Play video games for long enough, and you’ll start to discover something that I’ve become particularly fond of over the years: sub-subgenres. There’s a fascinating world waiting players when they start to dig into the incredibly specialized (and weird) gameplay types that not only crop up, but sometimes actually become established ideas. Say, for example, a personal favorite of mine: the “princess who breaks the rules of the world to bend things to her will” theme that emerged in Japan. One such release was Global A Entertainment’s Nintendo DS game My World, My Way, and we’ve now been given another in Nippon Ichi’s Penny-Punching Princess.
While My World, My Way’s Princess Elise accomplished her goals by demanding that even the very earth itself follow her orders, our princess here takes a more direct (and modern-era) approach: monetary bribes. The world of Penny-Punching Princess is one where money has become the one true power by which everything is run, and unfortunately, our princess now has little to her name. Thanks to her father’s bad investments and huge debt to the Dragoloan family, both he and his kingdom fell, leaving the princess with no home, no father, and no real hope for the future—only a burning desire for revenge.
As Penny-Punching Princess kicks off, the princess and her stag beetle butler Sebastian stand at the outskirts of their fallen castle, forming a plan to return the kingdom to its former glory. With no money in her pockets, the princess uses the one resource she has left: her fists. Penny-Punching Princess plays out as a top-down dungeon-crawling brawler, and one of the things that most attracted me to the game initially is its combat. While the princess’ moveset never quite gets as deep as I wish it would (even after unlocking a few extra options), combat is still incredibly satisfying. It’s extremely easy to create fighting systems that quickly get boring in these types of games, but here, I was still enjoying pounding away at my 100th enemy just as much as I had my first. When those enemies are defeated, they drop a handful of money, but the real secret to making big bucks comes in exploiting a creature’s “break” point. When you’ve done enough damage to reach the preset marks that each monster has on its lifebar, they temporarily fall into a stunned state. In that moment, physically tapping the enemy on the Vita’s or Switch’s screen (or using the right analog stick) will send even more money flying, a necessity for making real progress in the adventure.
This leads to the game’s main gimmick: bribery. At any time—so long as its automatically-refilling battery is charged—the princess can pull out her magical calculator. When she does, price tags show up not only on any monsters in the nearby area, but also on “relics” like traps or locked doors as well. By entering their fee on the calculator and touching what you want to bribe, that monster or object will switch to the princess’ side. For enemies, this means that you’ll be able to summon them a limited number of times to help you in battle; for objects such as traps, they’ll have a set amount of uses to hurt foes instead of yourself. The princess can also use her calculator to offer up monetary offerings to the God of Money, Zenigami, in exchange for Coin Miracles, which can range from things like fullscreen AOE attacks to a much-needed refilling of your HP bar to even resurrection from the dead. The more money you have the princess hand over to Zenigami, the more powerful those Coin Miracles will be.
Penny-Punching Princess is built on a really interesting set of ideas, and when it works, it’s a pretty enjoyable B-tier type of game. The problem, however, is that there are also some not-as-good moments to wade through in the search of that enjoyment—and those issues are certain to turn off some players. At times, encounters here can be wonderfully chaotic, with gates locking the princess into small spaces, numerous traps all posing hazards, and a variety of enemies all out for blood. While many of these moments can be exhilarating, others are downright frustrating, in part because o the game’s unpredictable difficulty swings. It can also be tough to juggle fighting, avoiding danger, and bringing up your calculator to bribe just the right monster or trap—especially when it’s super easy to touch the wrong target, or have your calculator blocking what you need to get to. All of the game’s touchscreen interactions can be switched to button/D-pad/analog stick functions instead, but even as someone who usually hates touch-based games, going that route seemed to just cheapen the experience to some degree.
The other major issue here is that the game can be tedious. Now, as someone who has played numerous dungeon crawlers over the years, tedium is something that goes hand-and-hand with the genre. Still, Penny-Punching Princess could (and should) have done more to freshen up the adventure over the course of its numerous chapters. It’s also easy for things to feel like a grind because the game’s upgrades system—where you can craft Zenigami Statues to boost your XP or develop armor to give you stat increases and new extra skills—is fueled by both money and bribed monsters. You’ll find yourself constantly needing to go back to previous-played stages to snag as many extra copies of creatures as possible or to beef up your kingdom’s coffers, and those stages can be long (and complicated) enough that doing so isn’t quick. (Thankfully, a second playable character, Isabella, does offer up some variety via her different moveset once she arrives.)
It’s hard for me not to have a soft spot for Penny-Punching Princess, as it’s a game full of some creative ideas, enjoyable beat ‘em up combat, charming characters, and beautiful 2D sprite work (which look especially great on the Vita’s screen). It’s also impossible for me to not recognize the game’s faults, and acknowledge that it could have been a much better experience than it turned out. If you’re curious about a princess who has to punch (and spend) her way to reviving her kingdom, then my best advice is to tackle Penny-Punching Princess in shorter bursts a few stages at a time—versus, say, jumping in for an all-afternoon weekend session that’ll leave you exhausted and less likely to go back for more.
|Publisher: NIS America • Developer: Nippon Ichi Soft • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 04.03.2018|
Penny-Punching Princess offers up a world where the heroine can solve (nearly) all of her problems through cold, hard cash, providing for some legitimately fun (and funny) scenarios to play out across the dungeon brawler’s various chapters. Unfortunately, a necessity for grinding and some wild spikes in difficulty cause the princess’ stockpile of coins to lose some of its shine.
|The Good||A rather decent top-down beat ‘em up blended together with an actually enjoyable gameplay gimmick.|
|The Bad||A need to replay previous stages over numerous times combine with some frustrating encounters and been-there-done-that atmosphere to make progress feel way too slow and/or tedious at times.|
|The Ugly||Don’t even think of giving this as a gift to those kids on Twitter who won’t shut up about bringing an end to capitalism. (Or, depending on how you feel about them—do.)|
|Penny-Punching Princess is available on Nintendo Switch and PlayStation Vita. Primary version reviewed was for Vita. Review code was provided by NIS America for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.|