Truly, alliteration is not enough to save a poor video game. Even with the added bonuses of indie charm and ‘humour’ in 50-foot high neon air quotes, a bad game is, at the end of the day, still going to be a bad game. Obviously, this does somewhat give away the general feeling present after we finished playing Penny-Punching Princess, but don’t stop reading quite yet, there is a little more to this story.
Penny-Punching Princess is an arcade-style game for the Nintendo Switch and PS Vita, developed and published by NIS who are famous for quite a lot of games that inhabit JRPG circles. Penny-Punching Princess isn’t too much of a departure for them as it not only has a lot of the trappings of the genre visually but also has a fair amount of RPG-like mechanics strewn throughout. The visual trappings of the genre are quite obvious. There are pixel graphics everywhere, and a lot of the character design calls back to classic enemies from older games. There are a variety of different skeletons, imps, dragons and small blobs with either giant eyes or giant mouths.
The story of the game follows the story of a princess whose family have been cast out of their seat of power, and now she must claw her way back into said seat. The primary gimmick of Penny-Punching Princess is that, as well as beating the crap out of your enemies, you can also use money to bribe your way to victory as well. In the middle of battle, you can pull out a calculator (math is fun!) and type out the right amount, while avoiding damage, with which to bribe your enemies into submission. This is, of course assuming, that you have both enough money to afford the bribe and a completely filled bribe meter. Apart from making some of the fights a little easier on you by removing enemies, the bribe mechanic serves two main functions. Firstly, it gives you a pool of special attacks you can use to take out the enemies you’re fighting, usually either tied to a monster’s special attacks or to some environmental hazard that you’ve gained control over. Secondly, they also give you citizens to inhabit your new kingdom.
Apart from the special attacks you gain from bribing, you have only one main attack and a dodge ability. The dodge move is passable but rarely actually lets you dodge anything, and the attack is standard but effective, though it does seem to have this strange effect of locking you into a combo when you start using it, meaning that the already impaired dodge function is even less useful. Regardless of these minor drawbacks, the combat at least functions well enough, and you might even approach a feeling that seems a little like ‘having fun’ at times.
Outside of battle, you have access to your castle, which mainly consists of options menus, the save function and a few places where you can upgrade both your abilities and your equipment. To upgrade abilities or stats, you have to collect statues in the levels which give you ability points to spend on upgrading health and attack strength or similar things. To upgrade armour, you have to have collected enough bribed enemies and structures to create each specific piece that you need. Both of these systems function pretty well in terms of giving you progress to work towards beyond the standard story progression, which is pretty good really because the story isn’t all that interesting.
As was stated above, the story follows a princess whose deceased father used to be the king of the land. The land in question is now under the control of many companies who control the world through loans and minions. The princess seeks to gain control back by accruing enough money to bribe away all of the enemy minions while building up her own kingdom. The main issue with this story is that it just doesn’t feel worth paying any attention to. Each cutscene is filled with ‘funny’ dialogue which would easily die the death at any open mic night across the land, and they only really exist to link one arena of capitalism to another. Speaking of which, the level design leaves something to be desired. Most of the levels of each chapter don’t really manage to feel any different from levels in previous chapters. If you were to take a screenshot of any given level and compare it to another, it is doubtful that even the game’s most hardcore fans would be able to tell them apart.
Even ignoring all of the game’s faults, it boils down to an experience that feels more like it was an experimental concept that needed more work more than a fully fledged game. This feels more like the sort of thing that you would see from an indie-game jam or some other sort of festival instead of a pretty prolific developer/publisher like NIS. At the end of the day, there is a chance that you will be able to enjoy yourself with this game, but it is just as likely that you will get bored in 20 minutes and switch the whole thing off.
Developer: NIS America
Publisher: NIS America
Platforms: Switch, PS Vita
Release Date: 3rd April 2018