There is a fine line between a unique selling point and a gimmick. A good game creates interesting gameplay moments. A good game finds interesting angles to give a special gameplay experience. A bad game simply creates something odd to sell to the customer which doesn’t elevate the concept, loudly and busily going nowhere. In the case of Penny-Punching Princess, whether the game has a unique selling point or is simply a gimmick really feels as though it’s in the eye of the beholder.
Penny-Punching Princess exists in a world post-barbarism. From the ashes of a “survival of the fittest” world, a new world has emerged, allowing even the weak to stand up and gain power. This is the power of capitalism. In this world, the titular princess must face the Dragoloan family to reclaim her kingdom.
Suffice to say, the story here is more of a context for the gameplay rather than any grand narrative. The extent of the story is confined to pre-battle scenes involving quick dialogue moments between the Princess and her Butler, and some of the Dragoloan goons. There’s a bit of personality imbued into the game here, although that doesn’t change the fact that it is a rather meagre portion of the game.
While we’re at it, the visuals aren’t half bad. The game runs top-down with your character and the enemies in a cute pixel-chibi style. There’s a really nice flair they play with in this game. Having said that, the main thing that stands out are the character designs. There’s a nice variety of scrappy little monsters to fight including Skeletons, Onions, Living Swords and more, of all measures of size and power level. It really helps breath some life into the world that all creatures big and small want a chunk of your health bar or bank balance.
In it’s simplest form, Penny-Punching Princess (PPP) is a simplified “Warriors”-esque title. You’re dropped into a labyrinthine map, enclosed but designed with a lot of twists and turns. You’ve got two big ol’ fists and a variety of enemies to acquaint them with. The combat is pretty basic. You have light attacks to combo the heck out of foes, with heavy attacks dealing much more damage but take time to wind up. A lot of the gameplay focuses around maintaining distance which makes for an interesting little challenge. Also, the controls are very tight, as to be expected in a game so centred around its mechanics.
Each battle happens within an enclosed section of the map, typically with a handful of environmental hazards in place. All this combined leads to rather hectic gameplay that can be a bit overwhelming at first. And even after mastering the controls a little more, it still remains quite hectic and can be hard to manage. That’s because the whole capitalism part makes things a little unruly.
The whole “money as part of combat” concept looks fantastic on paper, but the truth of the matter is less elegant. One of the most powerful items at the young majesty’s disposal is her calculator. At the start of any fight you have no gold to your name, but that’s easily remedied. Beating up enemies and opening chests will grant you some gold, and that’ll let you put it to good use. On the most basic level, the calculator will let you pull off bribes. Bribe an enemy and they will stop attacking you, and they can be used as a summon, for attacks, or other helpful effects. Bribe an environmental piece and it will help you by stopping a hazard, allowing heals, or further traversal of a level. As you progress through the game, your cash can get you buffs, screw with the rules, and even reverse game overs!
So what’s the problem? Well simply put it’s challenging to progress through the game, and the money mechanics often make it harder. There’s a certain element of showing off the idea that seems to just make things difficult. Consider the ins and outs of bribing a monster: First, you’ve got to let your calculator charge, and earn some blood-soaked coin – fair enough. You then open the calculator which is unnecessarily big and obstructive. Only when its open can you see each monster’s “price tag”, assuming it isn’t behind the aforementioned screen-covering calculator. You manually type in your transaction, then tap on the monster and you’re done. All the time that you’re doing this, of course, you are trying to dodge around the environmental hazards and dodging around the monsters. These monsters you can’t even attack because the hand you use to interact with the calculator is also the hand you use to attack and dodge.
It’s fair to say that streamlining this too much might have subtracted from their cool idea. However, as a non-veteran to this style of game, I found the game challenging and demanding of attention. Which is a shame, because it’s rather difficult to give a fighting game your undivided attention when a mechanic like the calculator explicitly demands focus on multiple things simultaneously.
The Bottom Line...
Penny-Punching Princess is quite the tricky game to review. Visually it’s great, story wise good, albeit anaemic. But the simple fact of the matter is this game is bloody hard for newcomers to the genre, of which I am one. If you are new to the genre, it’s probably best to steer clear of PPP, at least until you’ve got your bearings elsewhere.
Otherwise, Penny-Punching Princess is still a very interesting challenge. The Calculator mechanic is definitely a bit of a hurdle to cross and feels like a bit of a bridge too far in terms of demanding focus from the player. If you can stick it out, it’s a solid spice to the formula with its wide spectrum of effects, and makes for a interesting selling point. If not, it becomes a big, noisy obstruction to the game, and it’s a dumb gimmick.