Must every popular role-playing franchise have their own spin-off game starring some adorable character? Final Fantasy has all of those Chocobo games and Dragon Quest has Rocket Slime, so maybe I shouldn't be surprised that now Disgaea as their own bizarre spin-off action game. This is a game about Prinny, the penguin-like characters that can be used as an alternative to a hand grenade. And now this peg-legged penguin-bat-thing is ready to prove that he has the stuff find the yummy dessert ingredients and defeat all of the food-based enemies.
The game's subtitle asks a simple question: Can I Really Be the Hero? Yes Prinny, you certainly can be the hero. In a lot of ways this is a traditional 2D side scrolling platformer. You have to make careful jumps on floating platforms, you're bouncing off of enemies and there are items (in this case food items) to collect along the way. You also get a sword, which will allow you to slash and stab your enemies at a rapid pace. On top of the regular sword attack, when you jump you can rain powerful attacks down on your enemies while literally floating in the air. However, what makes this attack even more spectacular is that the camera actually turns, showing you the attack from a 3D perspective. Couple these attacks with slide and dash techniques and you have a fairly straight forward action platform game.
Despite its cute looks, Prinny is definitely not for everybody. In fact, I would venture a guess and say that there's a large chunk of the game playing population that will downright loathe this game. They may appreciate the sense of humor and looks, but it would be the last game they would want to pick up and play for any amount of time. The reason for this is simple: Prinny is one of the hardest games available for the PSP. That is to say, Prinny is extrodinarily frustrating by design.
In fact, the game touts itself on its extreme difficulty. So while some may argue that it's too difficult and that constantly dying is not especially fun, the game makes no bones about what it is trying to accomplish. And, in my opinion, Prinny hits the ball right out of the park. Yes it's hard, but it's also funny, exciting and rewarding. The levels, while tough, are expertly designed, with surprises around every corner. Prinny embraces this industry's 2D roots and delivers a game that is more than just a throwback to a simpler time; it's practically a love letter to all of the 8- and 16-bit games that brought us to this point. I suspect that many modern gamers have moved on to fancy 3D first-person shooters, but for those of us who yearn for the days of Strider, Mega Man and classic Super Mario Bros., Prinny is the perfect vacation away from quick time events and exploding red barrels.
The plot is (understandably) silly, tasking Prinny with tracking down the ingredients of the "Ultra Dessert" for Etna. In order to accomplish this you will have 1,000 Prinnies (that's right, a thousand) and ten hours, so you better get ready for some serious platforming action. Silly story aside, all this is just a set-up for eight levels of traditional 2D gameplay, complete with a wicked sword, checkpoints and nasty enemies that will stop at nothing to make sure you don't find all of the dessert ingredients.
Initially the game gives you six different worlds for you to explore in any order you choose. Those six worlds contain a total of 36 individual levels. However, in order to complete Prinny you won't have to work your way through all 36 levels. In fact, you really only need to play a small fraction of the available levels. The way it works is simple, once you've completed a world you won't be able to go back, so you'll have to choose another level to defeat, with each world becoming increasingly difficult to beat. It doesn't matter which order you take these levels, as you check off each of the six worlds you will constantly be playing harder levels. At first it feels like you're constantly missing levels as you play through the game, but this actually works out for the best as you have a reason to play through the game multiple times. You could conceivably play through the game a half dozen times without repeating a level, which is more than I can say about more 2D platformers.
A lot can be made about the game's difficulty. I bring it up as both a warning to gamers who frustrate easy and as a challenge to anybody who fancies themselves to be a master of old school games. I found that the game ramps up the difficulty nicely, giving you a chance to figure everything out in the first couple of levels and then turning into the maddening frustration-fest that it becomes. But don't get me wrong, while I use the word "frustration" to describe Prinny's adventure, I never felt like the challenge was too much to bear. I found this game to be significantly less unfair than Capcom's recent Mega Man 9, a game that seems dead set on making you break your control in anger.
Yes these levels certainly are difficult, but they aren't impossible. But Prinny does a couple of smart things to minimize the anger you'll have from constantly dying. For one thing, each level features check points that are close together. This splits up the levels rather nicely, allowing you to focus on only one tough platforming exercise at a time. Another reason is the fact that you start with 1,000 lives. Sure it sucks to miss a platform or get hit too many times, but it's not as bad when you know that you still have hundreds of lives and can try it until you get it right. These two things turn this insanely difficult game into a manageable affair.
When we're not talking about the game's extreme difficulty we're talking about how good it looks. This is, bar none, Nippon Ichi Software's best looking PSP game. Not only are each of the game's levels unique, but they're full of tiny details that give every inch of this game a personal touch. And it's not just the levels; the various enemies are also full of details and expressive animations. I was also impressed with the different bosses, which come in all shapes and sizes. These boss battles feel like they dropped right out of the 1980s, they are full of patterns that you will have to memorize. From beginning to end, Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero? is full of amazing production value.
What really sells this game is the game's sense of humor. All of the different Prinnies speak at a high over-the-top octave, while constantly calling people "dood". They yell their lines and have expressive emotions. They have ludicrous conversations with the different bosses and cower in terror at every given opportunity. Prinny is a deeply flawed character, but you can't help but love him. It's on the fiftieth or so "dood" reference that I really started to love the guy, and that was only a few minutes into the game. Needless to say, Prinny is an endearing character that you really want to see succeed in his quest to become a hero.
On top of just being an incredibly fun 2D action game, Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero? comes with a the CD soundtrack and exclusive Penny Arcade comic. The soundtrack is nice, and really helps to remind me how good the music was throughout the game. On a side note, this is the second portable game I've played this month to come with the CD soundtrack (the other being Legacy of Y's: Books I & II on the Nintendo DS). I really hope that this is a continuing trend.
Music aside, Prinny is a phenomenal action game that manages to channel the best of the 1980s platforming games in one spectacular PSP game. Yes the game is hard, but with a thousand lives you should be able to make each and every one of the levels. With so many different paths this game is full of replay, and that's what you want in a portable game. I really had a great time with Prinny and hope that he's here to stay, dood.
Hey dood, Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero? proves to be one of the best 2D action games on the PSP. It's an action game full of great characters, funny writing and plenty of floating platforms. Throw in some devilishly clever level designs and a non-linear story, and you have a game that you'll want to replay over and over again!