NIS America are well known for their whacky and over the top videogames, with such examples as the Disgaea series captivating gamers for years. Penny-Punching Princess is no exception, centring around the concept of a world ruled by capitalism but also poking fun at the whole scenario. Indeed, this brand new IP does a lot to stand out from the beat ‘em up crowd, but it’s also not without its flaws.
Penny-Punching Princess follows the escapades of a nameless Princess who is on a quest of revenge. The once happy Princess lost her family and country when her father, the King, found himself in debt to the Dragoloan Family and passed away. With her trusty dung beetle butler, the Princess sets out to make profit, bribe the Dragoloan’s lackys, and reclaim the throne. Money is power, money is justice!
As you can tell by that description, the game’s plot is downright weird and just gets even more absurd the further you progress. The story is told via conversations between characters at the start of each level, and while there are a lot of funny moments it can become tiresome. The game constantly reminds you the world’s philosophy is money – at one point you’re even introduced to the God of Money, Zenigami! It gets to the point where the joke has run its course and you just want to dive straight into the action.
Each level is set up as a dungeon-like area where you have to progress from start to finish. Along the way there are traps and dangers to avoid, such as buzzsaws, spikes, flamethrowers and even poisonous flowers. Charging in blindly will see you quickly defeated; the key here is to progress slowly. Dungeons also feature treasure chests to collect, containing money and Zenigami statues. These are often lurking in branching pathways, so there’s some encouragement to explore and deviate from the normal path.
At certain points in the dungeons brawls will commence between the Princess and the Dragoloan minions. Players only have a few basic combos and abilities, including various punches, a roll move to dodge enemies, special EX powered moves that shoot fireballs or unleash charge attacks, and a slam move where the Princess will push enemies a short distance away from her. The game’s main gimmick, however, comes from utilising a calculator to bribe minions and turn them into “allies” by using in-game money collected from fallen foes and chests.
You pull up the calculator with a press of the ZL button, and then type a monetary amount you’d like to offer to the baddie. The more money you offer, the more likely they are to support you. Pressing ZR will instantly select the nearest minion and tell you the guaranteed price that will make them change sides. The action does not pause while the calculator menu is displayed, making it difficult to maintain focus on what’s happening in the fight. Also, when there are several enemies surrounding you it can sometimes take a few tries of spamming ZL to select the right minion. Touch screen controls are supported when playing in handheld mode, which alleviate these issues somewhat.
With a simple press of the X button, your newfound allies can be called upon at any time to aid the Princess. Some allies, such as the Heart Runners, will heal the Princess but most will attack enemies. This is where the game’s charm truly shines, as each minion has its own unique attack and it’s fun to experiment with different tactics. Dragons fight with a short burst of flame, while other minions will shoot a long range attack or jump out for a quick melee swipe. You can even bribe dungeon hazards, giving you control over those annoying buzzsaws and flamethrowers, opening up the potential to set traps for unsuspecting enemies. It can be very satisfying to say the least.
The calculator has one other function called Coin Miracles. Here you can spend money to unlock a temporary random perk, such as increasing your attack power, increasing your defense or restoring your health. The more money you spend the better the Miracle will be. At the end of each dungeon though you are granted a rating. Instead of basing it on how much damage you received or how many enemies have been defeated, Penny-Punching Princess appropriately bases the score on how much money you end the level with. If you’re aiming for a high score then you may be tempted to use the Calculator as infrequently as possible.
As you progress you will collect Zenigami statues in dungeons which grant you one skill point each. Skill points are used to upgrade the Princess’s stats including HP, defense, attack power and unlock additional abilities. There’s also the option to upgrade the Princess’s armour (increasing both core attack and defense) using the minions which you have bribed to your side. Each armour set will require that you’ve bribed a specific amount and type of minion. This wouldn’t be too bad in itself however the game often has steep jumps in difficulty, at times practically forcing you to do some backtracking to obtain the specific minion varieties. It feels unfair to the player and hurts the overall flow of the campaign.
While the core gameplay is engaging it can also become repetitive during extended play sessions due to the lack of variety. In fact, Penny-Punching Princess feels better suited to shorter sessions, as the dungeons aren’t overly long to get through and there’s a strong sense of pick-up-and-play. Perhaps this is possibly why the game has only been released on the Switch and the PS Vita systems, as it’s perfect for the commute to work/school or a cheeky play session during lunch.
On Nintendo Switch, the pixel art style looks a lot better in handheld mode compared to playing on a TV. Characters stand out more and look great running around the screen. The dungeons, while colourful, are also generic and aren’t very memorable. Oddly enough, when there are several enemies on screen at once there is a noticeable drop in framerate. It only lasts for maybe a second or two, but it occurs very frequently. There are also a number of accompanying rock themes which help establish the chaotic nature of fights, but sadly these are largely forgettable.
Penny-Punching Princess is a competent beat ‘em up title that has a crazy premise and is well suited for short play sessions while on the go. There’s a lot of charm in being able to bribe enemies to fight on your side, and certainly there are some original ideas at play here. However, gameplay can become repetitive, there’s frequent frame rate drops and there’s a greater lack of refinement to make this a truly standout title. It definitely has its niche market appeal, but ultimately Penny-Punching Princess falls a bit short.
- Some unique ideas - Crazy premise - Perfect for short play sessions
- Repetitive gameplay - Frame rate drops when there are too many enemies on screen - Steep difficulty jumps