Penny-Punching Princess Switch Review
Nippon Ichi are world famous for their quirky characters and unique gameplay elements, and Penny-Punching Princess is no different. Whilst the basic combat elements and their controls are comfortably familiar for a 2D isometric beat-em-up, the ability to bribe enemies and traps to use both inside of combat and as a currency to purchase armour and RPG-based upgrade points is rather unusual and fun to explore. The story, which is also very ‘Nippon Ichi’, is about a Princess who has lost her family and kingdom to an extremely wealthy family of dragons and is making her way through their ranks to enact revenge. However, it is hardly used as a means to tell an interesting story or tease the player with plot developments and is actually used entirely to make egregious jokes about capitalism that, fair enough, did manage to pull a few begrudging chuckles from me throughout. A great example and probably the most commonly memorable line is from the game’s intro and states “an era has come where even a Level 1 pleb can defeat a tyrant as long as they have money”.
Broken into chapters of five levels, each one plays almost identically – explore the pretty-much-linear areas and when it’s time to fight, fight. There is a very limited amount of exploration, to find the few hidden chests in each level containing upgrade points and money, but the map renders this kind of moot. Really it’s all about the combat, bribe mechanics, and making that sweet dollar dollar bill y’all. Punching enemies and dodging the maelstrom of obstacles and enemies in the often hectic and constricted combat areas is all well and good, necessary even, but it’s not going to rack up those money-making combos and it doesn’t help clear out the manic onslaught of traps. That’s where bribing comes in. For an amount of money respective of the size and strength of the enemy or trap, they can be bribed out of combat and instead be used by the player a set amount of times, once again respective of their power. Higher combos mean higher rewards and extra coins can be shaken out of enemies by spinning the right analog stick when they ‘break’, which is when they get temporarily stunned after losing a chunk of life.
With the power of the princess’ trusty calculator each bribe or miracle (a mechanic of the calculator that provides buffs) is like a little investment to make even more money off of the combos they can potentially provide. Bribing the more expensive enemies, using the traps to effectively combo as many enemies as possible into a ‘break’ state, and spinning that analog like there’s no tomorrow are all key to obtaining S ranks. It was this learning curve and discovery of new things to bribe that hooked me on Penny-Punching Princess at first. However, much to my disappointment, it was once I had mastered the mechanics and was making my way back through the previous stages to get all S ranks with the second character, who’s unlocked about halfway through the game, that I started to see the repetitiveness in it, even though the second character does play a little differently. Unfortunately, this is only made worse by the seemingly identical layout of each level and the upgrade system; that requires to player to bribe certain enemies meaning the same stages need to be beaten over and over.
To make matters worse, it becomes quite evident that time is of little importance to obtaining the higher ranks and so more time is spent just trying to lure group of enemies together for those big hits and massive combos by running in circles. Personally I think the ranking system would have been much more fun if it was based on how the player chained bribes and attacks together and kept it interesting by bribing different enemies and traps instead of simply using the cheapest, most effective ones again and again. The only way it’s really mixed up at all is with the occasional boss fight or special requirements stage. And whilst the boss fights are nothing more than difficult combat sections, the special requirement stage I recall could only be completed if the player ended the stage with ten thousand gold – not an easy ask. It was something different that pushed the bribe mechanic a little further and had me question whether I should risk spending money on bribing a healing monster to get some much needed health back and risk not making the cut-off. It’s a shame there weren’t more stages like that – or similar challenges to unlock upgrade points instead of the enemy bride-grinding.
Truly, Penny-Punching Princess feels more like an indie experiment than a full-fledged game and that’s totally fine. It’s fun at it’s core and the feeling of repetition can be kept at bay by playing in small bursts, making it perfect for its target consoles – the Switch and the Vita, and though it was sad to see the physical version get cancelled for the UK so close to release day, it does fit being a downloadable title and isn’t one that I’d want to have to carry around on a cart, anyway. As mentioned, there is obvious room for improvements and room to add more engaging mechanics but it’s still a decent and fresh experience. With that said – even though I understand getting these games released in the West takes a lot of effort and money, I simply can’t recommend this title at the current price of almost a full triple-A game. I mean, there are a bunch of incredible games on the e-shop that aren’t even half the price. Of course, support the publishers if you can, but otherwise it’s something I’d wait for a sale on before picking up.