Those of you who follow Japanese gaming culture to any degree, especially from Nippon Ichi Software, should already know what a Prinny is. For the rest of you, myself included, your initial reaction was probably similar to mine – “What the hell is a Prinny? And what a stupid name for a game”.

Adding “Can I Really Be The Hero?” to the title adds strangeness to an already strange concept. It’s like EA releasing “Need for Speed: Can I Really Win A Race?” Well yes, yes you can - if you’re good enough.

Without delving too far into their history and relevance, Prinnies first appeared in the PS2 game Disgaea: Hour of Darkness where they were used as a weapon because of their tendency to explode upon impact. Humans who have lead a worthless life, committed crimes such as theft, murder or the mortal sin of suicide, have their souls sewn into the body of a Prinny upon their death.

That’s all well and good – but what shifts that concept into the ‘bizarre’ category is the physical appearance of the Prinnies themselves. They are penguins. But not your usual garden variety penguins. Prinnies have wooden peg-legs and little bat wings, a leather satchel and a long red scarf. They talk like surfies on helium and have a penchant for saying “dood” more often than Ted Theodore Logan.

Let’s just leave the descriptions and explanations there shall we? Because trying to make sense out of the nonsensical can only make things worse.

The game itself is far easier to understand. A 2D side-scroller (well 2.5D actually) that takes you back to a time when games like Ghosts ‘n Goblins and Ghouls ‘n Ghosts reigned supreme. In fact Prinny is very similar to these two classics and is a style of game which both looks and plays superbly on the PSP.

The Prinnies take a starring role for the first time and the game starts with their demon overlord Etna having a tantrum when she finds out her favourite “Ultra Dessert” has gone missing. This sets the scene for what is essentially a game where you traverse a level (dodging and killing various enemies with a mix of 2D platforming) then fight a boss and collect a pudding ingredient. Sounds silly? It is. But don’t let the story detract from what is a thoroughly enjoyable old-school gaming experience.

Your Prinny has a slashing knife attack and a spinning attack along with a ‘ground pound’ which is used for activating checkpoints and on boss enemies a lot. Your most impressive attack by far is a kind of fireball which is launched from mid-air diagonally to the ground either in front or behind. When you execute this devastating move the camera swings around on an oblique angle, slightly behind Prinny, and shows you a nice view of the carnage you are unleashing upon your hapless foe. It’s a nice touch and encourages you to use it often.

My biggest gripe with Prinny: Can I Really Be The Hero is the jumping dynamic and the fact that you can’t change direction in mid-air a-la Crash Bandicoot. You can jump and double jump, but your landing point is predetermined. This makes it very hard on some of the more precise platforming sections or where you want to collect that difficult floating object without plummeting to your death. This is a criminal oversight, and could easily have ruined the whole game if the rest of is wasn’t such good fun. Having said that, you do learn to compensate for it before too long, and when you have 1000, yes 1000 lives, you can afford a bit of trial and error anyway.

You see the red scarf your Prinny wears is a magical garment which prevents them from exploding (as Prinnies are prone to do). However there is only one of these scarves to go around, so only one Prinny, from the thousand strong army can venture out at a time. This gives some storyline tie-in to the relevance of having so many lives.

As far as re-playability goes, Prinny: Can I Really Be The Hero presents a clever idea in its sequence of events. There are six separately themed worlds to complete, and the order in which you tackle them is entirely up to you. Seeing as the game increases in difficulty as you progress, a particular level you completed early on in the game will present a much harder challenge if you play it later in the game next time around. So essentially, each level has six different variations in difficulty if you feel inclined to play the game over again several times.

Ultimately, if you can get past the initial weirdness and the frustrating jumping mechanic, Prinny: Can I Really Be The Hero is a well paced, highly addictive side-scroller with plenty of slick humour and charm to boot, dood.