Format reviewed: GameCube
Developer: Capcom Production Studio 4
The Capcom exclusive that’s the stranger’s shoot-’em-up you’ve ever played.
It was impossible to escape P.N.03 when it was first announced, as it was part of Capcom’s huge assault on videogames. After largely deserting the PS2 in favour of Nintendo’s GameCube, it proudly announced the ‘Capcom Five’: five new games that would be exclusive to Nintendo’s console.
P.N.03 was announced along with side-scrolling brawler Viewtiful Joe, the intriguing and achingly stylistic killer7, Space Harrier clone Dead Phoenix, and Resident Evil 4, which looked a lot different to the final product. Out of all these games, three were later ported to the PlayStation2 (something which greatly angered GameCube owners), while Dead Phoenix was sadly cancelled in 2003. P.N.03 remained the only GameCube exclusive, and arguably the most misunderstood title out of all five games.
Originally known as Robot War Game during its planning stages, it was just five days into production before Shinji Mikami realised that the game needed a drastic rethink. “We put the graphics on the TV screen [and] it shocked me bad…” he recalled in a developer diary for the game’s website. “I didn’t feel any hot feelings from the screen. If it is a war game, it’s supposed to make the user feel hot, but from the screen, I didn’t feel anything. So I had to change the direction of the game. It wasn’t too bad, but for me, I didn’t feel anything from it.”
Mikami got back to work and P.N.03 was eventually released just four months after it was announced. Judging by the fact we’re still impressed by this forgotten gem, we’d argue that most people simply don’t understand Vanessa’s oh-so-ample charms.
If Capcom’s Devil May Cry, which preceded P.N.03 by two years, was all about movement, then P.N.03 was all about standing still – albeit doing it as stylishly as possible. P.N.03’s levels are split into smaller arenas, all featuring a set amount of enemies, which must be defeated before Vanessa can move on to the next section. The levels are incredibly well-designed and, after a bit of practice, the patterns of the enemies show themselves to be extremely clever, enabling you to rack up some pretty impressive scores once you master P.N.03’s control system.
Vanessa is an amazingly athletic creation, who, even when she’s rooted to the spot shooting at enemies, just can’t stay still. Whether she’s clicking her fingers to a beat only she seems able to hear, or suggestively undulating her hips while she mows down huge drones, her movements remain strangely hypnotic, and it becomes almost impossible to tear your eyes away from her constantly moving arse cheeks.
Avert your eyes you must, however, as P.N.03’s assault is relentless, with enemy drones throwing all manner of vicious attacks at the lithe beauty. Luckily, Vanessa is more than equipped to handle them, thanks to constantly upgradeable Aegis Suits that give her some impressive mobility and ridiculous over-the-top attacks. Many didn’t understand P.N.03’s controls, calling them clunky and unwieldy, but this couldn’t be further than the truth. P.N.03 is all about reacting to attacks and using strategically placed struts and barriers top dodge incoming fire. It’s an extremely elegant system once you understand it, and it becomes even more rewarding once you become familiar with P.N.03’s scoring system.
Like the very best shoot-’em-ups, P.N.03 is all about mastering the combo system. Shoot an enemy and you’ll have a set amount of time to reach and destroy the next one and clear your combo. It’s a deeply rewarding experience, particularly once you realise that you’re given more time for shooting certain enemies first. It’s effectively a shoot-’em-up for the 3D generation, which may explain why it received such unfair and lacklustre press at
its time of release.
Many complained about the short length of the game, but of course that’s part-and-parcel of a traditional shooter, and, as Capcom constantly rewarded you with more and more impressive Aegis Suits to unlock, there was always a reason to return to P.N.03 for one last playthrough. It’s quite possibly one of the most misunderstood and underrated gems of last generation, and that truly saddens us.
Why It’s A Future Classic
At its purest, P.N.03 is nothing more than an extremely addictive shoot-’em-up, and like the best shoot-’em-ups it offers endless replayability that constantly draws you back for one more go. While it’s all too easy to scoff at the drab-looking (but undeniably stylish) visuals and the repetitive enemy designs, to do so is to completely misunderstand what makes Vanessa tick.
If you’re prepared to look underneath its skin, you’ll discover some extremely clever enemy placement that enables you to pull off some truly spectacular scores – providing that you’re prepared to put the effort in. As he later did with God Hand, Mikami effectively redesigned a popular genre into something utterly new and stylish, and many just didn’t appreciate it.
P.N.03 is a game that constantly challenges you to take risks and rewards you when you do so, and for that reason we’ll always love it.
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