Like most games published by Nippon Ichi Software, Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero? was not a game for everybody. It was hopelessly difficult, full of frustrating platforming challenges and had a very specific sense of humor. But I didn't care that it made me want to throw my PSP to the ground and stomp on it, because I loved that quirky 2009 action game. So why is it that I'm not feeling the love from Prinny 2?
Ask anybody about Prinny and the first thing they'll mention is the insane difficulty. This is a hard series, full of maddening obstacles and cheap deaths. But in 2009 that is exactly what I needed. To say that modern games are too easy is an understatement, so dealing with the brutal challenge of Prinny was a breath of fresh air. This sequel carries on the tradition, but is overshadowed by other difficult platformers (including Super Meat Boy and VVVVVVV).
Prinny 2: Dawn of Operation Panties, Dood! is a near carbon copy of the original, offering the same style of gameplay and level structure. You play Prinny, the adorable (yet disposable) scene stealer from the Disgaea franchise, who is on a quest to rescue the evil Etna's stolen panties. Etna fears that if somebody sniffs them, it will bring about the end of the world as we know it. Yes, you read that correctly. This set-up is just the start to a wild adventure full of funny moments and silly dialog.
Before you start writing me letters complaining that this game goes over the lines, it's worth noting that there's nothing offensive about Prinny 2. Oh sure, the set-up may sound controversial, but the whole thing is dealt with in a fun (albeit juvenile) manner. The jokes are crude and there's nothing about the game that can be described as particularly clever or witty. But, like the first game, the writing is fun and the whole thing gets so silly that it's hard not to have a good time.
Fans of the 2009 game will feel right at home with this sequel. From the start you have one thousand lives, which (in theory) should be enough to help get you to the final boss battle. You'll definitely need all the help you can get, as the game relishes the idea of being as hard as possible. From the very first level on, Prinny is confronted by frustrating platforming puzzles and annoying (often cheap) enemies. But don't let Prinny get hit more than two times or he'll explode and you're back to square one.
Thankfully each level comes with a heavy helping of checkpoints. The idea isn't to get through each stage without dying, but rather to tackle a small chunk of the level at a time until you locate the boss. This is easier said than done, especially as you near the later chapters in the game. Of course, none of this will come as a surprise to those who played through the first installment.The fact that so much feels identical to the first game is a real problem. I was hoping for some original gameplay ideas or maybe a few more moves, but alas this feels like nothing more than an expansion pack. Worse yet, none of the levels are as interesting as those found in the 2009 original. I do love how popular Disgaea creatures show up along the way, but that's not enough to keep me from being disappointed in this ill-conceived sequel.
Even though they are entirely different kinds of games, I had the same reaction to Prinny 2 that I did with last year's Crackdown 2. Both games feel a little too similar for their own good, blatantly treading the same water as their respective originals. In both cases I got about half way through and openly wondered if I should bother continuing. I've seen and done all this before; do I really want to suffer through the insanely frustrating levels again?
Of course, Prinny 2 has one thing Crackdown 2 neglected: Awesome boss battles. While I spend a lot of time complaining about the frustrating levels and simplistic gameplay, at least the game is packed full of memorable bosses to take down. In true old school fashion, these bosses require both timing and memorization skills. What sets these bosses apart is that I actually feel like I have a fair shot at taking them down. Oh sure, they're a challenging lot. Some of the bosses are so large that it's a miracle that Prinny has any room to move. But even then, I didn't feel like I was dying needlessly. With each Prinny I wasted, I came that much closer to beating the boss. It's the only time in the game where I didn't feel like I was just spinning my wheels for no reason.
I had so much fun with the satisfying boss fights that I ended up being disappointed every time I returned to a normal stage. The punishing level designs take their toll, to the point where they altogether stopped being fun. There are too many sequences that require pinpoint accuracy, which is hard to accomplish given Prinny's finicky controls. I didn't have a problem with the simplistic gameplay in the original game, but it definitely doesn't feel right in this sequel. Even simple things like butt stomps and spinning were delayed by a second or two; just long enough to make our hero lose a life.
The game does offer an easier mode, but it's done in the most condescending way imaginable. Is there really no middle ground between unlimited lives and the standard game? And don't even get me started on the hard difficulty, where Prinny blows up at a moment's notice. Of course, none of this would have been a problem had the levels not been designed to be as punishing as humanly possible. There are some great ideas in these stages, but most gamers will be too busy yelling at their PSP to notice.
At least the presentation is strong. Much like the first game, Prinny 2 features colorful levels and good looking bosses. I was impressed by the level of detail that went into the backgrounds. For example, in an early stage the player will be met by a large air ship in the distance. It's cool to see how the backgrounds affect the foreground, it's the one thing you didn't see much of in the first game. I also enjoyed the light-hearted music and, of course, the fun dialog.
I really wanted to like Prinny 2 more than I did. I expect a sequel to be bigger and better, not a rehash of the last game. With a little more work on the controls, levels and abilities, this could have been another must-own game. Unfortunately Prinny 2 turns out to be the first big disappointment of 2011.