Inside Pulse 12

Review: Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero? (Sony PSP)

Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero?
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Nippon Ichi
Genre: Platformer
Release Date: 02/17/2009


When we think of Nippon Ichi, we think about role-playing games. More specifically we think of hundred hour tactical RPG’s with insane level caps and even crazier stories. So it was a pleasant surprise to all when Nippon Ichi announced its first non RPG to hit US shores. Even better this non-RPG was going to feature characters from the beloved Disgaea series, winner of our 2003 Game of the Year award. I’ve been a big fan of Nippon Ichi ever since the Marl’s Kingdom (Rhapsody in North America) games, so even though I ABSOLUTELY SUCK at platformers I was quite excited to give this a try.

What I experienced was arguably the hardest video game I’ve ever played. Now on one hand, I’m crazy good at some games. I can beat Ikaruga without losing a life. I beat Street Fighter Alpha the day it hit arcades with a single quarter and didn’t lose a round with Sagat. I thought the Ninja Gaiden remake for the Xbox was pretty easy and beat it in a single day. On the other, I ABSOLUTELY SUCK at platformers. I have never beaten the first Super Mario Bros. ( I have beaten both versions of 2 & 3 though. Yes I know, I can beat The Lost Levels but not SMB1. I can’t understand that either). I suck at those timed jumps where you have to be on an exact pixel or you plummet to your death. My expertise is in RPG’s, fighting gamers, shoot ’em ups and adventure titles. So why am I reviewing Prinny knowing full well that it is a genre I both hate and suck at? Because I love the Disgaea characters that much. That and it gives me a chance to step outside my comfort zone. I haven’t reviewed a platformer since Lego Indiana Jones and the last platformer I can honestly say I liked was back in 2005 with Psychonauts. What better game to dip back into the platformer pool with than Prinny, dood?

So how was the game? Have I found the first platformer in four years that I can give a thumb’s up to, or is Nippon Ichi’s first stateside platformer the first game they’ve published that I give a thumb’s down to?

Let’s Review

1. Story/Modes

prinny-7For those of you unaware of what a Prinny is, here’s a short explanation dood! If you were a bad person in life, you become a Prinny once you enter the afterlife. Here in the Netherworld, your new form is that of a penguin with teen bat wings and that will explode if you are thrown or fall. Here your job is to cater to the every whim, no matter how psychotic, of Demon Lord Etna. Sure Etna will probably flay the skin from your bones or roast you alive, but that’s the life of a Prinny dood. Oh yes, as a Prinny you’ll find yourself saying dood a lot.

In Prinny someone has stolen Etna’s desert, and so she decides to slaughter an entire platoon of prinnies but changes her mind when they agree to seek out the fabled ingredients of the ultimate desert. In return Etna gives them a scarf that prevents them from exploding and so this band of 1,000 prinnies sets forth to gather the deserts and see only a modicum of their legion culled instead of all of them.

There’s not a lot to Prinny storywise, and out of all the Disgaea titles, it is in fact the weakest, but that’s because the entire game of Prinny is about one-tenth as long as the SRPGs. You can’t really cram RPG levels of story-telling and depth into a ten hour platformer. Still, the opening vignette is amusing and the dialogue before boss battles can bring a smile to your face as well. In truth though, there just isn’t anywhere near the level of characterization one has come to expect from a Nippon Ichi game, and much of the game revolves around you knowing the personalities and players from the first Disgaea. This doesn’t mean that the game is neither funny nor entertaining, but it does mean that only long time Disgaea fans will be able to get the maximum enjoyment out of this game.

Prinny has a serviceable plot, but unlike the RPG Disgaea games, the story here is paper thin and serves only to introduce bosses or get connect one section of the game to the next.

Story Rating: Mediocre

2. Graphics

prinny-30This is one of the prettiest games I’ve ever seen on the PSP. I find this especially amusing considering how much I bashed the visuals of Disgaea 3 on the PS3. Prinny boasts some of the most vibrant and vivid colours I’ve ever seen on this portable and characters from this Disgaea universe have never looked better.

One of the things that really impressed me was how there was no slowdown in the game. Usually platformers, especially side-scrollers are rife with this due to all the action on the screen, but not Prinny I had constantly impressed by the backgrounds, textures, enemy designs and all the horrific ways the poor little Prinnies could meet their grisly end.

Character designs are the same as in the Disgaea RPG’s, although there are a few new monsters as well, like the weird jumping corn thing and most of the bosses. Still, ninjas, priest, mages, and all the other character classes from Disgaea can be see and fought here and their new animations look great and the pixelation from their previous incarnations is long gone.

This is easily the prettiest game I’ve played on the PSP, and the irony that it is a Nippon Ichi game does not escape me.

Graphics Rating: Unparalleled

3. Sound

The music to Prinny is a lot of fun. My only complaint is that the score feels like it should be in an RPG instead of a platformer, but consider the roots of this games origin, this is only appropriate. The music is simply amazing, and I was quite pleased to see that all copies of Prinny come with a soundtrack for the game. The music is catchy, charming, and anyone who buys this game is sure to see the accompanying CD get a workout.

prinny-10The voice acting in the game is excellent as well. A lot of Disgaea voice actors are put back to work, and I love that Grant George is once against spewing out the doods and dialogue of the Prinny Squad. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to picture another voice as a Prinny besides his.

Sound effects round out this damn near perfect auditory package. The one thing you will hear most in the dying explosion of your Prinnies. Get used to it. You will also hear things burn, fart, pop, cut, and sizzle throughout the game. Sound effects definitely take a back seat to the voice acting and enjoyable score, but they still play an important part in the game. Although I’ll be the first to admit their part usually involves your Prinny dying.

Prinny features an amazing sound track and although it is only January, I’ll be shocked if this doesn’t get a nomination for Best Audio come December. Of course, I made that same prediction nearly a month ago for Baroque and oh look…IT WON.

Sound Rating: Unparalleled

4. Control and Gameplay

As a side scrolling platformers the controls are pretty simple here – you just walk and jump to the end of the level, occasionally killing something that gets in your way and trying not to die a terrible, terrible death.

As a Prinny you have the following moves: jumping, a double jump, your knives for slashing, throwing knives when you are in mid jump or double jump, a spin dance into a rush, the ability to pick up and throw things or a butt stomp which is your stun move against bosses and harder monsters. I’ll admit some disappointment in regards to the controls. It is nigh impossible to aim your jumps at times and sometimes you will try for a double jump into a butt stomp and the controls simply won’t respond, leaving you to get killed. This is a vexing situation, but the most irritating part of the game for me was trying to aim my jumps, which you can only do in a short window within the jump itself. I did find the controls to be a better overall package than most platformers, but like most games in this genre, they are nowhere as responsive as a fighter or traditional shooter. I realize it’s silly to try a cross genre comparison, but I’ve seen several misguided people try to compare Prinny to Metal Slug, and that’s unfair to the MS games as they are vastly superior control wise, and Prinny is a game about crazy timed jumps rather than crazy time blowing away a horde of enemies and bosses that tale up most of the screen.

prinny-29Gameplay is standard for the genre, but levels here are exceptionally long compared to other platformers. Perhaps that is because there are only six levels (at first) and Nippon Ichi decided long and exceptionally hard would be a nice contrast to many short levels make up an episode ala other platofrmers. I suppose if there had been more checkpoints or simply the ability to start from the exact point you died, it would have been okay, but often times (especially at night) you’ll clear an area that took you two dozen or so tries (Poor Prinnies!) thanks to a jumping sequence that must be performed with absolutely no leeway only to find something unexpected striking you with no checkpoint in sight, forcing you to do the whole routine over again. With controls that are unresponsive or lagging at times, this lack of checkpoints can create a heavy sense of frustration in a gamer, especially for those that are playing this game because of the Disgaea characters, rather than a love of the genre.

There are several things that can only be accessed by the most hardened of platforming gamers. These include medals to signify achievements you have completed, or souls that you collect and bring back to your village to give you new NPC’s to help you through your quest. Possibly the hardest of all to achieve are the Lucky Dolls. These dolls are randomly dispersed throughout levels and only appear when you butt stomp within their general vicinity. When you do this, they will reveal themselves and then run like hell. This means you have to chase after them, corner them, and then slash them more times than a boss in order to subdue and collect them. This is insane, especially with all the death traps surrounding you, but if you’re a good enough gamer and can collect these annoying little buggers, you can unlock music tracks, hidden areas within the game, and even the option to rebel against Etna (Oh, good luck with that battle. Ouch.) Because there are only two or three lucky doll rewards worth collecting and the price tag for them both is far higher than the average gamer will be able to pull off (70 and 100 respectively), it’s a bit of a cruel tease – just like the souls you have to collect in the second practice level.

In short, you’re going to need all 1,000 lives the game gives you thanks to control issues and level designs that border on sadistic.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Mediocre

5. Replayability

prinny-14On one hand, Prinny boasts a major amount of replayability. One the other the game is so hard that only the absolute best at this genre will be able to beat it and as such, most of the bonus bits are lost to the majority of people who pick up this game. There are four endings – a normal ending, an ending where you take out Etna, an ending where you lose all 1,000 Prinnies (which is actually worth achieving at it nets you the Prinny Raid skills, which is quite powerful even with the cost of losing ten lives per use) and Asagi’s ending. Yes, ASAGI’S ending. The poor girl finally has something close to a starring role in a game…and even then it’s runner up to the cannon fodder characters, ouch.

There are also hidden levels and battles. The Ordeal of Trials boasts not one but two evil Prinnies long time Disgaea fans might know. Well, they’re KIND of Prinnies anyway. Prinny Baal and Prinny Lah…oh, that would be spoiling things, wouldn’t it? Japan also has some downloadable content for their version of Prinny, so here’s hoping it makes it stateside as well. After all, that’ll be one more reason to play the game.

There are also medal/achievements you can earn and the aforementioned Lucky Dolls and souls to collect. Finally there is the most obvious reason to replay the game. You have complete control over which order you play the first six stages in the game. Each stage changes depending on what order you play them in from Early Morning to Late at Night. Each stage is harder the later you play them, which is mainly accomplished by making jumps harder, enemies more plentiful or platforms that were there in the day are no longer there at night making passing the level as close to torture as video gaming gets. Still, you’ll have to replay the game multiple times if you want to see how different each level can be.

Prinny packs an amazing amount of replay value, but due to the extreme difficulty of the game, most gamers won’t be able to see hide or hair of it.

Replayability Rating: Good

6. Balance

Prinny is possibly the most unbalanced game I have ever played. The levels themselves are insanely hard, featuring segments that you will have to die on just to see how to progress properly. It’s more a game of exact positioning and rote memorization of what pixel to be on at what second and then having dumb luck on your side than anything else. It’s like the King of Fighters frame rate counting. Sure you can do it, but winning that way is more about developing severe OCD rather than having fun and that’s what gaming is about. Alas, Prinny‘s developers seem to have forgotten that at times with sections of each level that are going to turn off more gamers, especially now that we’re back to an era of casual gamers dominating the scene.

prinny-28Even worse, after the excruciating pain of FINALLY beating a level you enter into boss fights that are well, exceptionally easy. What the hell Nippon Ichi? Prinny Laharl dies after a single toss? Yes, it make sense considering he’s now a Prinny, but this is what I went through the Ordeal of Trials for? Man, even Etna and Prinny Baal are cakewalks compared to the levels that proceed them. Etna’s just a matter of killing the Pringer X bots and Baal is so easy its sad, especially compared to the master of death he is in the RPG Disgaea games.

There really isn’t even a semblance of balance here. I suppose the dev team thought they were doing us a favour by “balancing” out the game with boss fights a moneky could win after levels that the vast majority of Nippon Ichi’s fanbase won’t be able to complete thanks to a steady diet of nothing but strategic RPG’s, but I personally would have preferred a more rounded game with a easier levels and harder boss fights, but hey, maybe that’s just me.

As much as I enjoyed this game, I have to say that Nippon Ichi’s first Disgaea platform really could have used some work especially as there’s not a lot of crossover between hardcore SRPG fans and hardcore platformer fans. They are such different beasts and require completely different skill sets that a lot of people will be picking this up as their first platformer in ages, if not ever, and being reduced to tears by it. Okay, maybe not tears, but severe profanity for sure. Yes, Nippon Ichi gave us two difficulty settings (One where you die after one hit and the other where you die after three), but that’s really more a delaying of the inevitable than a true attempt at balancing out the game.

Prinny is a horribly unbalanced title and as such it captures the insanity of Disgaea perfectly, but it also makes the game pretty inaccessible to people new to the genre, which defeats the whole point of the game existing in the first place.

Balance Rating: Worthless

7. Originality

How can you not love Nippon Ichi trying something new? I loved seeing the Prinnies and Asagi get their due. I loved playing through a platformer instead of trying to squeeze even more blood from the Disgaea stone with another SRPG (Where’s Makai Wars???).

The core of the game is indeed a generic platformer, with the need to replay levels to collect obscure, out of the way items, and the usual, jumping on enemies to kill them mixed with progression through levels filled with mostly the same enemies and deaths that occur more by being off a jump via a single pixel or frame rather than any beat down from an enemy. Still, Prinny has managed to make me love the game even while staying true to the trappings I usually abhor from this genre, and that’s impressive indeed.

Prinny has helped to revitalize the Disgaea series and it’s also going to bring new people into platform gaming thanks to its quirky plot and memorable characters. Prinny doesn’t reinvent the wheel, or even come close for that matter, but it’s a breath of fresh air for both a genre and a franchise, and I love that I can play the first six levels in whatever order I choose, even if I die often and frequently at this thing.

Originality Rating: Above Average

8. Addictiveness

prinny-20You know, I’ve been saying I suck at platformers, but I guess the fact I’ve beaten this game more than once now means maybe I suck at them only compared to say, my skill level at King of Fighters or Mars Matrix. Usually though, I give up on platformers after a while due to sheer boredom or frustration. Not so with Prinny. Yes, I’d have to put down the title here and there to relieve my rage, but I refused to lose to this thing. Half of it was spite and the other half was my love of the Disgaea franchise. I wanted to see a Prinny Rebellion. I wanted to see Asagi get the spotlight. I wanted to see what Prinny Laharl looked like!

As much as I was frustrated by this game and felt like a complete chump for having to take forever to get past sections of various levels, I still enjoyed the game. I still wanted to beat the game. Yes, there were times when the game was a chore and the concept of the game being fun was completely and utterly devoid of existence, but I still was obsessed with beating this game.

Maybe it was the masochist in me, or maybe it was the fact that for the first time in a long time, I was actually challenged by a game, but I never HATED this game for its obscene difficulty. Instead I reveled in it and found myself being angry at my own lack of platforming skills rather than BLAMING THE GAME as I know most people are wont to do.

Prinny is crazy hard, ’tis true, but it’s also exceptionally fun and kept me glued to a platformer when I’d have turned off any other game from this genre (save Psychonauts) after only a few hours.

Addictiveness Rating: Great

9. Appeal Factor

prinny-27In my experience there is little to no crossover between tactical RPG fans and platform gamers. I have queried many people that I know about this, ranging from long time gamer friends to other people who pull a paycheck from the industry, and they all agree that most people that love the grid based strategic RPGs like Shining Force or Phantom Brave tend to hate the Crash Bandicoot and Bubsys of the gaming world and vice versa. Both genres require a different mind set, a different skill set and pull in very different demographics. As such, I’m still a bit mystified that Nippon Ichi chose to do a platformer based on the most popular SRPG franchise in the world right now. A lot of their ardent fanbase are inherently going to suck at this game in the same way a Sonic the Hedgehog fan would suck at taking on Nightmare Geese from the Fatal Fury series for the first time. My big worry is that Prinny is going to make long time Nippon Ichi fans angry due to the huge shift in genres and the severe difficulty level.

At the same time I’m optimistic that Prinny can be that rare game that transcends genres and brings RPG’ers over to a platform gamer while introducing platform fans to the Disgaea universe and helps move some the recent DS remake of the first game in the franchise. After all, I hate platformers with the fury of a thousand exploding suns and…I didn’t hate this. In fact, I liked it.

Let’s call it a thumbs in the middle and say that this game will drive away as many long time Disgaea fans as it will bring in people new to the genre who have been sitting on their thumbs waiting for a really good PSP title, a really good platformer, or who have been curious about the Disgaea franchise but don’t have a hundred+ hours to devote to a single game.

Appeal Factor: Mediocre

10. Miscellaneous

prinny-26Bonus materials include an awesome soundtrack and a comic strip drawn by the Penny Arcade crew. However this also includes an increased price tag of $39.99 for a PSP UMD. At first glance, this seems like an expensive increase, but a lot of PSP games seem to be using the $39.99 price tag here in 2009 instead of the usual MSRP of $29.99. Plus, you’re still getting a game and nifty ancillary items instead of paying for “just” a game like Star Ocean: Second Evolution or the upcoming Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. Really EA? Forty bucks for a licensed PSP game? Shame on you. Yay for Nippon Ichi though, as the Prinny soundtrack is possibly my favorite thing about the game and as long as they’re upping the MSRP ten dollars, it’s nice to see NIS America giving us something to soothe the pain.

In the end, Prinny may be a hard game, but it’s also a fun one that has offers both platfomer and NIS fans something new for their gaming pallete, but it’s nowhere near the genre-crossing gateway that most people hoped it would be. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. As such, people who have little to no experience with platformers should expect the battle of their lives (okay, the jumping ordeal of their lives) while platformer gamers will at least get to see why those wacky Disgaea games are so popular with the anime kids.

Miscellaneous Rating: Above Average

The Scores
Story: Mediocre
Graphics: Unparalleled
Sound: Unparalleled
Control and Gameplay: Mediocre
Replayability: Good
Balance: Worthless
Originality: Above Average
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Above Average
FINAL SCORE: ENJOYABLE GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero is one of the hardest games I’ve ever played. Although the bosses are pretty easy, the levels in this game are like having to fight Borgan from the Sega CD version of Lunar: Eternal Blue over and over again until madness sets in. Difficulty aside though, Prinny was a lot of fun and featured an amazing soundtrack, memorable characters and some of the best visuals both the PSP and the Disgaea franchise have ever seen. Make no mistake, this is not a platformer for SRPG fans, this is a platformer for dyed in the wool hardcore platformer fans who have been waiting for a challenge. This is not a gateway game in any way shape or form. Those who have little to no experience with this genre and are curious because they really like the grid based Chess-style “thinking before acting” style of the other Disgaea games should be warned that this game will probably eat you alive. That being said, Prinny was able to keep me entertained and amused and I generally loathe this genre. It’s a shoo-in to be remembered as one of the best platformers and best PSP games of 2009, even if we still have eleven months to see if that prophecy rings true.