In Touch Mode, even once you’ve input what you’ve wanted, you then have to touch on whatever it is on screen you’re trying to bribe. There are some occasions also where you can stun an enemy, known as Break, and you can tap on them for them to spew out a bunch of extra cash. But this also leaves you vulnerable when there are a bunch of enemies since one of your hands will be on the screen, you’re either not moving or not attacking and dodging in the interim. Regardless, you’re always susceptible to damage, and when things get crazy – especially since there are few health fountains and you can’t manually regain health via potions and what not – it can become overwhelming pretty quickly, and not in a good challenging way. Wouldn’t it have been better to use a trigger to target, move the right stick if you wanted to change selection, and then hit A to confirm the bribe rather than having to type it all out and touch whatever was on the screen?
There are little things in addition such as when you’re speaking to an NPC in a level (or just so happen to be in a conversation during a cut-scene) and press A to speed up the text and have it auto fill, it just moves over to the next line of dialogue. Those moments where I did care on what someone was saying but just wanted to finish the sentence, it’d move on instead, and this happened on multiple occasions. Having to start an entire dungeon over when you die can also be problematic as there aren’t any checkpoints in between, and the lack of health regeneration or ability to carry potions basically makes every level a one-and-done experience, whether you’re victorious or end in defeat. Although you live and you learn, the game is so straightforward that there aren’t really alternative approaches you can make when going back in. It’s just a “better luck next time” situation.
The thing is that’s slightly deceiving about Penny-Punching Princess is because of its charm and cleanliness of its HUD and UI, you’d think that the experience would be intuitive, but it’s simply not. It doesn’t end at the calculator. In between battles when you’re navigating the menus, everything is rather jumbled when you get within each box. Whether you’re attempting to gain new skills, raise your attributes, or acquire new armor, it’s all not very user-friendly. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of Idea Factory and how they do their menus and incessant need to handle all management between dungeons in overcrowded menus with never ending tips on how to do this and that.
Saving is probably the most ludicrous part, however, and not due to its tediousness, but because of its nothingness. It is quite literally just a black screen you’re taken to with pixel text that doesn’t seem to be leveled correctly, and is so different from the rest of the game and its menus that you feel like you’ve been transported elsewhere. It is a black screen with white text, and looks like it was a task to do for a student on their first day of development. The rest of the game is vibrant and cute with colors to match the tone and almost feels like a candy store with the welcoming atmosphere of it all, but then there’s this save menu of nothing that begs the question, “What if Downwell was a save screen?”
Penny-Punching Princess has the right stuff to make it a game that has appeal to a wide audience, but overall I’m left frustrated and desiring more. It’s a disappointment, considering all of the charm it has, but it cannot live off of this alone. The lack of multiplayer support – given that there’s an extra playable character, Isabella, who’s related to the princess but born a zombie – also ruins its chances of at the very least being a fun couch co-op experience fighting your way through these levels and maybe having someone else on bribe duties, and instead makes Penny Punching Princess an onslaught of repetition that you’ll have to endure all alone with no real sense of reward.
There’s fun to be had in Penny-Punching Princess if you’re a fan of games like Binding of Isaac sautéed with some Criminal Girls and One Way Heroics, and seasoned in Disgaea, but the mess of the controls in how you utilize its bribing mechanics as well as its non-intuitive upgrade system really ruins the whole experience. The pixel art is great and there are some moments in the short and uninspired cut-scenes that will genuinely make you laugh thanks to their humorous approach and not being so serious as a whole, but charm can’t save the game from the inevitable frustration you’ll put yourself through trying to come to grips with how (and why) things work the way they do. Just because something “hasn’t been done” before doesn’t immediately make it innovative if it’s impractical and does more harm than good. Penny-Punching Princess’ repetitive nature becomes stale rather quickly, and the lack of any real noticeable progression and all-too-familiar animations between the light and heavy attacks make the overall experience feel unpolished and sleep-inducing. You’ll be doing the same thing for hours and hours expecting something different or exciting to happen, but it just doesn’t.
Penny-Punching Princess review copy provided by NIS America for the purposes of this review.