Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 10/05/2018 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night
One of the great things about my Everdrive GBA is that someone made a Game Gear emulator for it. I have a Game Gear as well as the Master System/Master System card/Game Gear adapter for my Retron 5, but what I don’t have is the ability to acquire some of the prohibitively and out of reach Game Gear imports – Panzer Dragoon Mini, for example, a Japan-only Game Gear exclusive that seems to fetch prices around $300 and up on eBay these days. This is going to be a rather controversial review as Panzer Dragoon Mini is NOT a widely beloved entry in the series among fans, but for one reason or another, I found myself thoroughly enjoying it.
Panzer Dragoon Mini plays almost exactly like its Saturn counterparts just scaled down to fit the capabilities of Sega’s handheld. I’d heard all sorts of gloom and doom about how bad it is online, but having played through, I can’t imagine why. It’s not a masterpiece or anything, but it’s quite a competent game for the system, and I had a lot of fun playing through it. It’s broken into five stages each of which is composed of random enemies that attack you, usually a mini-boss with some more enemies following, and then an end boss. The final stage is largely a boss rush with an extremely brief interlude and a handful of enemies before the next boss.
I’ll be the first to admit that my experience with the Game Gear isn’t particularly extensive, but of the Game Gear games that I have played, this is definitely one of the better-looking ones. The sprites are fairly simple as are the backgrounds, but the scaling gives a nice impression of a three-dimensional environment, and the colors and animations are all well done. I was playing this one in public without headphones, so I can’t speak to the sound effects or music, but as far as the visuals and gameplay go, it’s a great game. The criticism it frequently gets online is totally bizarre to me.
Panzer Dragoon Mini is a seriously good handheld game to play if you have an hour or two to kill. My playthrough took just a bit over an hour – maybe 70 or 75 minutes if I had to guess. The visuals are nice and colorful, and while the art style does take a super deformed approach to the dragons, it fits with the handheld and looks totally fine. It plays well and controls fine, and with a password after each stage and three difficulty settings, it’s a very accessible game for players of varying skill levels. Given the hefty price tag, most folks won’t get to experience this one, but if you’re open to emulation or Everdrives, then I strongly suggest playing this one if you’re a fan of on-rails shooters. For me, at least, Panzer Dragoon Mini did not disappoint.