"Rather than working to avoid such situations, the developers do their best to replicate them numerous times throughout each zone. Stages seem to have been built specifically to trick you into making mistakes. You'll find moving platforms that look like they should require a double jump, only to to realize too late that they actually don't. Or you'll leap across a wide gap only to immediately run into a wall of waiting projectiles that you couldn't possibly have anticipated. Fireballs often come out of nowhere. Enemies materialize from thin air. Monsters float down from above when you had no idea they were even there. Too much of the experience comes down to tedious trial and error."
Clearly I wasn't thinking straight. When I heard that NIS America was localizing Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero? for the PSP, I was excited by the notion of a platformer from the company that brought me awesome SRPGs such as Disgaea and Makai Kingdom. I didn't stop to think that although I found those games quite accessible, they were hardcore in their own way. With that being the case, I should have realized that this new experiment would be carry on that fine tradition within its new genre! And because 'hardcore' in platformer language means 'difficult,' I should have expected that, too.
It doesn't help that the saccharine opening will leave the typical player expecting a cakewalk. Your objective is to gather together ingredients that will allow you to assemble an incredibly awesome dessert for your mistress, Etna. Prinny creatures formerly were hardened criminals, but in reincarnated Netherworld form, they're highly explosive birds. The idea of their hungry master losing her cool and kicking a few of them with devilish abandon is enough to send chills down their feather-covered spines. Equipped with handkerchiefs that allow them to sustain some damage without immediately bursting (though the masochistic among you can set the game up so that a single hit spells doom), 1,000 of the avian anti-heroes set out on what will quickly prove to be an extraordinary quest of culinary proportions.
As you might anticipate, gathering the ingredients means venturing through a variety of Netherworld stages. What you might not expect is that they're all packed with hordes of devious enemies and too many perilous jumps to count. Put aside the introductory tutorials and you're left with six basic environments that must then be explored during various times of the day. The way things work is that you can choose the order in which you tackle them. Since you'll be coming back around as the plot progresses, you eventually will work through each zone in several time zones. Different hazards and enemies are lined up for each successive visit, along with appropriate difficulty ratings.
You are expected to complete the adventure using a stock of 1,000 lives. The number sounds absurdly generous. What kind of awful gamer would you have to be to burn through that many lives in such a short game? Pretty bad, right? Well, yes and no. Though Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero? is in some ways a fantastic experience, it really drops the ball when play control and level design enter the picture.
Play control is arguably the worst issue. Despite being birds, prinnies can't jump worth a hoot. They have double and dash jumps at their disposal, but such techniques aren't nearly as useful as they should be. In other games, these moves give you a comfortable cushion so that if you misjudge, you can rectify your error before plummeting into a bottomless pit. Here, there's no wiggle room. You'll often reach gaps that require you to perfectly execute these moves just to cross them, so there's nothing to fall back upon if something goes wrong with your timing or distance. Even worse is the fact that you can't change direction in the middle of a jump. If you initiate a leap and then realize that you're flying straight toward an object that will send you into oblivion, you're committed to it. You have to watch as you fling your chubby bird against the razor-sharp spike, or the fireball, or the enemy or whatever else. Then there's a depressing descent into lava or an abyss and one of your 1,000 birds is lost.
Rather than working to avoid such situations, the developers do their best to replicate them numerous times throughout each zone. Stages seem to have been built specifically to trick you into making mistakes. You'll find moving platforms that look like they should require a double jump, only to to realize too late that they actually don't. Or you'll leap across a wide gap only to immediately run into a wall of waiting projectiles that you couldn't possibly have anticipated. Fireballs often come out of nowhere. Enemies materialize from thin air. Monsters float down from above when you had no idea they were even there. Too much of the experience comes down to tedious trial and error.
Even when you know just what you're expected to do, issues remain. Throughout the adventure, you'll often need to negotiate ledges while enemies toss projectiles your way. Prinnies have a tendency to cling to walls when they approach them, a fact that works against you more often as not. Suppose you want to quickly ascend a series of stair-like platforms. Instead of making a series of short hops like you want, you progress slowly after accidentally allowing the climb animation to initiate. As a result, you get hit by a projectile that either knocks you backwards into a cliff or removes a chunk of your life meter. It's frustrating.
Eventually, you'll figure out the timing and technique required to get past every hazard a stage throws your way. Maybe it'll take you 2 lives or maybe you'll burn through 50. Either way, you'll finally reach a boss encounter at the end... where you should of course expect to lose another 20 or 30 lives. That's because many fights require you to defeat multiple adversaries at once, a particularly daunting challenge when they're firing projectiles and bursting out of the ground or running around a given arena like foxes with their tails on fire. There's often a simple way to dependably win once you figure out attack patterns, but get ready to "enjoy" a lot of unsuccessful experimentation in the process.
Challenging though they are, all of the stages can be completed and all of the bosses can be thoroughly trounced. With enough practice, it's possible to reach the end of the game without even coming close to depleting your stock of 1,000 lives. The question simply becomes "Is it fun to do so?" For some people, it probably will be. For me, it wasn't. The play control and level design made the whole affair too tedious. There's something wrong when a gamer feels an overwhelming relief after clearing each each, especially when the game's fundamental design means that he'll be returning shortly.
Such shortcomings are a shame because there's so much that Disgaea admirers could otherwise appreciate. Prinnies are full of personality and Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero? captures that perfectly by finally placing them in a starring role. The graphics are gorgeous, from the beautiful environments--even lava flows look lovely--to the comical happenings throughout. Music is infectious, as you'd probably expect from the developer, plus there are moments where everything clicks. It's great fun to hack up your enemies with a sword, or to stun them with a butt stomp or whatever else. In the end, though, a lot of the people who will feel most inclined to pick this title up aren't going to be ready for its brutal difficulty. A little challenge never hurt anyone, but there's nothing little about the gauntlet of pain that this game so often asks you to endure. Two words: deal breaker.
Staff review by Jason Venter (March 01, 2009)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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