Usually, when gamers hear the words “pay-to-win” associated with a game, they become wary, and for good reason. Games that incorporate pay-to-win practices are a money grab by the company that makes them and is, unfortunately, a common tactic used in the industry today. So what will they think when they pick up capitalism-friendly Penny Punching Princess and realise that the only way they are going to win is, literally, by spending money?
In Penny Punching Princess you are a Princess with a magical calculator given to you by the God of Money. Along with your beetle butler Sebastian, you wreak havoc on the notorious Dragoloan Family by bribing their minions and punching their executives to death. Money is power in Penny Punching Princess, and you’re going to need a lot of it to succeed. Before you raise your pitchforks, that doesn’t mean you’ll be buying random loot boxes or imbibing in literal pay-to-win schemes. You just happen to need a lot of the in-game currency to level up, and even help you fight. It is a world ruled by capitalism, and cash really is king.
The story is pretty bare bones but is held up by tongue-in-cheek banter between Sebastian and whoever you happen to run across in your adventures. All the minions you meet are just obsessed with money or promotions within the company, so even though the dialogue becomes tiresome to read through before and after every mission, it can sometimes elicit a smile or a chuckle from seeing a giant dragon obsessed with his money. The real stars of the story are Zenigami, the God of Money, who sporadically shows up to annoy the characters, and the narrator. The narrator is the only voiced role in the game, so his appearances are the only time I really stopped to invest myself in the story.
It’s the importance put on money really is what makes Penny Punching Princess stand out amongst its brawler brethren. Being able to bribe your way through levels is more enjoyable than simply beating the enemies to death, especially because you can summon the last minion you bought to attack whoever you happen to be fighting. It also allows for you to buy traps to use on the enemies, giving huge bonuses for combo kills or “breaks,” which you’ll need to put more money in your wallet. Your calculator can also heal you, increase your attack, and even summon a maelstrom of meteors if you’re lucky.
Yet the importance the game puts on the calculator is sometimes what holds the combat back. The calculator can’t just be used whenever you’d like, once you buy something there is a cooldown. With no calculator, you’re just playing a normal brawler, and the fighting mechanics in Penny Punching Princess are paper-thin. There aren’t enough combos to help it stand on its own, and when you aren’t paying off enemies or traps, it’s just a whole lot of button mashing or running around waiting for the calculator to come back into play. It also doesn’t help much that there is only one other character, and her mechanics become just as tiresome after playing with her for a while.
There are some ways around this, which is just stacking your character to the point of being over-powered. Penny Punching Princess has a surprisingly deep RPG system that you can play with between missions. You can level up your HP or DEF with attribute points which are obtained by finding Zenigami statues on missions. You can also create different armours or even Zenigami statues by bribing a specific amount of certain minions and traps. If you really want to, you can replay levels that have the minions you need, stock up on attribute points or armours, and then just run through difficult levels with relative ease.
The thing is, replaying levels isn’t very fun. Each level never changes, so if you need to go bribe a few Onioon minions, you’ll have to play a level with those minions. But if you’ve already gotten the highest rank of S or found all the hidden Zenigami statues in that level, you’re forced to play through the same exact map and the same exact encounters each replay. The gameplay isn’t enjoyable enough to really warrant it either; it’s just fighting, getting money, buying minions, rinse and repeat. It is also extremely hard to buy armour or statues without grinding levels that you’ve already played unless you are lucky and just happen to buy the right minions needed for whatever you need to buy.
All of this makes the vast amount of options the game does offer, feel shallow. If you have to go back and replay levels over and over again, it takes away the importance of beating a new level for the first time. You know you’ll probably have to come back and do it again. This is fine for the most part until you hit a difficulty spike in the game which forces you to go back and grind for better armour or more attribute points. This would be fine, but obtaining new armour isn’t all that exciting, and replaying the levels can really feel like a drag if you have to go complete the whole thing just to bribe one or two minions.
When you are playing a new level for the first time, Penny Punching Princess is great fun. The game can throw a lot at you at once, but once you get the hang of traps and attack patterns the fight scenarios are chaotic fun, especially if you have the funds to turn traps on enemies. Boss fights are another highlight. Fighting a gigantic samurai dragon while running around and turning all his traps on him can be fun, and the fights can last awhile in comparison to the smaller skirmishes that take mere seconds to complete. The grading system is also a good way to make the player strive for perfection, though I never really found it all that difficult to achieve a level score of A or S as long as I completed the level without dying.
It really all comes down to how much fun using that magic calculator is. Without it, Penny Punching Princess would just be another fighting game and a boring one at that. It is one of few games where currency actually feels important, which is impressive in itself. If you have money, odds are you’re winning the fight. It’s not only a fun play on the industry’s current play-to-win woes but also elevates the gameplay in a fun and unique way. The game also has a lot to offer in terms of collecting statues and armour; it’s just unfortunate that it is so grindy to get a lot of what you need to succeed. But in a lot of ways that ties into the theme of Penny Punching Princess: in a world ruled by capitalism, grinding for materials is king.
Source: Screenshots - Legendra.com