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P.N.03 (GameCube) artwork

P.N.03 (GameCube) review

"Late 2002 was a happy time for Nintendo fans. Capcom's famed Production Studio 4 announced a quintuple threat of games for the floundering GameCube, including a cel-shaded superhero game, a new entry in the Resident Evil franchise, a since-cancelled mythological shooter, an intriguing noir game, and a very stylish looking shooter named Product Number 03, or P.N. 03 for short. Anticipation for the games grew and grew, but when P.N. 03 came out in Japan, not too many pe..."

Late 2002 was a happy time for Nintendo fans. Capcom's famed Production Studio 4 announced a quintuple threat of games for the floundering GameCube, including a cel-shaded superhero game, a new entry in the Resident Evil franchise, a since-cancelled mythological shooter, an intriguing noir game, and a very stylish looking shooter named Product Number 03, or P.N. 03 for short. Anticipation for the games grew and grew, but when P.N. 03 came out in Japan, not too many people seemed to notice. Then, when it hit America, just about every magazine except the too-serious Play and the too-crappy GamePro blasted it. The same complaints were heard across the board - too short and repetitive, bad controls, the only good thing is the character design. Meanwhile that new Castlevania game, where there were about five room designs total, is only mentioned in passing to be repetitive in a couple of magazines. If this debacle doesn't convince you that the current game media have their heads up their collective asses, nothing will.

P.N. 03 doesn't waste its time with too much back-story. A computer defense system, CAMS, flipped out and killed some (all) of the people on this planet, including the parents of your character, and you're hired by someone known only as ''The Client'' to beat the living crap out of it. Hey, it works. You play as Vanessa Schneider, a female mercenary, and are given the use of various Aegis Suits, form-fitting (read: perversely skintight) things that give Vanessa the ability to dodge and do various acrobatics as well as fire shots from the palm of her hand. Aside from the usual mission briefing type text bits that don't even have voice acting, the story doesn't even come out of hibernation again until the ninth level. Probably a good thing. It'd just get in the way of all the explosions and stuff.

The thing P.N. 03 eschews a narrative for is action. Copious amounts of action. Right from the beginning, you're assaulted by about twelve enemies in the middle of a sandstorm outside the CAMS base. You'll notice immediately that the gameplay system is rather unique. Vanessa's palm shots take time to reach their target and she can only fire them when she's stationary, making the combat more about dodging the enemy shots and finding a good time to counterattack. You can do jumps on a forward axis, but the jumping on the left-right axis is nearly non-existent. To counter this, you're able to press L or R to do a twirl to the left or right, and if you so desire you can press it again during the spin to do a cartwheel in that direction. In practice this allows for a higher level of mobility than regular jumping. The ability to crouch and roll also comes in handy occasionally, especially since some of the enemies have shots that go over your crouched height. As you use these moves to systematically eliminate the enemies, you may notice that an enemy or two are circling you, too fast to be hit by the palm shots. No problem, you've got energy drives. By inputting simple Guilty Gear style commands on the d-pad, you can unleash one of your special attacks and unleash a world of pain on your enemies. Gunframe indeed.

Aside from this, all there is to the game is the combo system. In a nutshell, you have to kill the enemies fast to rack up a multiplier on the points. In a... um... what would be the opposite of a nutshell, anyway? In a llehstun, every enemy is worth an amount of points that go onto a combo meter. After this first kill, you now have a set amount of time to destroy something else. Once you eliminate a second target in time, that enemy's points add to the first's and the kill adds one to the multiplier, now at two, which goes up one with every kill in the combo. Repeat ad nauseam. The amount of time you're given and the score given depends on the enemy, which usually works pretty well. The only bad thing is that it's possible to go from having twenty seconds after killing a massive enemy straight down to three seconds for killing a small one. Suffice to say, that can be a bit frustrating. Still, it's a very fun system. The first time you rack up a double digit multiplier and get tens of thousands of points will be a special kind of moment for you, like your first Yoo-Hoo. This is the type of game that you can make look good to people who've never even played it before.

You may be asking yourselves, what's stopping me from just pulling a Solid Snake and jumping out from corners, firing, and jumping back in like an orangutan on crack? Well, you'll want the points to spend in the ''shop'' (read: desolate menu screen). Various things are available here, ranging from new suits to more energy drives for your current suit to stat upgrades in one of a few categories. You probably won't get enough points while actually playing through the game to buy a lot of stuff, though, which is where trial missions come in. These allow you to play a random assortment of rooms that you've already cleared in the game. They're actually more amusing than you think, hampered only by the ability to end up with a fork in the road... you can only imagine how annoying that can be. Backtracking without an exploration element is always a joyous occasion.

P.N. 03 boasts a handful of great enemies. The one you'll see most often are medium sized tanks, about the size of Vanessa. Early on they only fire machine guns, but as you proceed through the game, they'll learn some new tricks, ranging from homing missiles to EMP blasts to shield generators. Larger tanks also have their own personalities, with the ability to shoot energy up from the ground and tear you to pieces with their chain guns. There are also a few types of flying enemies, my favorite of which is one that zigzags all around to get in range and then fires either one thick laser or a five-pronged laser at you. Of course, the enemies would be nothing without good level design, which shows up inconsistently. On one hand, there are some really unique rooms with well-placed enemies that make you think out your plan of attack before running in. On the other hand, there's that corridor you've already been through twenty times. The biggest flaw in the level design, however, is that each room is its own ''mini-level''. Not only does this hurt the flow of the game, but it ruins the possibility of chaining the whole level into one glorious combo and limits said combo to only what's in that room. Spicing things up is the fact that about half of the levels culminate in a boss fight. I liked Alraune, the scorpion-like final boss, and Lowenzahn, a futuristic tank that changed forms a couple of times. Orchidee, which is basically a train, was cool in theory but way too easy. However, aside from these three the bosses are actually rather forgettable, which is a shame considering the great work Production Studio 4 did with Devil May Cry's bosses.

You won't be plagued by that many bad bosses, though, since the game is only eleven stages long. That's right, eleven. And they're not exactly expeditions. In fact, my first time through took me only three hours, and I did some of the trial missions. I mean, there's plenty of incentive to play the game again, but it'd be nice if this weren't half as long as Zone of the Enders. Let that sink in. Half as long as Zone of the Enders. Yeah. Once you win the game, though, there are still other suits to buy and a few secret ones to unlock. You can also tackle the hard difficulty you earn, which is a welcome challenge. Personally, I still play the game a lot, since this is that type of game that there's always a next level of skill to reach. I can't even come close to no-damage clearing or perfect-chaining every room. However, for many people that's not enough to keep them coming back to the buffet. It also doesn't help the game that it's very repetitive. Although I like the enemies, there simply aren't enough of them. Five, really. That's entirely too few. Also, the amount of repeating rooms doesn't exactly help. The worst offender might be the lack of difference between your suits, though. Although some of them do look better than others, they're really just stat, palette, and special move swaps, and I'd have much rather have them actually be different even if the amount got cut. Oh well.

This repetition also shows itself in the visual style. Technically, it's quite good. The game uses detailed, sharp, and bright textures. Nothing is drab, and when it needs to look dark, it does so without using darker, muddier textures like too many games do. Special effects such as spotlights, sandstorms, and darkness are also done very well, and both the animations of Vanessa and the enemies is spot on. I love how one of the oval shaped tanks opens up and the middle sputters back when firing. Vanessa, too, is well animated, especially in her various acrobatic moves like the jump and sidestep. She's also always doing something, although some of the things like tapping her leg look more like a nervous habit than anything. The aesthetic is also quite good. It's a very convincing sci-fi type world, what with all the robots and meticulous metal surfaces and all. What's the problem, then? Well, every level is either a metal theme, a desert theme, or if you hit the jackpot, both. This gets somewhat old after five levels, and combined with the length makes it feel like a chapter of a full game. This has to be the first time I longed for a touch of the classic environments such as fire, ice, and grass. Is it so hard to believe something like this doesn't have a boiler, freezer, or botany lab?

At least the audio doesn't succumb to this. The sound effects, while not exceptional, serve their purpose of portraying a sci-fi type atmosphere admirably, and I actually like the explosions a lot. The one time you actually hear Vanessa's voice, it's also not too bad. The music, however, is something of mixed quality. After a mildly strong, if generic, opening level theme, the music hits a massive problem: it bounces across various sub genres of electronica and really doesn't get any of them right. I liked the music in level four, and the boss and big confrontation music were solid bass heavy pieces, but the music doesn't actually pick up as a whole until level nine. At this point it's too late to completely redeem the soundtrack, but the two tracks in level nine, the track in level ten, and especially the one in level eleven all kick ass. Semi-bravo.

Although there aren't too many, P.N. 03 also has a handful of unfortunate technical flaws. The worst offender is that the lock on system is sometimes more laughably bad than that guy who sang She Bangs! on American Idol. Let's take an example. Two enemies near me, tearing me to shreds, two far away, not doing anything. I'm locked onto one of the farther. I press X. The game switches to the other far one. Yeah, it's that dumb. The camera can also be a little wanky in its default view. You'll frequently need to use the C-Stick to move it to a side angle or something to see enemy fire. Funny, one of the few games that'd actually benefit from static camera angles doesn't have them. Third, there wasn't much slowdown, but it did rear its ugly head in the first room of level eight. Just enough for me to remember it. Fourth, I can't think of a better place to put this, but Capcom censored one scene from the Japanese version right at the end for no reason. The tattoo thing. It doesn't matter much, except for the principal of the thing. Boo. Last, although it wasn't a big deal, there was a decent amount of invisible walling. I had hoped that died with the Nintendo 64.

Overall, P.N. 03 is a solid effort by Capcom's Production Studio 4, but they could've done so much more. You'd never think the geniuses behind games such as Devil May Cry could ever release a product that felt so... unfinished. It's still a very enjoyable product, lame pun intended, and the good points definitely outweigh the bad points. If you're looking for an action game with more retro sensibilities, you really can't go wrong with P.N. 03. However, every time you see an uninspired boss, you'll think back to Nightmare, and cringe at just how much better this game could have been.

Cornwell's avatar
Community review by Cornwell (September 14, 2008)

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