Friday, April 6, 2018

Penny-Punching Princess (Switch) Review

When might no longer makes right, it is money that makes the world go 'round.  Such is the world of Penny-Punching Princess.  When capitalism destroyed her father's kingdom, capitalism will be used to restore it.  Journey along with the princess as she uses money to get her revenge.  Honestly, the game's premise is solid, and I really like it.  However, as we have learned before, and will continue to learn, a great premise does not always equal a great game.

The princess will go on many different missions to get revenge on the evil money lenders that destroyed her father.  You run around the isometric fields, attack enemies, and gather money.  Attacking works pretty well, as there is a normal combo and a charge attack.  There is also a dodge roll.  It does have its uses, but it doesn't work when and where I need it to.  Ideally it would be an animation breaker, so I can use it when I really need to dodge, such as when an enemy is attacking in the middle of my combo.  Unfortunately, it doesn't do that, so it just doesn't work for me.  You can do it when not in an attack animation, but then I could just move, so I don't need it then.

Instead, I think you are supposed to use the push attack.  This does very little damage, but knocks enemies back.  Having to use two buttons, instead of one, makes it less intuitive to use, but it does seems a little more effective than the roll, even if it doesn't always push an enemy away.  Trouble is, I am accustomed to rolling from a lot of other games I play, and I had trouble adjusting.  Plus, there are times in the combo when you can't do the push attack, so it still doesn't fix the major problem of me not being able to escape enemy attacks when I need to.

The only real saving grace is breaking bad...guys.  There are little lines on their health bars that when you drop their HP to below that, they will be stunned for a second or two.  You can get in some free damage during that time, and even tap on them for more money.  Early on I really liked tapping them for more money, but it was just too inconvenient to do the further I went into the game.  The princess also gets an EX skill that depends on what set of armor is equipped.  They have a limited amount of uses before having to refill.  For better or worse, a healing skill is by far the best and most useful.  I just wish I could get it on better armor.  So attacking works fine, but the defense needs to be reliable.

Since money is the focus of the game, the princess can also bribe enemies and traps (Isabella's mechanic is slightly different).  It's a unique mechanic, but has some major downsides.  Again, the idea is great, but the execution needs work.  When your calculator gauge is full, you can press ZL to bring up the calculator.  You type in the amount to bribe, and then tap the enemy to bribe them.  Thankfully, the amount you need to bribe an enemy is shown on them when you pull up the calculator.  On the downside, it can be hard to see the numbers when enemies and traps are crammed next to each other.  The calculator itself also takes up valuable screen space, making avoiding damage even more of a chore.  This might not be as big an issue if played in TV mode, but almost all of my Switch playtime is in handheld mode.  Also, there are both touch screen and button configurations for the calculator.  I briefly tried buttons, but it felt even more cumbersome than just tapping the screen.  That's the other reason I stuck to handheld mode.

We have covered a few of the downsides of the game, and now it is time to go over another.  The game's difficulty comes across as unfair.  After the first two stages, fight areas tend to be crammed with tons of traps, making only tiny areas safe.  You can bribe a trap, but you likely won't have the time to bribe more than one or two, and if you do, you won't be able to bribe an enemy.  The enemies also love to stand in and next to the traps, just to give you a cheap hit while you try to fight back.  While it makes sense in the context of the game, it's not fun.  It's also not fun that several enemy types will rush you, and they can push you around.  It might not be damaging directly, but it very easily shoves you into nearby traps that you have precious little room to avoid.  If this occurrence was rarer, I wouldn't mind near as much.  Dealing with it in 90% of the fights is aggravating.

Is there a way to grind your way through?  Not really.  Replaying levels is a good idea to bribe more enemies and traps, get more money, and grab any Zenigami statues that were missed.  Any extra statues and suits of armor are limited in what enemies are actually available to bribe.  Meaning, you can only get so strong.  There is an expense skill re-spec, but as skills drastically increase in cost as you buy them, it's usefulness is limited.  Since you can't grind your way through tough levels, you are stuck doing your best to learn the tiny safe spaces, which enemies to bribe, and hope you don't die.  If you do, you get nothing from the level, and have to do it all over again.  Well, you can spend some money for the revival mechanic, but I never found it good enough to rely on.

When not in battle, the princess and her subjects reside in her castle.  There are several functions you can perform here, like allocating skill points, making armor, and saving your game.  Skill points are earned from collecting Zenigami statues in the levels, and constructing others.  You can also construct new suits of armor for battle, each of which comes with a special skill.  To make them, you need money.  To unlock them, you need to bribe a certain amount of each enemy.  What I really like is that the bribed citizens aren't used up to craft an item, so it's safe to do so as long as you have the funds.  One last great idea is the Hidden Skill List.  You can try out any unlocked skill to see how it works, and if you might like it.  It's a small thing, but still very useful.  It would be even better if I could somehow try them out before I buy the armor, to see if the cost is worth it.

Penny-Punching Princess is a great concept for a game.  There are some good points, and a lot of promise.  However, the cheap combat and screen cluttering bribery mechanics need a lot of work to make it worth playing through the game.

The Good:
Good idea for a game, being able to bribe enemies and traps to use in battle and as crafting materials.

The Bad:
The imaginative bribery mechanic covers up a lot of the screen, and there are too many cramped fighting spaces with cheap hits.

The SaHD:

(Review code for Penny-Punching Princess was received from the publisher)

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