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When a game starts you out with 1,000 lives, it raises some red flags. Such a high number brings the ominous expectation that you’ll die horribly and with great frequency over the course of the adventure. Why would a game need to give players so many opportunities to kick the bucket? There’s only one answer: Underneath the adorable, penguin-laden exterior of Prinny: Can I Really Be The Hero? is a heartless, bloodthirsty, unforgiving beast of a game that wants to grind your soul into itty bitty pieces and then vomit them back at you. Even worse, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy being brutally savaged by this charming and addictive action-platformer.

Much like the way Moogles and Chocobos have become informal mascots of the Final Fantasy series, it didn’t take long for Prinnies – peg-legged, bat-winged, occasionally demonic blue penguin servant creatures that tend to explode when they’re handled a tad rough – to become favorite characters among fans of the Disgaea series. Their amusing personalities include a proclivity for exclaiming “dood!” at the drop of a dime and a fondness for bombs and machetes. It was only a matter of time before the endearing critters were given a chance to star in a game of their own.

Prinny: Can I Really Be The Hero? features the same wacky humor and stylish presentation the Disgaea series is known for. In the dark recesses of the Netherworld, a gaggle of Prinnies find themselves facing the fiery wrath of their master Etna when her favorite sweet snack goes missing. Etna issues an ultimatum commanding her Prinny slaves to fetch the necessary ingredients and return with her Ultra Dessert or face a fate even worse than … well, being a Prinny. Wielding a scarlet scarf that inhibits his explosive nature, a Prinny (who’s conveniently named “Prinny”) sets out to do his master’s bidding.

As a meat-and-potatoes action-platformer, Prinny takes its gameplay cues from the classics. The titular penguin can run, jump, slash at enemies with his dual machetes, pick up bombs to chuck and pull off a few other basic moves. From a central hub that’s riddled with unlockables, you’ll initially choose from six themed stages to romp through. Navigating them is a matter of jumping and pummeling your way through an obstacle course of pitfalls, traps, enemies and precarious platforms. A grueling and often comical boss battle awaits you at the end of each area. The order of your selection is important, since beating each level advances time in the game. As nighttime slowly approaches, subsequent levels shift and gradually become harder. Monsters, level layout and boss encounters change, depending on the time of day in the game.

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The solid platforming gameplay isn’t revolutionary by any means, but Prinny‘s presentation makes it far more enjoyable. There’s a ton of variety in the colorful, cartoonish level design, the creative monsters and the goofy bosses you’ll encounter. Prinny and his comrades are bursting with personality thanks to the surprising level of detail poured into their animations and expressions. For little sprites, they play their part well. The game’s extensive voice work (featuring sentences frequently punctuated with “dood!”) is well done and quite funny. The humor and style adds to Prinny‘s charm substantially.

Over time, it seems the trend in game design has been to dull down the toughness and increase the level of handholding to ensure players don’t get too frustrated. Happily, Prinny doesn’t follow this trend. The difficulty curve comes in two flavors: Standard mode (where you can be hit three times before being killed) and “Hell’s Finest” (where one hit kills you). Both are brutal, while the latter is particularly heinous. Following this theme, several old-school design decisions make the challenge even greater. Once Prinny jumps, he can’t change his trajectory in mid-air; his only options are to deliver a flurry of airborne machete swipes to temporarily hover in place for a moment, do a double jump or butt pounds swiftly downward. It forces you to be damn sure about your jumping commitment … or be dead. Making matters worse, Prinny stumbles backward every time he takes damage. This can spell instant death when he’s pegged in mid-air or takes damage while he lands on the edge of a platform. The levels themselves also seem designed with their maximum irritation potential in mind – think Mega Man-style sadistic.

Prinny: Can I Really Be The Hero? is maddeningly difficult at times and pleasantly enchanting at others. The punishment players have to endure to make it through the game will be enough to turn some folks off, yet anyone who enjoys the Disgaea series and isn’t afraid of a steep challenge should get a kick out of this amusing spinoff.

Bottom Line: Prinny is simultaneously great fun and a major headache.

Recommendation: Try it. And try not to haphazardly destroy your PSP in the process.

Nathan Meunier almost snapped his PSP in half after blowing through close to 80 lives in just under an hour.

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