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Choosing between knuckles and a calculator

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penny punching princess

By Anthony L. Cuaycong

THERE’S SOMETHING to be said about the way Penny-Punching Princess stands out from among a bevy of role-playing games on the Nintendo Switch. It isn’t just because the quirky title comes courtesy of longtime-reliable Nippon Ichi Software, whose stable includes the popular Disgaea and Marl Kingdom series. In larger measure, it’s because the release dares to be different — an action-oriented RPG that has a female protagonist advancing through an adventure via her fists or, as the case may be, her finances.

Penny-Punching Princess begins with beats common to the genre. Devastated by her father’s debt and death, the titular character embarks on a journey of redemption and revenge. Her tale is told in large installments between levels, setting up the battles against the usurious Dragoloan family and its henchmen with equal parts heft and humor. All the same, it’s the gameplay that stands out; even as, in many cases, she lets her knuckles do the damage, there are instances in which she is able to use her cash on hand — by whipping out her trusty calculator — to co-opt obstacles. Her capacity to bribe underlings and objects, even traps, around her provides the game’s biggest come-on.

To be sure, Penny-Punching Princess contains many of the trappings of traditional RPGs. Players can upgrade the main protagonist’s constitution via Zenigami coins, accumulated in levels and tradable to skill points. Additionally, they can build armor to better equip the princess, as well as statues to help her fill her war chest faster. And, make no mistake, she will need all the assistance she can get. Though the game may appear easygoing visually and thematically, it is anything but. In fact, it strives to present a challenge even for veterans of grind-it-out releases.

Admittedly, Penny-Punching Princess isn’t one of those games that require triple-digit hours to complete. That said, it asks of players a high degree of dedication; there will be instances when the princess isn’t properly primed to handle the mini-boss, thereby necessitating a replay of the entire level, beginning with tweaks to her skill set and augmented by in-game adjustments. Moreover, only through experience will players know when to go all out in killing enemies and, in the process, accumulating coins, and when to put the calculator at work (assuming the meter is filled in the first place).

Parenthetically, Penny-Punching Princess compels players to employ a sound strategy that strikes a delicate balance between collecting currency and preserving life. On one hand, there is a need for them to take as little damage as possible, lest they be subject to the “Game Over” screen and be forced to negotiate the dungeon anew. On the other hand, they are enjoined to place the princess in harm’s way in order to make money and, yes, finish the level with a higher ranking.

The easy way out, of course, is to repeat an earlier stage which would have relative lightweights for foes. It’s the worst form of grinding, but, thankfully, Penny-Punching Princess offers an eminently pleasing pixel-art style mixed with a catchy soundtrack. On the flipside, the interface has a pronounced bias for the Nintendo Switch’s touch screen; players who like to play with the console docked will encounter more difficulty summoning the calculator in real time and identifying the subject/s or object/s of their intended bribe. Haggling is an option, but simply accepting the listed prices seems to be more beneficial, never mind the larger expense.

In sum, Penny-Punching Princess provides a decidedly unique action-adventure take on the Switch. It’s been a whole year since Nintendo launched the hybrid console, and owners already have a bevy of alternatives in their hands. Nonetheless, NIS’ latest offering is a medium-length brawler that packs a wallop. At $40, it’s a hearty recommend; it delivers as promised, standing on its merits and not needing false premises to bribe players into picking it up.


Video Game Review

Penny-Punching Princess
Nintendo Switch

THE GOOD

• Unique gameplay, featuring a hitherto-unseen bribe system

• Superb visual design and soundtrack

• Challenging but fair, providing players with ample risk-reward choices

THE BAD

• Controls far from easy to master

• Grinding is a must

• Screen can be noisy at times

• Better played using the touchscreen option

RATING: 8/10