I’m one of those gamers that grew up with old school NES difficulty – games that were so challenging you’d be ripping your hair out, yet once you managed to beat a particularly hard level or boss the satisfaction would be overwhelming. Challenging but fair platformers have seemed to die out as of late, but Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero? manages to revive the genre with confidence and is at home on the PSP.
The story, while not exactly the focus, is a bizarre one. An unknown individual has stolen the prized dessert of your boss/queen, who commands her penguin (Prinny) army to retrieve the ingredients to sate her hunger. The Prinnies inform her they explode with the slightest bump and make her weave them a magic scarf, putting one of the little rascals in charge of getting the gateau. The stakes aren’t exactly the highest in terms of narrative, but it’s crazy enough and delivered through punchy dialogue which helps make the “Sorry, your cake is in another castle” story an enjoyable one.
The characters are incredibly memorable and their voice acting manages to walk the tightrope of cute/irritating in a way that fleshes them out a great deal. A few times I’m assuming the game references events in the Disgea franchise and although these are lost on me, the absurdity of the writing managed to still give me a sensible chuckle or two throughout my playthrough.
All characters, enemies and obstacles are drawn and animated exceptionally well in 2D and leap off of the backgrounds. It’s not quite at the level of the Metal Slug series but it’s honestly not far off, looking gorgeous in motion and never once looking stiff. It’s also handy in that it clearly shows what elements of a level can easily kill you: if it’s 2D it’s a threat and needs to be stabbed.
The game utilises 3D backgrounds in the same crude simplistic way we’ve seen since the Ps2 era, yet, different from titles like Kolona and Tomba, there are no multiple planes to switch across. Personally, I’d have liked to have obstacles swinging between the foreground and background, or the 3D environments utilised a little better than they currently are. Instead, the 3D design of the levels only comes into play when the player does an aerial attack, moving the view to over the shoulder and allowing them to see down the path slightly.
From a mechanics point of view, Prinny at first feels light and very simplistic. The player only has the ability to jump, pick up and throw objects, do a very short ranged attack (requiring blister inducing button mashing to kill some of the harder enemies) or pirouetting around like some penguin ballerina before dashing a short distance. Without the dash the protagonist moves incredibly slow, but this is more of a blessing than a curse due to the lethality of everything the player will meet.
My only real criticism from a mechanics standpoint is its combo feature. Instead of being promoted by kills, it only grows and rewards players for ground pounding on enemies in quick succession, which stuns them for an easy kill. The game has an over reliance on this one mechanic in my opinion, as it is used to activate checkpoints and bosses can only be killed once they have been pounded on once or twice. That said, it does reward players for taking the risk to quickly bounce on the heads of multiple enemies by allowing them to progress through the levels faster than if they had been playing with the usual over cautious play style.
There are also some vehicles littered through the game, but they’re sadly under-utilised. Not only are they few and far between but they also often slow down the core gameplay. There’s a lack of impact when you’re attacking enemies with these tanks and spaceships, which is a shame as the rest of the title has great “gamefeel” due to the sound effects of standard attacks.
Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero? feels more like a mashup of Ghosts and Goblins and the original Castlevania game than anything else. Jump arcs are locked in place, meaning enemy placement really drives up the challenge as well as allowing the player to see what’s up ahead, which is especially useful because of how deadly everything this game throws at you can be.
Upon starting the game you can choose your difficulty: Standard, which allows the player to take 3 hits before death (the game say’s it’s perfect for you “casual” players), or the more sadistic Hells Finest mode for those really wanting a challenge. This mode has you die in one hit and forces you back to the last activated checkpoint.
Saying Prinny is difficult is an understatement: the game is sadistic, it’s frustrating, it’ll rob you of of countless lives and give you white hairs through the stress it induces. But it’s fair. Jump arcs are always the same so you’ll always know where you’ll land, and enemies attacks are always telegraphed and in the same movement patterns, allowing you to easily counter. It’s one of those titles that requires some trial and error learning the stages and enemy positions, but the player still needs to ensure they‘re not making too many errors throughout their playthrough.
You begin the game with 1,000 lives, a finite resource that has to last you through all the boss battles, levels and waves of enemies through the entire game. It certainly gives the game a ticking clock element to it, and you can end up throwing away 20 lives between checkpoints in an especially challenging segment. It’s worrying when you’ve thrown away a lot of lives in a level with a 3 star difficulty, only to be faced with further levels with a 4 or 5 star difficulty.
The title is also incredibly replayable, similar to the Mega Man series, and allows the player to tackle the levels in whatever order they please. The difficulty of each level fluctuates depending on the ingredient you’re seeking, and your chosen difficulty also changes the boss you’re tasked with going up against. Sometimes you’ll have to only fight one enemy, sometimes it’s two bosses at once, sometimes it’ll give them more resistance to your ground pound stun, and sometimes you’ll be fighting something entirely different than usual. It’s a fantastic game that demands repeat playthroughs, and for the completionists out there there’s a great number of secret enemies, files and letters to find throughout each level.