Okay so I know I usually do write-ups on games, not companies, but Panda was just so batshit insane that I feel they are deserving. The guys at Panda were the OG bootleggers, for a short time in 1983 they slithered onto the scene and vomited their wares, but before they could finish they vanished quite suddenly. Now, Panda was the supreme budget brand, they made their games out of the cheapest materials they could get, and cut as many corners as possible, i'm not sure what they sold for originally but I'm sure they gave even Zellers a run for their money. Panda's game lineup consists mainly of games made by the European game company Sancho, though there are a few from different companies. Not all of the games advertised by Panda were actually released, I don't know why perhaps they actually got sued, or they just game up halfway through, either way they came to a sudden, sticky, end.
Early Panda releases had a wraparound label, even though the cartridge had a partition for a top and end label, and the label continued to the bottom of the cartridge for some inexplicable reason. These early labels use an ink roll printing method, perhaps it was even done by hand, the second style of labels have only an end label that appears to be properly/'professionally' printed. I’ve never seen the PCB of one of these Panda games, since the cartridges snap shut with no screws, but I’m pretty sure all I’ll find on the PCB is a giant blob of solder. The cartridge shell may be a bit familiar to collectors several obscure and sought after games like Quest for Quintana Roo, Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and even Spy Hunter from Sega share the same or extremely similar cartridge design. In fact they just seem to be slightly modified, cheapened, Apollo cartridges with the branding removed.
The artwork used for the boxes was stolen from the stolen games which isn’t hard to believe considering just about every bootlegger did the same thing. The art style is really all over the place, from cartoonish and kinda bad with Space Canyon and Harbor Escape, to professional painting with Excocet and Seahawk, to slightly amateurish airbrush work with Dice Puzzle and Stuntman. All of the games that were stolen from Sancho simply use Sancho’s artwork, apart from Stuntman. Tank Brigade, Space Canyon, and Harbor Escape have ‘original’ artwork, since they weren’t from Sancho they had to steal somebody else’s artwork. I don’t know where they stole it from, or maybe considering the cartoonish nature of them they were done by Panda themselves, or at least commissioned by them. Also if you’re wondering the manuals are just standard printer paper with the bare basic information printed on them, nowhere near as bad as Zellers’ instructions but still very lacking.
Luckily for us Panda decided to issue some sales flyers back in the day, detailing which games they were selling, they didn’t release all of them which is unfortunate as there were a few unique titles that weren’t seen anywhere else. Here’s a list of them:
- Tank Brigade – Phantom Tank from Bit Corporation AKA Tanks but No Tanks from ZiMAG.
- Galactic Invaders – Unreleased, if you know of a space shooter with 24 game variations specifically, that’s what it was going to be.
- Space Canyon – Space Cavern by Apollo, they really butchered the graphics with this one.
- Baseball – Unreleased, I have no idea what game they were stealing with this one.
- Excocet – Excocet by Sancho, they really didn’t try with these.
- Seahawk – Seahawk by Sancho.
- Harbor Escape – River Raid by Activision, that’s lawsuit worthy.
- Dice Puzzle – Dice Puzzle by Sancho.
- Forest – Unreleased, same name same game from Sancho.
- Stunt Man – Actually Nightmare by Sancho, for some reason Panda changed the name and artwork despite advertising it as Nightmare originally with Sancho’s artwork.
- Skindiver – Unreleased, yep Sancho again, also better known as Sea Hunt from Froggo.
For all anyone knows Panda was just a frontage company set up by Sancho to sell their games in the US, and I kinda wish they managed to release all of the games, if only to get a somewhat officially released version of Forest in the US. At this point these games are just novelties with the only one that would be worth searching for being Stunt Man as it is the only NTSC version of Nightmare, from what I can tell not even South America touched that one. Just buy the official or Froggo releases, the only game where it might be cheaper to own the Panda version is with Tank Brigade, but that’s only if people list the game at what it’s worth. Yeah, due to their weirdness factor these games are sought after and are highly scalped, so don’t trust any of the prices on Ebay, they’re worth twenty bucks not a hundred and twenty.
Here are the original sales flyers, they're from Atarimania if you're wondering