Hands on with PSP game Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero?

Can you really be this cute?

Hands on with PSP game Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero?

For the new year's naughty boys and girls, there's a greater punishment than that lump of coal you got in your stocking. Walk a sinful path and you'll end up a snarky, violet-hued penguin, forever indentured to service the netherworld. At least you can relish being cute as you suffer an eternity in slavery.

Of course, Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero? is a lot more agreeable than slavery in hell. In an alarmingly grim up of PSP releases in the first half of the year, it's a highlight. For the first time in months, we finally have a reason to pick up a PSP. Yes, Prinny, you most definitely can be the hero.

As the titular Prinny, you find yourself a slave to Lord Etna, a rather obnoxious character obsessed with chomping on sweets and playing games. When Etna's most prized dessert goes missing, Prinny is unfairly castigated and ordered to track it down.

For a rotund, peg-legged demon this is no easy task. Prinny comes equipped with a pair of daggers, although the emphasis lies in avoiding conflict as much as entering it. Trekking through the game's half-dozen stages involves hopping platforms and bypassing enemies more often than hacking and slashing beasts to bits. It's a fresh mix of classic platforming and side-scrolling action.

Venturing to the Nethergrasslands, we learned the benefit of passing up a fight. The game's introductory level takes Prinny through a seemingly pleasant countryside dotted with vibrant green grasses and windmills. However, nasty creatures such as jumping pumpkin heads to flying jesters break the tranquil scene.

You can slice these enemies up with a press of the Square button, while successive taps yield a quick combo. Additionally, jumping with the X button and then attacking produces a fancy airborne throw that sends waves of damage from Prinny's dagger to distant foes.

It's relatively easy to dispatch creatures in this first level, although losing a life is just as easy. On the default difficulty level, Prinny can take three hits before losing one of 999 lives. Bump it up to Hell's Finest mode and it's one hit for instant death. This is where evasion comes into play, pushing you to jump over enemies and slinking past sleeping foes in order to preserve Prinny's precious life.

Combat is unavoidable in many situations, though, particularly when you face the end boss of each level. Finishing the Nethergrasslands, for instance, requires taking down the Gourmet Ogre - an unseemly food lover hoarding an ingredient for Etna's dessert. Attacking the beast head on doesn't inflict damage, so you're prompted to stun it by stomping on its head then attack.

Prinny's adventure features bigger boss battles and more exotic locales, yet getting there will be a challenge. Difficulty is likely to be a serious issue for the final game. While you're given an ample pool of lives from which to draw, the boss battles are pretty tough. Die in the middle of a boss fight and you start it over again. You can easily lose a dozen lives on the first boss alone.

That won't be enough to keep us from enjoying Prinny, though. Playing it in bits - one level per game session, instead of marathon runs more likely to conjure frustration - should keep things cool and satisfying when it comes to the US on February 17th.