Plus, while you automatically fly forward, you need to keep your head on a swivel – almost literally, because you have to manually turn the camera. You have a radar, which will let you know when enemies get within attack range as they approach from four directions, but they will get the drop on you if you aren’t vigilant. While very few enemies can do significant damage off a single blow it is very easy to get overwhelmed by multiple attackers if you miss a few shots or take too long clearing the screen. It can get a little frustrating, especially if, like me, your first instinct is to dodge an oncoming attack rather than shoot it. Missing a shot leads to taking a hit, but a wrong move can have larger consequences, especially when you’re surrounded.You’ll want to look around though, especially if you played the original Saturn version and want to appreciate the improvements. Panzer Dragoon: Remake completely reimagines all seven levels, building out the environments and adding lots and lots of additional detail. In the original 1995 version, the first level features scattered stone columns sticking out of otherwise undisturbed water to symbolize a flooded ruin. In Remake, the flooded ruin has been fully realized, with broken buildings jutting out of craggy rocks. Every crack and crevice of all seven levels has received similar treatment, expanding upon the environments the Saturn could produce to create a series of fully formed spaces.
While the levels look much different, the action itself is all true to the original Panzer Dragoon. Key moments, like the building crashing down on you before the first boss are still here, and feel more like the impressive events they were probably supposed to be. If you have strong memories of specific points from the original Panzer Dragoon, I imagine it’ll be a kick to see them play out on the screen in a way you had to imagine in 1995.
That said, I don’t want to overstate things. It’s really cool how much has changed and how those changes feel organic, but the art itself isn’t especially impressive. The designs of the dragons and enemies are detailed and interesting but feel generic without enough story to anchor them.
Also, while the gameplay remains unchanged for the most part, there is at least one new mechanical feature: a modern control scheme option. The original controls are still the default in Remake, but they sync moving and shooting on the left analog stick. With these controls, it can take a long time to push the dragon to a far corner of the screen, which can make it difficult to dodge attacks. The new control option separates aiming and shooting, which increases your mobility and may feel more like a modern game, I found that it didn’t help my maneuverability as much as I’d hoped when it comes to dodging incoming fire.
But yes, I did say it’s less than two hours long. Closer to one, in fact. That’s because even though Panzer Dragoon was made for the Sega Saturn it’s built like an arcade game: you have two shots to fly and shoot your way through its seven levels. You can earn extra lives or “credits” at the end of each level, depending on your performance; specifically, your accuracy, how many enemies you shot down, and how many got away. There’s no mid-level checkpointing, but if you have a credit you can restart the level you died on. If you don’t, it’s game over and you’re back to the beginning. The campaign is short – I finished my first run on normal difficulty in about 70 minutes – but that doesn’t take the sting out of getting to the last level and losing all your progress. Then again, once you do finish it, there isn’t much more to do except replay it on hard mode, which is more taxing but not necessarily more satisfying. Without a leaderboard or any means of memorializing your best runs, there’s little reason to go back more than once or twice.