Some companies like to distinguish their defacto mascots by placing them in amusing and affluent positions. Square's Moogles were last seen in an aristocratic standing in Final Fantasy XII, HAL's Kirby brings a smile whenever he's around, and Sega's Sonic the Hedgehog has secured his position in raining down disappointment. Nippon Ichi's Prinny, on the other hand, seems to exist for the sole purpose of public humiliation. The lovable penguin-ish creature traditionally has a penchant for saying "dood!" and exploding at crucial junctions, but has also spent time as a maid, engaged in juice production, and shared existence as a symbiotic attachment for worthless human souls. Prinny gets around, but one thing he's never done is receive a game all to himself. Until now. Prinny: Can I Really Be The Hero? has arrived (presumably as the PSP’s first game to end its title with a question mark).
Yeah, Really Dood!
It's just another day in purgatory when Etna's Ultra Dessert goes missing. For whatever reason it's up to the Prinnies to retrieve the ingredients required to reconstruct the magnanimous post-dinner treat. Why it's your fault or how you're supposed to locate these things is withheld with comic reverence, all that's made clear is you're in bad shape if Etna doesn't get her hands on her delicious treat. The story, while thankfully not the forefront of the adventure, is lighthearted and laced with clever jokes delivered through competent writing. It's not particularly memorable, but, if nothing else, it provides moments of calm and humor in between Prinny's tough as nails gameplay.
Prinny, you see, arrives in the form of a classic side scrolling platformer. And when I say "classic", I don't mean a walk in the park like Mario or Sonic. No sir, instead, picture something more along the lines of the renowned Ghosts 'n Goblins, "throw my controller at the ^%&^ing wall" level of difficulty, Prinny may look cute and cuddly on the outside but, like the Disgaea franchise from whence he came, is an unapologetically brutal wink (or, more appropriately, tiger uppercut) at side scrollers past.
Your Prinny's goal, as one might expect, is to avoid/eviscerate baddies and manage your way over a variety of platforms before encountering the prerequisite boss at the end of every stage. Prinny's arsenal is limited to a slash attack (which can also be done in the air), and a rather satisfying mid-air butt stomp. On the mobility end, he's blessed with a double jump, a rather tricky (and temporarily invincible) dash move and, occasionally, the use of some Metal Slug inspired vehicles. Prinny's still have a penchant for exploding, but this time around they can take four hits (or one if you're masochistic enough to try hard mode) before they blow up. While your allotment of 1000(!) lives seems comforting, it's easy to send fifty or so Prinnies to their ultimate doom in no time flat (still, I finished the game somewhere in the 500 range).
Prinny's jump in particular is a particularly vexing attribute. Rather than adhere to modern standards and give the player free reign over a jump's mid air trajectory (think LittleBigPlanet), Prinny opts for a set-in-stone leap (again, Ghosts 'n Goblins). While you can butt stop your way down at any point, the arc of your trajectory is identical at every engagement. Initially I considered Prinny's lack of leaping control to be a knock against the gameplay. I would fall and fail countless times, and, more often than not, I would always blame "the stupid [insert expletive] jump" for assisting in my doom. After a few levels, and a considerable amount of time, I began to accept what was happening and adjust my approach. Rather than barrel through a level and struggle to make it to the next checkpoint, I took my time and, through a bit of trial and error, planned things in advance. And, whatadaya know, patience was rewarded with success. Prinny's school is old, but, unlike the maddening classics of our past, it’s actually somewhat fair.
Which is what makes the gameplay work so well. Though I trace my gaming roots to the mid 80's, I had been spoiled by recent hand-holding offerings like Prince of Persia and Assassin's Creed. I was looking for a challenge in reaching a destination and not the effort it took to get there; I had simply forgotten how to muster the gusto for demanding gameplay. The outlook often feels grim and the challenge may seem insurmountable, but, once you accept and understand the grammar, everything is actually in its right place.
While Prinny's levels seem to run together in the mechanics department, they're quite divergent when it comes down to their theme. Forests, castles, lava, and other beloved staples of platforming lore are presented in vibrant detail with lush colors. Prinny and his foes are all sprite based and in stark contrast to the 2.5D polygonal background. Indeed, the art direction was what initially sparked my interest in Prinny, and I was delighted to see the promising aesthetic of the early screens yielded a beautiful looking game. On the audio end, the voice work is substantial and the bubbly, atmospheric music actually eclipses the lively visual package, even if it all kind of runs together.
Not surprisingly (this is an NIS game), Prinny piles the high confection and offers a ton of stuff to keep you going past the initial play-through. My favorite of which is the ability to "record" your jaunt through each level, presumably for instruction or, more likely, bragging purposes. The levels are also selectable in any order you wish, and progress in difficulty as you move on. Since the enemy layouts adjust to what order you choose to play, it theoretically making for a noticeably different experience on repeat playthroughs. Finally, a ridiculous amount of unlockables appear, just incase you feel like capturing a discreet horde of monsters.