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P.N.03 (GameCube) artwork

P.N.03 (GameCube) review

"It must be interesting to work for Capcom. Imagine, say, you were serving lunch. Chances are you get paid more for serving multiple customers at a time. Throw the customers their bread roll, and get bonus style points if you can bounce it off their heads. Perhaps the accounts department is in on the act. Mere double-entry book-keeping in Capcom offices is probably frowned upon. Enter things in 5 ledgers and earn extra pay! Or something like that. "

It must be interesting to work for Capcom. Imagine, say, you were serving lunch. Chances are you get paid more for serving multiple customers at a time. Throw the customers their bread roll, and get bonus style points if you can bounce it off their heads. Perhaps the accounts department is in on the act. Mere double-entry book-keeping in Capcom offices is probably frowned upon. Enter things in 5 ledgers and earn extra pay! Or something like that.

It's just the mentality that seems to pervade Capcom's games more and more these days. It's not enough to just play it, you have to play it well to get the full rewards. Only, the full rewards are hardly ever really worth the effort, all they actually give you is bragging rights.

There's a lot of this kind of thing in P.N.03, this relentless improving of your performance in order to buy .... well, stuff that makes the game easier, to be honest. The only thing is if you are good enough to afford said stuff, then you probably don't need it.

So, what exactly is P.N.03, anyway? Well, there is an easy answer to that question. P.N.03 is a shoot-em-up game, albeit a quite cleverly disguised one. In it, you play the role of Vanessa Z. Schneider. Vanessa is a professional bounty hunter/assassin. With a name like that, what else was she ever going to be? Perhaps a porn-star, but otherwise careers are pretty limited. So, Vanessa is sent into a robot city thing, where the robots have gone a wee bit nutty. Her brief is to destroy them, while talking to some anonymous client. This is really far more plot than you need, slim as it already sounds. The plot is just an excuse to have a gorgeous main character run around some gorgeous levels, shooting some cool looking enemies to the backing of some great music.

Ah, yes, the music. One of the main selling points of this game is the music. Vanessa is a bit of a cool girl, see, and she doesn't so much walk through levels as she does dance through them. By dodging to the left or right, Vanessa pulls off some impressive pirouettes and cartwheels effortlessly. Believe me when I say that these are some of the finest animated polygons to ever grace your screen. Vanessa is all about attitude, as she despatches evil while shaking her lovely looking booty. It's all very stylish, and very sexy.

Only, it's not really anything to do with the music. While Vanessa's dance moves are all superbly animated, they are not actually connected to the music at all. In fact, the whole dancing thing is just to add to the whole 'attitude' of Vanessa. She is all about this attitude, even tapping her feet and clicking her fingers to her own beat. Not that this in itself is a particularly bad thing, but it does set you to thinking that the game is a victory of style over substance. I have to say that for a while I did think it was perilously close to being just such a thing. However, the game eventually opened up to me, and as I understood the mechanics better, I enjoyed the game more.

In essence, P.N.03 is one of the most old-school games of recent years. You literally can reduce the gameplay to left, right, shoot, left, right, shoot, lather, rinse, repeat. It is entirely possible to just hammer the A button and not even bother dodging too much and still finish the Easy mode in a couple of hours. It is only when you up the difficulty, and start to chase the higher rankings that you start to fully appreciate this game. This 'style = points' mindset that is evident in so many of Capcom's games is perhaps even more strictly adhered to here than in any other game. Kill an enemy, and the word 'Combo' appears in the corner. You now have a countdown in which to kill another enemy. Keep on doing this as long as 'Combo' is on-screen, and you start to rack up points. Points can be spent on power-ups, and new suits. New suits allow Vanessa to live longer, do more damage, or just look a lot sexier!

With 11 stages to work through, it won't take anybody too long to see the end. Longevity is added by the randomly generated 'Trial missions' that exist between stages. These are entirely optional, and these are also entirely essential if you want enough points for the really good suits once they go on sale. Complete a level in Trial with a Professional rank, and it unlocks the next level, up to level 5. Since there are 5 levels per stage, and 11 stages, this amounts to an extra 55 levels of game. And, as I said, the layouts are randomly generated each time you play. These extra levels get pretty tough pretty soon, and Professional rankings get pretty hard to obtain. Let's just say that a serious player can spend a long time in this mode. None of which is really a lot of fun. This mode requires you to learn enemy patterns and to instinctively know the safe points and safe times as they shoot at you. Old-school, hardcore, and quite frustrating.

P.N.03 is not without it's fun moments. Some of the boss battles are really enjoyable, being just on the right side of hard. And, as I said already, Vanessa is simply stunning to watch. The graphics in general are of an excellent standard. Somewhat minimalist, and lacking in colours, yet it looks just like a robot city should look. As you get more familiar with your enemies, you will find yourself dancing between lasers and bullets more and more frequently, and enjoying it more every time you do it. Control of Vanessa really is exceptionally responsive, and you will never blame the controller when you die. You will know you should have just reacted quicker. You can not ask for any more than that from a game, and in this respect Capcom have worked wonders.

P.N.03 is a bit of a mixed-bag, overall. Being one of the most cutting-edge games available in terms of graphics, and one of the most retro games available in terms of gameplay. You should buy this immediately if you are the kind of person who can somehow find enjoyment in playing a game through repeatedly in order to simply get better at it. You should rent it if .... weel, if you're not really that good at games. Like most of Capcom's games, this can get quite tricky. Easy mode really is a stroll in the park. By Normal mode, the park has bears in it!

Personally, I would have liked the music to have tied in with the game a little more. Shooting robots to music, and scoring higher accordingly could be quite cool, and one can only hope Capcom invests in a seqeul so as to expand on this possibility. The only other thing that needs improving is the game's insistence on auto-targeting the wrong enemy sometimes. Since you have a manual over-ride for this, it is never really a vast problem. The main time it bugs you is when a new enemy warps onto the screen closer to you than your currently targeted enemy, and a quick press of the Y button soon fixes this.

I really liked P.N.03. Eventually. For a while, I did think I had been conned, but there is a depth to the game. A purity to it. A nice old-school feel to it. And, there is an undeniable beauty to it. As well as a decent level of difficulty to it. The game is as hard or as easy as you want to make it, a move that can only be applauded.

With a little bit more work, this could have been something great. As things are, this is merely good. It feels kind of like someone had a really good idea, and then bottled it at the last minute, preferring to play it safe. Which, is a pity. There are a lot of nice touches in this game, and at no time do you ever feel that it is less than 'cool'. You may also feel annoyed a lot too, though, especially if you decide to try the Trial missions. If you happen to be one of those gamers who is happy to replay the same levels countless times in order to improve your score, then you can add an extra 2 points to the score at the end of this review. For P.N.03 is a very polished example of the genre, but may well be a bit too inaccessable to non-shmup fans.

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Community review by cheekylee (June 07, 2004)

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zippdementia posted November 01, 2008:

Good review. I didn't pick this game up till much later in the gamecube's life, and I felt a mixture of "what the hell is this?" and "I can't stop playing."

Style over substance was a good way to put it. I agree that it just barely avoided that trap. Your best description labeled it as an old school shooter. Very true.

I did get tired of the repetitive level templates and enemies, though.

Hey, did you know all the animations were done by hand? no motion capture? Pretty impressive for how fluid they are.

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