Game Review: Penny-Punching Princess (Switch)

The Hack-n-Slash genre has been around for a long time, so it’s not very easy to innovate. Some try to do so by injecting RPG elements. Yet others base their lore around historical events. Penny-Punching Princess tries to innovate by implementing a new spin on the combat system: you can battle your opponents, sure. But you can also just bribe them and have them fight for you. So, does this NIS America title bribe its way into our hearts? Let’s find out.

The story is simple enough: you’re a princess whose family has been ran down through the ages to the point of destitution. It’s up to you to rebuild your kingdom by bribing minions around different stages. Your stag beetle/butler will guide you through the process, with the NIS America-required speech affectation, and you must avoid dying while fighting through stages filled with dangers. You do so by either punching enemy minions in the face, or bribing them to join you. You can even bribe certain environmental elements such as gates and fire-breathing statues.

While punching opponents you get G coins (as well as by doing some cool tricks), which you can then use to bribe characters and environmental elements.

How do you do it? By bringing out a calculator, calculating the bribe and paying that bribe out to whoever you want. I am not kidding. And if bringing out a calculator to pay enemies in the middle of a hack-and-slash combat session sounds like a complicated, cumbersome affair, it’s because that’s exactly what it is. While I commend the developers for trying to infuse a rather tired genre with innovation, the implementation simply breaks the flow of combat to the point where playing becomes frustrating rather than enjoyably difficult.

The hack-and-slash portion of the game actually works rather well, and provides frantic fun at the touch of (very tight) controls.

Sure, there are some automated aids to calculate the appropriate bribe instead of manually writing it out, but I feel like manually entering the bribe amount on the calculator should have been taken out completely: I kept finding myself entering numbers by mistake, which disabled the automatic bribe calculator. It was awkward and quite far, far from fun.

Is the game ruined by this? Well, even from a plot perspective, it relies heavily on the capitalism aspect of it all (and there are some really rather funny social comments to be found within), so it really doesn’t help that such a crucial part of the experience is hindering rather than enhancing the game.

The graphics are fantastic, the voice acting (as such… there’s not much) is good, the music is thumping… there is a lot to like about the presentation of the game, and I’m hoping that for a lot of people, it will be a factor in them coming back to it. Because once you get past the decidedly awkward calculator fest, the hacking and slashing is fun, and the game is charming it is own way.

The calculator: the bane of the gameplay experience.

Please keep in mind that I often write these reviews in a vacuum of sorts: I don’t look at other reviews or what the general public says. Maybe people are loving the calculator thing, I don’t know. But I personally found it infuriating. I enjoyed pretty much everything else about the game, but I could not get past the frustration of inputting the wrong bribe, selecting the wrong character TO bribe, or simply dying while trying to erase characters from my calculator so that the automatic bribing system worked again.

As an exercise in innovation and presentation, Penny-Punching Princess is fantastic, and full of charm. As a game to play out of my own volition, I have to admit that I consider it an acquired taste to say the least, and one that, by the end of my time with it, I wasn’t really done acquiring.

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