The Disgaea franchise may have begun with an RPG, but its unexpected popularity made it branch out. This year alone saw Disgaea Infinite, a visual novel/adventure game, and Z.H.P: Unlosing Hero vs. Darkdeath Evllman, a roguelike. The Disgaea characters hold almost as much appeal to the franchise's fans as the gameplay itself. Nippon Ichi has no problem giving players more of those characters to tide them over until Disgaea 4 is released. Prinny 2: The Dawn of Operation Panties, Dood is the sequel to the 2009 game, Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero?, and as you'd expect, it's the latest game in the franchise to star those adorable mascot characters, the Prinnies, as well as plenty of cameos from other Disgaea characters.
For those unfamiliar with the Disgaea universe, a Prinny is a recurring mascot character. On the surface, they appear to be adorable, if explosive, penguins, but in actuality, they're the souls of those who sinned in their mortal lives. Sent down to the underworld to live as the lowest of the low, they remain Prinnies until they've worked off their sins. The unfortunate creatures usually end up as the servants or sidekicks to the important characters, so they're not exactly who you'd expect to be the heroes of a story.
Prinny 2 isn't the heroic tale of their uprising against a cruel fate. The Prinnies in this game are the servants of Disgaea character Etna, who is in charge of the underworld after the bad ending of the original Disgaea game. One day, a thief sneaks into her castle and raids Etna's laundry, and that leaves the demon overlord quite peeved. She gives her Prinny servants a single day to get her stolen underthings back or face the consequences. This leaves her poor Prinny army with only one choice: become heroes or end up as victims of Etna's latest tantrum. Donning a heroic scarf, the 1,000-Prinny army sets out to find the thief and recovery Etna's lost property.
On the surface, Prinny 2 looks like other platformers on the market, but it stands out because of its difficulty level. Games like Donkey Kong Country Returns are hard, but they're generally fair and weighted in the player's favor. Prinny 2 doesn't hold your hand. Everything that can be balanced against the player is balanced against the player. The jumping physics are more reminiscent of old-school Castlevania than anything you'll see in a modern platformer. Once you jump, you can slightly alter your trajectory with a double jump, but that's about it. If you misjudge your jumps, you can expect to fly into an enemy or pit.
There are plenty of enemies and pits scattered around the stages. Every level is designed to assure that the player is going to spend many lives getting to the end boss. The game gives you 1,000 lives to spend, and while that may seem ridiculously excessive, the challenges can be cruel enough that you can spend tens of lives making a single jump or getting through a nasty gauntlet of traps.
To assuage some fears, Prinny 2 attempts to be kinder than its predecessor. There are three levels of difficulty. Normal allows players to take a hit or two before they die, while Hard will kill you for a single mistake. The new Baby mode is designed to allow more casual players a chance to get through the game. You're given multiple hits, and certain difficult areas of the game are made easier with helpful platforms, not unlike Mega Man 10's Easy mode. Prinny is forced to wear a diaper throughout the course of the game, as a constant reminder to players that they took the easy way out. It's embarrassing, but if you're a casual Disgaea fan who just wants to see the story, at least you're given a helpful handicap.
Your Prinny has a small selection of abilities, but each has a distinct use. Pressing Square allows you to unleash your primary attack: slashing with knives. The faster you pound the button, the more damage you do, but there's a brief delay between when you start and finish the attack. Time it incorrectly or get greedy about dishing out damage, and you'll get hit. You can also perform an air attack, where your Prinny launches ranged blasts diagonally down at his enemies. These are weaker than the close-range attacks but have the benefit of safety. The air attack can also deal a lot of damage if you're standing close to enemies, but that also comes with a risk. It's hard to pull out of an air attack, so if you mistime it, you'll get hit by an enemy counterattack.
Fortunately, you also have some defensive moves at your disposal. Your Prinny can perform a hip drop attack by pressing down while jumping. This Mario-style move makes the Prinny smash down on whatever is below him. The move does little damage, but it stuns a foe so he can't damage you but takes more damage from attacks. Certain bosses can only be effectively damaged if you stun them a few times first. However, not every foe can be stunned. Try to hip-drop an enemy with a flaming head, and you'll just deplete your store of lives.
If you spin for a few seconds, your Prinny will be surrounded by a blue aura that's invulnerable to attacks. It sounds nice, but as soon as you stop spinning, your Prinny becomes dizzy, leaving him vulnerable to attacks. It's a difficult move to use correctly, since the timing is so weird. You can use it to dodge an attack, but if you don't compensate for the aftereffects, the enemy can take you out pretty easily anyway. You can also use the spin to charge up a dash move so that you can run faster and jump further, but you risk being stunned if you run into a wall or obstacle. You can also duck while dashing to slide, which also gives you a blue aura of invincibility but without the nasty side effects. It takes a while to time the slide so your invincibility doesn't run out in the middle of a group of enemies.
Despite Prinny 2's punishing difficulty, it gets easier if you can negotiate the obstacles and enemies without taking too many hits or being too slow. This is because of the addition of the Break mode. As you rack up combo hits on enemies or pick up sweets scattered around the stage, your Break meter fills up. When it's full, you enter a super-powered state during which your attacks do more damage and you gain access to some new moves. Your hip-drop can now be used to stomp enemies to death. Your air attack can be converted into a powerful dive bomb that clears huge groups of enemies. Break mode only lasts until you get hit or until you go too long without building up more Break meter. Mess up, and you'll be back to your regular weak Prinny state. Managing your Break mode properly is essential to surviving. A boss can be beaten in a fraction of the time if you use Break mode properly.
Prinny 2 has an unusual method of handling levels. You begin the game with 10 hours to go until Etna's deadline is up. At this point, you can go to any stage in the game. Every time you finish a stage, the game advances by one hour. The passage of time is a gradual increase in the difficulty of the game. Depending on when you get to a stage, it will be more difficult in that you might encounter extra enemies or more deadly bosses. This asks for some strategy from the player. If you're bad at a particularly hard stage, do you take it on early when it is easier and risk making another stage harder? It's also a good encouragement to finish a tough stage early on instead of skipping it for later. If you can't beat a level when it's easy, what would you do when it is even tougher?
As you'd expect from a Nippon Ichi game, Prinny 2 is packed to the brim with extras. There are collectable Lucky Dolls to find in each stage, and they unlock bonus features. There are additional playable characters, including some popular Disgaea-themed cameos. It also wouldn't be a Nippon Ichi game without some extra-hard bonus bonuses to test your skills. You can find bonus characters for your home base, and they unlock new features. There's not quite as much ridiculous content as you'd find in the full-blown RPGs, but Prinny 2 certainly isn't the kind of platformer you finish once and then shelve. Seeing all the content in the game would require a few playthroughs of the game — and some pretty ridiculous skills.
Prinny 2: The Dawn of Operation Panties, Dood! is shaping up to be a straightforward sequel to the first game. While it has some new features, the basic gameplay is pretty similar, and it shouldn't be difficult for fans to pick up. Newcomers to the franchise will be glad to hear that there is nothing keeping them from jumping ahead to the second game. The plot is mostly comedic, and there's little need to worry about continuity when it comes to the Disgaea franchise. Prinny 2 has the makings of a solid, if challenging, platformer. Its high difficulty means that, even with the addition of Baby mode, it won't be for everyone. The odd quirky humor and charming sprites should hold plenty of appeal for Disgaea fans, and the difficult platforming could even appeal to those who can't tell Laharl from Adell.
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