Welcome to another exciting edition of The Randomizer, where the games that I play are chosen by the metaphorical roll of the dice. Fun fact of the day: I had to Google search the word “Sophomore” to make sure I was spelling it right in this article, and the first recommended search came up “Sophomore Slump”, so now I’m nervous that this article may not be as good as the first one.
For those who read the first one, and spread the word of this new series, I just want to take a second to thank you all for the kind words. I worked hard to make the Rollergames review the best I can. It feels good to get back into something I love, both retro gaming and talking about retro gaming. I went through a bit of a slump, and lost a lot of focus. In wrestling terminology, I lost my smile. But I’m motivated to get back up and running. Who knows, maybe some day I’ll take this idea into video form. Wouldn’t that be something.
Two people need to be mentioned by name for their contributions to being awesome. First one is my brother (unverified by science) from another province, Temple of Retro. If you haven’t followed him yet on Twitter, then I cannot recommend it enough. And he has a brand spanking new website for you to check out, where he’ll be tackling his Legend of Zelda backlog. Can’t wait to hear his opinions on those. Really excited for that. Also, a big shout out to the awesome Tom Hall and the great retro collaborative website 1 More Castle. Check out his new weekly podcast The Hall Way where he gives his opinions about current gaming events and preaches to all the greatness of video games.
Alright, enough of that, let’s press the button, and see what’s up for grabs. Oh, I hope I win the car this time.
And the winner is …
Oooh. We are about to get our groove on in here. It’s P.N. 03 for the Nintendo GameCube. Or if you prefer, other pronunciations include “P N Zero 3”, “P N Oh 3”, “Peenohthree”, or how the store owner I bought it from thought I said “Piano 3”. This little gem is a third-person action game, released in 2003 by industry giant Capcom, the same company that gave us “Devil May Cry” in 2001. There are similarities to both these games, as the game play is mostly entering a room and kill bad guys. This game was directed by Shinji Mikami, the guy who created the Resident Evil series, so it can’t be too bad, right?
Now, I have played this game before, and I remember having a lot of fun with it, but researching the game found that a lot of reviewers back then gave it painfully mediocre reviews, using words like “average” and “disappointing”. So for this review, I’ll be asking myself not only if this game aged well, but if it’s as fun as I remember it.
Researching also revealed why this game fell into a certain depth of obscurity. Apparently in 2002, Capcom declared about $160 million in losses because the games Resident Evil Zero and Devil May Cry 2, among others, didn’t meet expectations. So this game, and another “mediocre” game, Chaos Legion, was rushed out to try to recoup profits. And we all know from history that that’s always a great strategy when trying to turn a profit.
From what I also discovered, the game was basically part of development hell. The original working title was disputed between “P.N.03” and “Jaguar” (Which would have been interesting for Atari if that was true). Most ideas to make the game better were dropped for time constraints, and allegedly Mikami lost the passion of making this game. These could be some of many reasons why this game only sold 80,000 copies worldwide.
Come on, it can’t be that bad. I mean, look at the front cover. It’s got a really futuristic sexy lady that looks like she can kick ass. I do have to admit that I am a sucker for bad-ass female protagonists. She’s got the cool shades on, and some zero suit style armor, and she’s got that short hair that I love. She seems like a fighter with a tough exterior and a dark past. She’s even voiced by Jennifer Hale, who did such famous voices as FemShep in Mass Effect series, and Samus Aran in the Metroid Prime trilogy. (Granted, in this game she only speaks in the end, but still, that’s pretty cool fact) When I saw this game box for the first time, I thought it looked awesome. Granted, I first saw it in a bargain bin for ten bucks months after it was released, which seldom is a good thing. But still, I thought it looked like a cool game. We eventually find out her name is Vanessa Z. Schneider. I doubt she’s related to that guy who’s in every awful Adam Sandler comedy. (Which, face it, is redundant. Adam Sandler comedies are awful). And don’t ask me what the Z stands for, but my top three guesses are Zuul, Ziggler, and Zordon.
So loading this game into my GameCube and leaving the controller idle reveals some of the game play, and also a little video of our protagonist dancing and posing. Vanessa’s dance moves are reminiscent of the current third person shooter sleeper hit, Bayonetta. She can flip her legs, back flip, spin around, twist her legs and body into cool positions, and even gives the audience a little butt shaking. In fact, during combat in the game, she still groves and even butt wiggles. Nikki Manaj would be so proud. I believe the opening video shows how graceful and elegant she can move, like a delicate swan on the calm moonlit lake.
Too bad when you play the game, she moves like my dad’s old Buick.
Seriously. The first thing that’s painfully obvious about this game is that the controls are really hard to get used to. She has really odd tank controls. Up on the stick moves her forward, which is the function that makes a lot of sense. What doesn’t really make sense is that left and right pivots her in the directions, instead of moves her that direction. So in order to turn smoothly, you have to be stationary, then turn into the direction you want, then move forward. And pressing down has you spin backwards for a short distance and stop entirely. You can’t fall back from enemy fire, which is your first reaction whenever you see lots of baddies in front of you. The L and R shoulder buttons let you strafe, but again, only for a short distance. And the Z button lets you spin around 180 degrees. In fact, most of the other buttons control her instead of the directional pad, and the A button is used to shoot. This can get really confusing at first, and almost guarantees you losing the game at the first attempt.
Vanessa also isn’t very good at multitasking in this game. You can move, you can shoot, but you can’t move and shoot at the same time. Nor can you crouch and shoot, or jump and shoot. In order to fire into the enemies, you have to remain motionless and fire the A button repeatedly. I really hope there’s a GameCube controller with a turbo button somewhere, because this game needs it. For a game that centers around reflex movement around obstacles and enemy fire, the fact that you have to stand still to shoot feels really stilted.
With it being a third person action game where the primary focus is mostly maneuvering from enemy fire, you’d think that control of the character would be essential. And you’d think there would be more ways to move around the screen, like double jumping, or wall jumping, or even wall running. Sadly, all these ideas are missing from this title. There’s not even a run button. There’s also no charge shot. And being able to press and hold A to shoot is an upgrade to some armor, but not all. These must have been some of the ideas abandoned due to time restraints.
Points are earned throughout the levels by shooting things and dodging attacks. Combos are set up so that you have a limited amount of time to kill the next creature to expand the combo and earn more points. Also, leaving each room shows how many bonus points you earned, and you get more if you leave the room unharmed. Points are used in stores or end of each level to upgrade the armor, or to buy newer suits that have different statistics and bonuses. Playing the stage doesn’t earn you too many points, but after each stage there are trial runs where you can earn more points as many times as you want. This can become a Completionist’s nightmare, and grinding for points to buy every suit can get very tedious. You get a bonus suit when you buy all of the available suits, then beat the game. And then beating the hardest difficulty gets you a more revealing suit, and winning the game with this one gets you the better ending. It’s a lot of work to get the best stuff, and almost becomes not worth all that grinding.
You can control the camera, but it’s very limited. The c-pad can move the camera around the main character up and down, and left and right, but only in short distances. To fully look around, the directional stick must be used to spin around, or using the Z button to spin 180 degrees, or the Z button and holding left or right lets you spin only 90 degrees. This hinders the player into fighting enemies in a myopic fashion, only focusing on one creature at a time. While there are levels that are just narrow hallways, open rooms can cause a lot of creatures to go by undetected and can kill you. Again, the ability to look around without losing focus and directional awareness must have been another lost idea.
The variances of the bad guys are pretty limited, and no creature takes one shot to kill. Even the passive creatures that hold health and stamina bonuses take several shots to take down. Each creature has a set way of moving that’s very easy to predict and dodge. Also, most of the minions give a quick flash whenever they’re ready to shoot, making it easier to prepare to dodge incoming attacks. Even end stage bosses are predictable in their pattern and relatively easy to beat on the second attempt. This makes the game feel more like an arcade shooter, which I admit is pretty fun.
Each suit has different powerful shots called Energy Drives that need the directional pad on the GameCube controller to input a small 2-3 point code to fire. The different weapons include temporary invincibility, area shots and single target lasers. This really helps to wipe creatures, gives a purpose to all the different suits, and adds a little bit more variety to the combat.
Lacking with this game is the story. There isn’t much of one. The only interaction you have to deal with between the protagonist and the “client” that hired her comes out in quick instructional bursts and clunky exposition. Apparently Vanessa is a freelance mercenary in a technologically advanced suit who is sent in to a remote planet to eliminate a threat. The planet looks to be either a human colony or a mining facility. Nothing is explained very well, and the ending leaves us with more answers. Without spoiling, let’s just say this. Did you ever see the ending of that awful Eddie Murphy movie, the Adventures of Pluto Nash? Yeah the twist at the end is quite similar. (Who am I kidding? No one saw that piece of garbage movie.)
The soundtrack is the one other thing I do have to admit to enjoying in this game. It uses music that’s a mix of dance and techno, but doesn’t present it in an abrasive way for people who don’t like dance and techno. Some of the songs are just 3 minutes long and looped, but are pretty atmospheric and match the setting of the presented world. It’s a safe way of approaching it, but I like it.
So, you’re probably wondering why this game never got a second chance? I sure as hell am. There are examples of newer IP’s get sequels that surpass the first game, so maybe the next attempt will be far better the original game. Well, Guess what? Apparently, it did get a sequel. And by a sequel, they basically took the ideas, polished them up and made Vanquish for the PS3 and X-Box 360. I never played that game, but saw some game play footage, and it looked like another cover based shooter competing with Gears of War. I guess this spiritual successor will be as close to a sequel this game will get. And Vanquish did get positive reviews. Also, it’s good to know that all that hard work that went into P.N.03 didn’t go completely in vain. In fact, most of what they did with P.N.03, in terms of the game engine and some music, was recycled into another future game called Resident Evil 4. I didn’t bother to research that game, so I’ll assume it was also a failure that led to Capcom going bankrupt shortly after, bought out by Sega, and never to be heard from again.
P.N.03 is an odd game to review. Those who like this game can completely understand why a lot of people don’t like it. Those who hate this game can still see some kind of silver lining inside. It’s very hard to love the game so much as to brag about, and also really hard to hate so much you have to rant about it. After playing the game again, I came to the conclusion that “average” and “disappointment” are plausible words to describe the game. I don’t fault anyone else from describing the game in that fashion. Other reviewers could use words like mediocre and bland. For me, I would use another word to describe the game. “Neglected“. There are so many ideas you can have to improve this game. A group of indie game developers in a room can come up with fun and innovative ways to make P.N.03 more memorable. You’d kill for a version 2.0 update, or at least some DLC. Sadly, as it is, it’s just a basic third-person shooter that leaves way too much to be desired. If this title came out today, it would be an above average Steam Greenlight game. You want to play a game like Devil May Cry? Then play Devil May Cry.
And yet, I still like this game, and still want to recommend it. It’s not that bad of a game, even with the faults of weird controls, repeated backgrounds, minimal amount of different rooms, repetitive game play, and complete lack of innovation. However, even after all the problems I had, I began to remember why I had fun playing the game. The dance/techno music isn’t that bad, the Energy Drive powers are fun to use, and the challenge, albeit simple, is still satisfying. With only 11 stages, this game can be beaten within a few hours if you rushed it. The game has flaws, but there’s still entertainment that can be had. You can easily pick it up and play an hour at a time to get some fun with it. If you find the game for cheap, I say check it out. It’s another hidden gem you should at least give a shot.
But do you know what the biggest factor that’s the saddest? Vanessa. Capcom had an awesome looking character with a cool design and they did nothing with it. Think about it, wouldn’t it have been incredible to see a franchise where she goes to other planets, explore other areas, learns new weaponry, and even encounter plots and schemes to fight for. She could have been a lead to such amazing stories. I know she has a fan base, I’ve seen her image used in twitter avatars and forum signatures. But sadly, she was kicked to the curb, never to come back. She wasn’t even in the Marvel vs Capcom fighting games, or even that Project X Zone game. I can totally see her in a fighting game, especially a Capcom crossover fighting game.
Well, I decided something, Vanessa, if you are reading this. Since this post will be live the day before Valentine’s day, if you wish, you can be my valentine. Doesn’t have to be anything spectacular. If you want, you can come over here, we can listen to some music, talk about current events, vent our frustrations about work, order in a pizza, play some Zombies Ate My Neighbors, anything you want. Or, I just bought Edge of Tomorrow on Blu-ray, an awesome Tom Cruise futuristic action movie. We can watch that. It has Emily Blunt as an ass kicking soldier in a technologically advanced suit. I think you can relate to her. Let me know if you’re interested.
Well, that does it for another round of the Randomizer. Thanks for reading. More chaos is in the pipelines. Until then. Be seeing you.