Panthera Frontier review
App Reviewed on: iPad Air 2
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Have you ever wanted a game like FTL, but with a casual feel and animals? If so, Panthera Frontier might just be for you. Panthera Frontier repackages a lot of the starship management mechanics of Subset Games's tough-as-nails roguelike into a more streamlined experience, making it more accessible, but also less satisfying, in the process.
Spaced out cats
Panthera Frontier's universe is one full of all kinds of anthropomorphic animals. You play as the captain of a feline federation ship, where you have to manage everything, from which rooms or “modules” your ship contains to what roles your individual crew members fill. With your vessel, you bounce between various planets throughout the galaxy to fight pirates, complete missions, and earn currency to get new ships or upgrade your existing one.
The whole thing feels a heck of a lot like FTL, but with a few key differences. You still have the exciting, real-time battles where you are juggling between moving your crew around your ship and targeting specific rooms on your enemy's craft, but the systems in play during these fights are not as complicated. You don't have to worry about managing oxygen levels, closing doors, or anything too mico-managey. You just have to focus on taking down your enemy faster than they can do the same to you while keeping your crew and rooms from being destroyed.
Another important thing to note about Panthera Frontier is that it ditches the roguelike mechanics of FTL. Instead, the game is structured more like a standard space sim. You have the entire galaxy to explore, a main quest line to follow, and a series of side quests that pop up randomly when you visit new planets. There are also stores and space stations you can visit to purchase new weapons, hire new crew, and repair your ship between battles.
Although there are a few side quests that don't involve fighting, Panthera Frontier's primary concern (and greatest strength) is its space combat. Everything you do in the game is in service of making your ship a more capable fighting machine so you can take on tougher foes. There are even arenas spread across Panthera Frontier's map that let you test the might of your ship against other players. If you happen to die though, it is not a permadeath situation. Losing in combat results in a loss of some currency and crew experience, though you can pay some premium currency to avoid these penalties.
Panthera Frontier's combat can provide quite a bit of variety, but the rest of the game feels remarkably low-rent. Textures in the game look pretty low resolution, and within the first hour or two of playing you start seeing side quests repeat themselves. There are also times in the game when you're simply jumping from system to system and literally nothing happens. It's weird, and can make Panthera Frontier pretty boring at times.
The game's upgrade system also leaves quite a bit to be desired. Getting new weapons, crew, and ships requires that you grind out battle after battle just to buy one or two new things. There are Daily Quests you can complete to try and get this currency faster, but that just reinforces how much the game feels like an upgrade treadmill.
The bottom line
In the process of making FTL-style gameplay more approachable, Panthera Frontier stripped out a few too many things. The streamlined combat here is good, but there's practically nothing to prop it up with. Exploring Panthera Frontier's universe gets stale quickly, upgrades come along too slowly, and the whole game looks and feels cheap. These surrounding issues don't make the game terrible, but they do make Panthera Frontier much harder to enjoy.