Our first review of the week is of the embarrassingly named “Prinny 2: Dawn of Operation Panties, Dood!”, the sequel to 2009′s “Prinny: Can I really be the Hero?”. A hard as nails and incredibly Japanese side-scrolling platformer, Prinny 2 is another game in NIS’s line of Disgaea spin-offs featuring everyone’s favourite put upon, murderous, highly volatile, demonic penguins, the Prinnies. The last title in the series was lauded as a new and creative use of the character, now let’s if the second can keep that steam going now that the idea is no longer 100% fresh.
While I have never really been a fan of anime that’s never stopped me from enjoying it when it does something right and in a series like Disgaea, full of archetypes and tropes, the Prinnies are a shinning light of funny creative writing. The role they serve is that of servants to the Demon Lord but that’s only there to drive the plot forward. The Prinnies’ real role is to play comic foil to all the BS a universe like this breeds, in short they are the Disgaea universe’s Howard the Duck. In a universe where 99% percent of the human characters look like 14-year-old girls and the day’s adventure involves stolen panties, the Prinnies are there to stop and say “…wait, what?” and in a universe like that nothing could be more necessary.
The content of this game is pretty much just anime nerd culture refined, condensed, and then pressed into UMD form. The main story is that the Demon Lord Etna (who looks like a 14 year girl, naturally) has had her panties stolen by a mysterious phantom thief and what with the Prinnies being her slaves they are tasked to retrieve them. Their plan is to essentially find something else of dubious value and then set a trap for him, like a box propped up with a stick kind of trap, elaborate the Prinnies are not. In order to find the various rare items they need to lure in the thief they must travel through the various worlds of the nether realm which cover the basic archetypes of “video game levels”. There’s a grassy level, snow level, desert level, underwater level, swamp level, and for lack of a better term a “Japanese” level which is full of cherry blossoms, rice paper doors, and red lacquered wood. Each of these contains a boss who is yet another stereotype and normally a 14-year-old girl.
To be fair though I think the story is only going to really matter to die-hard anime fans and it does a good enough job of skipping forward fast enough to get back to the real game. That said there are elements everyone will enjoy, like the aforementioned befuddled and somewhat nonplussed Prinnies and the general semi-lampooning of anime tropes makes for some entertaining dialog and helps the game stay playable for those who don’t sleep on a Naruto bed spread. In fact if you embrace this as the light-hearted “look at how frigging weird our genre has gotten” romp that it seems like it was designed to be, almost anyone can get some fun out of this game.
The presentation is about what you would expect, i.e. mad crazy anime. So you can expect a lot of rounded surfaces, bright colours and female characters sexualized in weird ways. There really isn’t anything particularly new about the presentation here, the majority of the sprites come from earlier Disgaea games and the environments despite being nicely varied are fairly rote. The music was fine but not super memorable, it’s nice mix of jazz and j-pop which varies enough between levels to not grate on the nerves but I still ended up muting the game. The V.O. is a real mixed bag here with a few voices feeling well done and a few being just plain bad, the Prinnies represent this the best with the lead Prinny sounding pretty good and one of the NPC Prinnies being so annoying I wanted to stab my own ears with a hot knife. That said I have a feeling the presentation of this game is an acquired taste and what with my aforementioned dislike of anime I know others will appreciate it more than I.
The gameplay is an interesting mix here, a great concept but with some severe faults in the execution. The basic idea is similar to that of Super Meat Boy, hardcore platforming and an intense hatred of the player. The big change here is that rather than pure platforming you are able to attack enemies and have greater interactions with the environment. While these additions add greater depth to the gameplay it does feel like the concept ends up juggling more gameplay mechanics then it can handle.
The gameplay breaks down into two types, platforming levels and boss battles. While the platforming does take up the majority of the game I feel it is the boss battles where it really shines. The reason for this is two-fold; first of all it hinges on the type of pattern recognition that made classic side-scrollers so satisfying and second you don’t have to deal with the majority of the problems that affect platforming sections allowing you to really enjoy the gameplay systems at work. These boss battles also feature some of the more interesting characters in this game (beyond the Prinnies of course) and usually result in some decent dialog between the Prinnies and whoever the 14-year-old anime girl with comically over sized weapon du jour happens to be.
The platforming on the other hand I found to be less than great due to what could best be described as the game setting goals beyond the player’s means. I want to be clear my gripe isn’t with the fact that the game is difficult, in fact that was something I felt was in its favour, my problem is with how the game makes things difficult. Rather than have challenge established through a test of skill via things like precision platforming the challenge comes from struggling with imperfect control and fighting with poor design decisions. Unlike Super Meat Boy the controls are comparatively imprecise, things just aren’t pixel perfect like they are in SMB where what you see is what you get. Quite a few times in Prinny 2 I had to get so far to the edge of a platform to make the next jump that I was literally not standing on the platform, that’s not good design. In fact it’s reminiscent of the first couple of Castlevania games on the NES in its faults; a great example of this is the fact that you fly backward when hit, while that may not sound like much keep in mind every level is platforms floating over nothing and almost any errant hit in the later levels means you’re going to die. Another example is the games habit of having enemies home in on you from all directions, to make things worse every enemy takes at least a few hits to die where as you only have 2 or 3 hits (1 if you’re by any sort ledge) before you end up being taken out. The game does try to make up for these faults by giving you an absurd amount of lives from the get go (1000 to be exact) but chances are you’ll beat the game or become to frustrated to continue long before you get anywhere close to running out.
The difficulty is something very interesting to consider with this game as it’s both its greatest asset and its most limiting factor. For a lot of people the high difficulty is going to provide this game some much-needed longevity, by taking up the challenge it provides people will have a wall to bang their heads against for nigh endless hours. That said the difficulty will end up making a lot of people give up and to be honest probably with good reason. I personally wasn’t able to finish the game, I got really close with only a level or so away from the end, but once I reached the point where I lost about a hundred lives against a boss who floats around and fires a super wide cone of lighting at you while you precariously stand on ground that falls apart when you attack on or even near it I ended up deciding that I had enough butt rape for one day and that I should probably get to writing the review. For the masochistic few who end up embracing that challenge though there is a ton of content for you to pit your temperament against; there are multiple difficulties, hidden crap in all the levels to collect, and even another gameplay mode called Asagi Wars which while I never unlocked it sounds interesting from what I’ve read about it. That said for people like me who are unable to withstand the mighty tide of cruelty this game throws at you there is some degree of replayability for us as well. There isn’t a specific order in which you need to play the levels and depending on the order you do them in each level changes up a bit, as such even if you can’t beat the game you can always start over and play through things in a different order.
All in all Prinny 2 is a fun game but I don’t think it will be able to break out of the niche of anime fans and platformer loving masochists. The imprecision and the general clunkiness is going to scare away the hardcore audience and the sheer blunt force of insanity laced anime culture will ward off general audience; of course being on the PSP isn’t helping its chances either. That said those who do take the chance and are willing to look past it flaws will find quirky and for the most part enjoyable experience and for $30 (while a bit steep) you could do worse. For clever characters and writing but ultimately flawed gameplay Prinny 2: Dawn of Operation Panties, Dood! gets 3 out of 5 stars. If you have masochistic streak running through you and you like your games to not take themselves too seriously, this game was made for you.