Anyone even remotely familiar with Nippon Ichi's self-developed games will recognize the iconic Prinny, the "dood"-spouting, knife-wielding, explosively fragile peg-legged penguin demons that serve the Netherworld as its lowest class of slave.
But even the lowest need their chance in the spotlight. That happened in 2009's Prinny: Can I Really Be The Hero?, a PlayStation Portable game and the Disgaea franchise's first outing as an action-based game.
Now, the Prinnies have been given a second run at center stage in Prinny 2: Dawn of Operation Panties, Dood!, which of course raises the question: Can a second outing return the magic of the first, or will hundreds of Prinnies have sacrificed their lives for naught?
Prinny 2: Dawn of Operation Panties, Dood! (PlayStation Portable)
From the title alone it's clear that Prinny 2 maintains the Disgaea franchise's classically off-the-wall sense of humor. A mysterious thief has stolen mistress Etna's unmentionables, and all the Netherworld - especially its Prinnies - are in danger of annihilation at the hands of the underwear's anti-theft booby-traps. So begins "Operation Panties", a frantic search through the Nether lands to find a pair of nether region-covering garments. Down to humorous monster descriptions in the in-game library, Prinny 2's proudly swings to the absurd end of the spectrum.
As always, the Prinnies retain all the charm that catapulted them into mascothood for Nippon Ichi itself, ever put-upon and eternally abused by all who lord over them (which is pretty much everyone). From their constant utterances of "dood!" (it's much less tiresome than it sounds) to the cute way they execute their butt-pound animation in-game, Prinnies are, well, adorable.
The visuals remain sharp and crisp as ever. The 2D sprites seem to be less aliased than before, and the distinct style of the character designs remain as anime-cute as ever, and mesh well with the 3D environments. Some recycled assets from the first game are evident, though, so levels and enemies can look or animate in a somewhat too familiar manner.
As with the first game, Prinny 2 is a side-scrolling action-platformer. Players control a horde of Prinnies - a thousand of them - as they run, jump, and die their way to the end of each stage. Whereas the average Disgaea Prinny can be killed by something as fearsome as a stiff breeze, the Prinnies executing Operation Panties take turns wearing a special red "hero scarf" that enables them to take a couple of hits before dying in traditional explosive fashion.
Prinnies aren't entirely helpless, though. They've got a few moves to ensure that they (more or less) survive the deadly gauntlet that stands between them and Etna's underoos. They can jump (and double jump), do a butt-pound, attack with their twin knives, and do a spinning pirouette that makes them invincible for an oh-so-brief moment. They can also self-destruct, but that thankfully isn't necessary most of the time. That's little comfort, of course, considering what faces them, but one must make do. Plus, effectively having a thousand lives provides a comfortable buffer against risk.
The butt-pound is also critical, as it stuns enemies that would take an interminably long time to kill normally. Stunning and attacking continuously also builds a combo meter which, when full, unlocks a range of attack variations, including a damage-dealing spin-dash and the meteoric Prinny-kaze. Care should be taken, though, when unleashing those attacks. An ill-placed Prinny-kaze can accidentally destroy destructible floor blocks, sending the hapless Prinny to (yet another) death.
In all, Prinny 2 demands a certain discipline and familiarity with the mechanics to get through in the best possible way. Jumping in particular can feel unwieldy for players raised on more forgiving platformers, as jumps have no "air control", and always follow a certain arc. The only chance to change direction in mid-air is to use the second jump. Watching some of the pre-recorded "pro" replays available for certain stages can show what a real master can do in pursuit of the perfect run.
The grueling challenge remains, though. Levels are full of deadly enemies, traps and environmental hazards that require precise timing and more than a little persistence to master. Some tougher sections can call for the sacrifice of dozens of Prinnies. By game's end only a handful of your thousand comrades will remain, particularly at higher difficulties.
Speaking of difficulty, the game's mission structure can also have an effect on the challenge. Players can choose which order they take each of the game's levels in, but after each stage, time passes, and later-chosen levels grow harder as night falls. A stage chosen last will doubtless be much more difficult than if it were chosen first.
Frustrations can also ensue, as some levels have portions that feel needlessly cheap, relying too much on rote pattern memorization, or worse, luck. Some environmental hazards that target portions of the screen at random, potentially ruining a player's no-death attempt or wasting lives with no regard to actual skill. It mars the experience and demotivates unnecessarily.
The game doesn't end once Operation Panties is concluded, though. Not if players complete a somewhat strict set of requirements. Doing so unlocks practically an entire new game, Asagi Wars, starring a Prinny version of Disgaea character Asagi.
The last Prinny left in the castle after the other thousand go off to find Etna's stolen sleepware, Asagi rebels against having to do all the Netherworld's chores, joining a reality show in search of her own position as protagonist.
Asagi Wars' mechanics differ quite radically from the main game's. Unlike the Prinnies' limited range of special moves, Asagi starts off with a vast array of weapons ranging from tossed vegetables to gatling guns and rocket launchers, using them to blow up, roast and pummel enemies in pursuit of all-powerful TV ratings. The screen itself mimics the look of a Japanese game show, complete with upper-left corner time stamp.
Prinny 2 isn't for everyone. It's a niche game with niche appeal, from a niche publisher. But for the right kind of player, it's almost everything one could ask for, handily delivering a satisfyingly stiff challenge and cheerily demented sensibilities.
If you're in for some tough-love platforming action, a certain penguin and nine hundred ninety-nine of his friends have got your back. Dood.
8 -- Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.)
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