Money, is power. And power, is money.

That's the core pitch of Penny Punching Princess, the latest game from NIS America...Or at least the latest one we've reviewed. When your fate is decided as much by how many bills you can wave in front of your enemy's face, as how hard you can hit them, your decisions begin to change. And they change in ways that are, perhaps, just a bit twisted...

But let's look at our core premise before we get into gameplay. This is a fantasy world, one that was once your classic swords-and-dragons type land...Until, capitalism rolled in. Money. The influential power of money became more and more obvious, and living by the dollar beat out living by the sword. And all as encouraged of course by the god of money, Zenigami.

You play as the titular penny-punching princess. The Princess's kingdom was lost when her father got caught up in a bad loan, one that led to pennilessness, and him dying in poverty. And thus to reclaim her kingdom and get justice for her father, the Princess is forced to learn the ways of penny punching, the mix of violence and currency to achieve her ends...

As an aside, I should mention just so we're clear, this game has no in-game purchases. You cannot put real money into this game. At all. I'm gonna be saying stuff that would sound really horrifying if you could, so I needed that to be super clear.

Okay, so! Gameplay! This is a classic beat-em-up, more of the top-down variety than the 3/4-view belt-scroller style. just in terms of basic violence, the Princess has a few key tools; her multi-hit basic combo has a few varieties, she can slam opponents back, she has a chargeable heavy hit, and a limited-use special move. She's also got a dodge roll, and all of these can see some enhancement with skill points.

That's a pretty solid little set of moves, and you can get through a lot of stuff mostly just relying on your violence. Taken on that level, it's a pretty simple, solid beat-em-up that has just enough meat to satisfy. But that's not the only dish on your plate.

No, you have the Calculator, a tool given to you by Zenigami himself. And the Calculator lets you turn the money you shake out of enemies into a ferocious tool. At the base level, it lets you simply bribe them. Every man has a price, and so does every dragon. Simply punch in the number by the enemy, and then you can pay them to not just go away, but switch sides.

This becomes one of the central strategies of the game. First, you get to call upon this once-enemy a few times as another special move. And second, all enemies you bribe also become citizens of your slowly rebuilding kingdom, which lets you unlock various new armors and bonuses in between stages. And it's not just enemies, either. You can even bribe stage hazards, which can completely flip a battlefield. I've won entire encounters just by getting a fire pit in the right place to burn my enemies to ash, and the profits from their defeat paid for the fire pit in a second.

It's not all the Calculator can do, either. You get things like the Coin Miracle, where you can offer money to Zenigami in trade for a blessing, which might be healing, strength, more money back, or any number of other possibilities. It's a gamble, but what isn't in capitalist society?

All of this creates a really solid loop, when it all works together. You beat enemies up while you wait for your Calculator to charge, you strike with your dollars at the most decisive enemy or trap in the mix, you turn them against your foes, and repeat until victorious.

The troubles, where they exist, mostly start in the places where it doesn't work together. And this gets to my one real problem with the game, the controls. So, at least on the Vita version, you have two major options: Touch controls, and button controls. These solely focus on the Calculator and the Break mechanic, and this is where things go sideways.

On the button controls, you use the d-pad to navigate the Calculator, engaging it with the X button. Which means your hand isn't on the analog stick, or else you're claw-gripping it like we're back to playing Monster Hunter Freedom Unite on the god danged PSP. (I don't even know how you'd do it on Switch, with the stick above the dpad)

Or you can do touch controls, where you touch the screen to work the Calculator, and then touch an enemy to give them the bribe. Which actually works quite well...But the problem is you lose tons of precision and certainty, as well as the incredibly convenient quick-bribe that just pays them whatever they're asking at a button press, meaning you're more likely to spend more money than necessary, or even bribe the wrong thing in a thick crowd.

So it's kind of this messy situation where I want half of each control scheme. I want the touchscreen pressing of my Calculator buttons for manual work, but I want the right-stick spin for the Break mechanic, and the quick-bribe function for when I just need to get a thing off my back nowwithout trying to punch in the numbers myself.

And that's kind of a shame. The concepts for this all work really well, and if the controls were just a bit cleaner, it would be a firm Recommended. But as it is, I'm kind of left waffling a bit. If you can deal with messy controls, I think the core gameplay loop is really well done and deserves your time...But I totally get it if you need just that bit more polish on the experience before you put down your hard-earned cash.