Imagine a world where money is at the centre of everything we do, where the rich prosper and the poor suffer. Imagine a world where a handful of cash can bribe you into, or out of, certain situations, where – hang on a minute. Yes, Penny-Punching Princess revolves around the idea of money ruling pretty much everything and, while that might not be too dissimilar to the real world around us, the game uses the concept to create a genuinely interesting and fresh take on classic RPG-style action, fused with some tasty beat ‘em up fun.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen an interesting spin on RPG gameplay from NIS America on Switch, with the similarly intriguing (and very enjoyable) The Longest Five Minutes getting a release on the console in February. This time around, we follow the titular princess as she goes on a journey to exact revenge against her world’s corrupt money lenders. The story is presented through some hefty chunks of dialogue in between each round of action, getting pretty bonkers at times, but it's the gameplay itself that will be holding your attention here.
As the Princess, and later with a second playable character called Isabella, you’ll be taking on waves of enemies that appear in various levels split across each of the game’s chapters. You have various melee attacks at your disposal, such as a quick attack that can build up combos, a stronger attack that deals higher damage, and more, but the real fun comes from the clever use of your magic calculator.
Exploring each level and unlocking treasure chests found within, and also simply by defeating enemies standing in your way, will net you a decent chunk of money to be spent with your calculator. If you have the sufficient funds, you can select an enemy on the battlefield and ‘bribe’ it, effectively rendering it useless for your enemies’ side and allowing you to use it to your own advantage. Generating, and then maintaining, a high enough level of cash in each level is key because of this, and carefully choosing which enemies to join forces with can sway the results of a battle.
Your bribing goes much further than this, too; as well as being used to unlock special locations in each level, often holding important goodies within, your cash can even bribe the scenery around you. We found that bribing things such as fire pits, saws, and cannons that were dotted around the arena, and then using them to unleash attacks on our opponents, was actually a much easier way to wipe out enemies in certain battles. Your tactics will need to change depending on each fight, but a solid understanding of how the calculator can be best used to your advantage will go a long way.
Representing the more traditional RPG side of the game are the skill updates and armour menus. Here, you can upgrade your characters’ stats and learn brand new abilities to use out on the battlefield. Hidden within each level are Zenigami coins, which you can trade in for one skill point. These skill points can then be used to upgrade your maximum health, attack, defence, and even things such as improving the amount of money you’ll earn in battle.
Perhaps the best feature here, however, is the ability to craft your own armour and make Zenigami statues. Between battles you’ll be able to access lists of these armour sets and statues that you can attempt to build, and doing so will give you some much-needed benefits. To do this, you’ll need to spend some of your hard-earned cash (unsurprisingly), and also sacrifice some of your enemy collection. You see, each time you capture an enemy out on the field, you’re also adding one of that particular race to your current tally to spend on these goodies. Thanks to this, bribing enemies within each level becomes a whole different game; do you bribe the one you need to easily win the fight, or the one that gets you another step closer to unlocking the gear you’re desperately after?
Getting hold of different sets of armour, which will each have unique combat abilities included, and the bonus, skill point-rewarding Zenigami statues, will be essential for your progression through the game. The title’s key artwork might make Penny-Punching Princess look all cute and cuddly on the outside, but this is one tough fighter that may well have you seeing the ‘Mission Failed’ screen very frequently indeed – even from the earliest of chapters.
In fact, the game’s difficulty can sometimes be one of its relatively few downfalls. Often, the hardest part of any level will be its boss, naturally situated at the very end. If you get to the boss and discover that it is too hard for you with your current armour setup, you’ll have no choice but to exit, and then restart, that entire level after shifting around your skills in the menus. Some levels can take upwards of half an hour to navigate (depending on your degree of exploration), so you really don’t want to have keep playing it over and over again if you fail.
This also means that the best way to ensure success is to grind your way through repeat plays of earlier levels, building up your enemy tallies to purchase more skill points. The game is already relatively repetitive, with each chapter and set of levels essentially tasking you with the same idea, so again, this isn’t something that you’ll want to be doing.
This is all a shame as the core idea of the game is immensely fun and we love the way that the calculator and battle bribes influence both the fights, and your attributes. The story is full of humour, the art blends clear cartoon graphics with pixelated goodness, and the soundtrack features several gorgeous tunes that had us humming along during our travels (even if the audio does clip and stutter occasionally). The battles themselves are most enjoyable when you can simply blast your way through, though, using your tactical knowledge to win, rather than waiting to be strong enough to cope. If the grinding aspect of the game wasn’t quite as necessary, this could have been something wonderful.
Penny-Punching Princess offers a great twist on the classic RPG formula, adding a new bribing system that takes your opponents out of the game to use for your own advantage. You’ll find many hours’ worth of content available here, and learning how to best use your magic calculator abilities for maximum success is highly enjoyable. In the end we felt a little let down by the need to repeat earlier sections to unlock essential equipment, and the time wasted thanks to having to redo entire levels that were too difficult in our current state, but we’d still recommend giving this one a go if the core idea intrigues you enough.