kept a TurboGrafx plugged into a TV for most of the last 30 years—so I could have access to one of the best collections of shooters ever released. 3D on-rails shooters aren’t my favorite subgenre—Sin & Punishment is great, but none of the StarFox games have ever appealed to me—but that’s not why I’m disappointed in Panzer Dragoon: Remake. The simple fact is that this kind of game, from this era of gaming, can’t really be remade without fundamentally changing how it plays and feels. It’s another one of those games from the medium’s awkward adolescence, when it was growing into a new body of technology in a way that aged quickly and terribly.
The first thing that needed to be done to make this game have any place in the modern day was to fix that camera. If we have to keep a constant eye on what’s happening around us, we should be able to move the camera freely along all 360 degrees. Tapping a shoulder button to quickly turn our viewpoint to the right or left is weird, unnatural and out of step with how games have developed over the last 20-odd years. Without that one step, Panzer Dragoon: Remake is essentially pointless.
That wouldn’t fix all of its problems. I don’t necessarily have an issue with its length—you can complete the whole game in an hour, if you don’t die too often—because shooters are generally short. The point isn’t to weigh you down with content like an RPG, but to make what content is there so challenging that you won’t realize how short it is until you’ve mastered it. Still, length can be a major sticking point for a modern audience, and when people hear that a game is only an hour long they’re likely to look elsewhere.
Some of Panzer Dragoon still works. The world remains interesting, with its combination of archaic and futuristic technology, and hints at a dead world that we never quite learn that much about. In that way it recalls the later games of Fumito Ueda—Ico, Shadow of the Colossus and The Last Guardian—which are all set in the mysterious ruins of a long-gone civilization. Its art design compensates for the outdated graphics and sparsely filled environments. It still has a subtlety and a cryptic nature uncommon for a shooter, which is probably the best thing about it.
It’s not clear who this remake is for. Diehards of the original probably already have a way to play it, and I don’t see many people without that nostalgia falling for this version of the game. Compare this to Final Fantasy VII Remake, which is a true remake from the ground up, taking one of the most important games of all time and making it playable by modern standards. Panzer Dragoon: Remake barely makes any concessions to how games have grown over the last 25 years, and that makes it hard to care about it. The superior sequel will be getting a remake next year; this might be one of those situations where the first game in a series can easily be skipped over in the hagiography. Even the biggest members of the Dragoon Squad can sit this one out.
Panzer Dragoon: Remake was developed by MegaPixel Studio and published by Forever Entertainment S.A. It’s available for the Switch.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.