You gotta be nuts to play through Prinny: Can I Really be the Hero?. Well, nuts or an exceptionally gifted mutant, someone like that kid from X-Men 2 who can change channels by blinking. Prinny is only for masochistic sadists. It is one of the most difficult, infuriating games I’ve had the sometimes-pleasure to suffer through. Before Prinny, I never said aloud, while playing, “I don’t like this game.” Yet I continued to play, out of some misguided sense of pride, like if I quit I would dishonor my family or the game would furrow its Prinny brows and sneer at me.
Wait, what is a Prinny? Why, he is a peg-legged penguin housing the soul of a murderer that explodes if you throw it of course! He’s a minor character from the Disgaea universe, where this game takes place. It’s a sort of hell or netherworld or wherever, a manga-styled Halloween Town where ghosts and skeletons and jailbait loli anime girls frolic together. One of the loli girls, Etna, tasks her Prinny army with the absurd, uh, task of collecting ingredients from around the underworld so that she may have her dessert for the night. Unfortunately the ingredients are held by nightmarish bosses at the end of some of the most nightmarish platforming levels I have ever encountered.
The game is punishing. Cruel even. It takes old-school platforming to a difficulty level unseen since Ghosts and Goblins. Actually, Prinny could be seen as nothing more than a re-skinned Ghosts and Goblins mod. The jumping mechanics are the exact same, for one. You can’t control the velocity or height of your jumps, like you can in say, Super Mario Bros. If you see your jump is about to fail you can’t change direction in mid-air and land back on the ledge you just leapt off of – your fate is set. You’re kaput. Unless you do a Mario-style butt stomp. Chances are you, you’re kaput anyway.
Prinny requires you to carefully time every single move you make. This goes for attacking as well. Prinnies wield little pirate knives they can whack enemies with, and a nifty super-attack that can be executed in mid-air – Prinny jumps up and rains steely death on baddies with dozens of knives. It’s a flashy move you have to pay extra attention to how long its animation lasts. Jump up and rain steely death for too long and you’re left vulnerable to an enterprising enemy who could get a hit in and knock you back or kill you. There’s also a spin/dash move that keeps you invincible for a second or two. If you hold long enough you can dash and even accelerate your jumps. I didn’t even use this ability until late in the game when ledges got so far apart I thought that was the game’s way of saying “Give up, punk. You ain’t got what it takes.”
The levels change depending on which ones you choose to do first. There are six of them at the outset, and like Mega Man you can select which ones you want to attempt in whatever order you like. So if you can pick the Water Level first it will be slightly different than if you picked it third or last. Platform, enemy placements and even the the bosses you fight at the end will change. With a game like this bosses naturally require laser precision pattern memorization. These fights get downright harrowing, and it’s not like you can throw the controller in anger because the PSP is the controller. Which is even more infuriating.
Oh, as if the dessert quest plot wasn’t enough evidence, Prinny is not without a sense of humor. The game gives you 1000 – that’s one thousand – lives to work with. It knows exactly what it is. The writing isn’t too shabby either but I don’t care for the rest of the game’s presentation, a problem I also shared with Disgaea. I just don’t like the if-Tim-Burton-did-manga aesthetic. Yes, it looks cute and much of the 2D animation in the game is fantastic, but the overall design of everything doesn’t do anything for me. The soundtrack, though appropriately Danny Elfman-esque in that awful spooky carnival way, grates on the nerves as well as the ears. The game has the decency to give you volume control over the music and control over the voice acting as well, which varies from amusing and over-the-top to nails-on-a-chalkboard levels of pain. I set each option to zero and listened to my own music and felt relief just reading the in-game dialogue. Sadly, after each time your Prinny respawns you’re still subjected to him shrieking “Gotta have smarts, dood!” or some variation.
And Prinnies respawn a lot. A lot.
In all, Prinny is too damn hard to be enjoyable. The feeling of elation upon completing a challenge – defeating a daunting boss or navigating several platforms surrounded by fireballs while fighting an entire gauntlet of ninjas – doesn’t last long. It’s fleeting. It’s abusive. Playing it is like you’re an exploding penguin version of James Bond trapped on a boat getting thwomped in the balls with a heavy rope by a sadist with breathing problems. It hurts like hell, but maybe if you redirect your senses your mind can translate that pain into pleasure. That’s Prinny. Torture with tiny bits of cheer.
If that’s your cup of tea, go for it. Just don’t say I didn’t warn ya.