Dood, Where's My Scarf?
The gaming world is filled with unusual mascot characters. Nintendo has a rotund Italian plumber that eats mushrooms to gain power. Sega gave us an insanely fast hedgehog with a surly attitude and a flying two-tailed fox for a friend. However, none are quite so unique, offbeat, or downright strange as the Prinny: the knife wielding, peg-legged, exploding penguins that embody the souls of sinners punished to a lifetime of slavery. Also, they say “dood” a lot. In Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero?, the seemingly weakest creatures in the Netherworld star in their own game.
Anyone that has played a Disgaea game will be familiar with ridiculous storylines. Prinny is no exception. Demon Lord Etna is on the rampage because someone stole her desert. She orders her legion of Prinnies to find the legendary Ultra Dessert, a lofty goal where no one that has ever set out to reach it has ever returned alive. The Prinnies, being exploding penguins and all, are naturally worried that even with one thousand prinnies on the search, they’d never make it. To solve this problem, Etna conjures a magic scarf that may or may not have belonged to the recently slain overlord of this Netherworld to protect her Prinny Squad. Well, one of them anyway. Thus, the Prinny wearing the scarf becomes the hero, and the other 999 will cheer from the shadows. Should that Prinny die, the next will just put on the scarf and continue the journey toward the Ultra Dessert that will stave off Etna’s rage and untold punishments.
Your Prinnies have at their disposal four different abilities. On the ground, your Prinny attacks by slashing its knives in a blur. By jumping, you can do a more powerful Prinny Barrage that shoots down at an angle. Not only does this do more damage, but also your Prinny floats midair while attacking, making it useful for dodging attacks or solving puzzles. You can also drop straight down on enemies and do a hip slam to stun them, which both immobilizes them and greatly increases the damage they take from other attacks. Finally, you can spin around to begin dashing. It helps to dodge some attacks and it nearly doubles jumping distance.
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At its core, Prinny is a very difficult platformer with ten stages. The first six can be played in any order, and in fact, the levels themselves change depending on the order in which they are played. One in-game hour passes for each completed stage, and levels become harder as night falls. This affects not only the stage itself, but the bosses at the end may gain more powerful attacks or increase in number as the night progresses, so one must contemplate carefully when to play each of the first six levels. The Prinny Squad numbers 1000 at the beginning of the game, and there are no ways to gain extra lives.
Each stage is broken into several sections by checkpoints that can be accessed. Depending on the difficulty setting, your Prinnies will die after being hit one or four times, so mastery of each section is extremely important. Not only must every jump be memorized, but also one must learn the location of each enemy and how it attacks. In some of the harder stages, simply getting to the next checkpoint without dying can be extremely challenging, even on the easier setting. It is not uncommon to lose twenty or more lives navigating through a single stage.
Once one reaches the final checkpoint, a boss battle begins. Unfortunately, none of the bosses are cameos from previous games, but they do retain the humor for which the series is known. Boss battles must be completed in a single life. If the three-minute timer runs out or you die, the entire fight must be started over from the beginning. Also, as mentioned before, the bosses will completely change depending on the time of night. Needless to say, some of the harder bosses require a lot of pattern memorization to take down, though with enough practice, they can be the best part of the game. There is an immense sense of accomplishment when you finally win each one, and the bulk of the plot is told before and after each boss fight.
Outside of the stages, you get to see the Prinny village within the walls of Etna’s castle. Here you can talk to your prinnies or solve jumping puzzles to get torn letters. There is one fragment of the letter before each stage, and if you get all ten, you unlock an alternate storyline for future playthroughs. These jumping puzzles are among the hardest tasks in the game, and the final ones will take dozens, if not hundreds, of attempts to get the timing and distances exactly right to win your prize.
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As for the plot itself, it’s standard Disgaea fare. It won’t make a lot of sense, but that was never really the point. It has its funnier points, and there is a really great parody boss thrown in towards the end. But ultimately, it’s not quite as funny as the proper Disgaea games. This is largely due to the fact that the main Disgaea games are significantly longer, having 30 to 50 stages in which to have plot. There is, at least, the quality voice acting that fans of the series have grown to love. In particular, the main Prinny does a wonderful job executing his lines.
Graphically, the game is very pretty. The art style of Disgaea lends itself well to the PSP. Stages retain the unique Disgaea feel, and everything is bright and colorful. Each of the bosses is animated well, and most importantly, the game never lags, a common problem for PSP games. Loading times are also short and limited to the beginning of stages or boss fights.
Aurally, the game excels as well. There is a mixture of new and familiar songs, and all of them sound good through headphones or the external speakers. The sound effects are what one would expect from a Disgaea game, and the aforementioned voice acting is superb.
The main draw for most people will be the difficulty. Make no bones about it; this game is hard. 1000 lives seems like a lot, but with levels claiming 20 or more Prinnies and bosses slaying even more, running out of lives can be a real possibility. Some of the jumps are designed to be tricky, and the fact that you have a set jumping distance does not make them any easier. The extremely difficult final boss can cost the player a hundred or more Prinnies, especially on the first time through, and even on the easiest difficulty setting. Attempting to play the game on hard would take nearly legendary skills that will test even the best platformers. Regardless, it will definitely test your thumb, since killing bosses will take a lot of rapid button mashing. You may even need to pause during some of the harder boss fights to take a break and prevent thumb blisters.
Prinny can be completed in as few as ten hours, but most gamers will probably need fifteen to twenty hours, assuming they can finish at all. So remember, this game is not for the faint at heart. For those that play through the game multiple times and are good at finding hidden items, there are more challenges to keep you busy. One can unlock the Cave of Trials to fight Prinny Baal, and you can even eventually take on Etna herself. There are plenty of reasons to keep playing once the game is finished. Despite that, the game’s biggest flaw is that it’s just too short, even counting the fact that levels are different each time. There just isn’t enough plot.
Ultimately, Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero? is a fun and very challenging platformer. It will not be for everyone. For those that are not very good at general platforming, this probably isn’t the game for you. Gamers that are easily frustrated might also consider passing; some of the harder fights will undoubtedly lead to a lot of frustration as you get so close to victory and fall just short. For those with thumbs of steel and the skills to finish, it’s worth your time and money.