Version tested: PSP
"A Prinny is a small, usually blue, pouch-wearing penguin-like creature with disproportionately small bat wings and two peg legs where its feet would normally be. When thrown, it explodes on impact." Wikipedia, whatever its other shortcomings, can always be relied upon for obsessively detailed entries on bit-part characters from obscure Japanese videogames. The above summary, concise and efficient, gives the measure of the Prinny, a bird that has in recent years become something of a mascot for its creator, Nippon Ichi.
It's debatable whether the developer planned for these creatures to become its poster-penguin when they debuted in the brilliant strategy-RPG Disgaea: Hour of Darkness. But since then, Prinnies have appeared in almost all of the studio's games, providing comic relief from the serious business of statistical battling and bringing their own sentence-closing mannerism into the nerd lexicon, "Dood!"
Still, surely not even their creators imagined the Prinny would one day venture outside the confines of the strategy RPG to star in, of all things, its very own side-scrolling platform game. After all, Prinnies have peg legs where their feet should be and, more troubling, explode when they fall over. These are hardly the kind of idiosyncrasies that make for a suitable platform game hero, where jumping and not-combusting are usually baseline requirements for consideration. Then again, a pudgy plumber and a blue hedgehog made it. Perhaps a Prinny really could be the hero...
The character's potential setbacks are dealt with early on in the game's story. Etna, the Prinnies' mistress, who fans will know as the likeable but prone-to-hysterics girl from the first Disgaea, wakes to find that her favourite pudding, the 'Ultra Dessert', has gone missing. She pins the culinary crime on her Prinnies, telling them that, if they want to avoid insta-execution, they better track down the ingredients and replace the food pronto. To help them on their quest, she ties a red neckerchief around the lead Prinny's neck, which prevents spontaneous combustion.
Historical narrative pitfalls covered over, you set about trekking across the netherworld (which looks a bit like Devon), jumping flaming ravines and avoiding being struck by the various types of demons borrowed from Disgaea et al that patrol each stage. At the end of each of the six core levels you face off against a boss (in some cases two at once) who, once defeated, will give up the necessary ingredient they're holding. So far, so Super Mario-in-hell.
The quest structure established, the game reveals its next eccentric idea. Etna's squadron of Prinnies is exactly 1000-strong. Every time the lead Prinny dies, a new one steps up to take over. However, once those 1000 lives are extinguished, it's game over. If that seems like an unusually large stock of lives to be gifted with, especially for a game with only six stages, know that this is a difficult game that will test even the most reflex-gifted. Also, unlike in Nintendo's seminal side-scrolling platform games, when your lives are gone you'll have to start again from the very beginning.