Thursday, May 26, 2016

VGR P.N.03

Danger around every curve!

One day Capcom decided to partner with Nintendo again. And they made FIVE awesome games...
 Resident Evil 4
Viewtiful Joe 1

VGR: Product Number Zero Three, originally titled Robot War Game, Jaguar and White Jaguar, also known as P.N.03: Product Number or simply P.N.03
From Capcom Production Studio 4/Capcom/Nintendo
Played on Nintendo GameCube 
Also available on /

Type 3rd Person Rhythm-based Action/Shooter
Year 2003

Back in 2002 Capcom made a deal with Nintendo. They would produce 5 exclusive titles for the Nintendo GameCube, and as a throwback to the original 8 bits Capcom/Nintendo days, they would be specially aimed to hardcore gamers. A lot more difficult than most games at the time in an old school arcade-kind of way. Thus was born the Capcom Five project. 

The five games were P.N.03, a futuristic scifi third-person rythm-based shooter, Viewtiful Joe, an old school sidescrolling beat 'em all, Dead Phoenix, a Panzer Dragoon-styled on rails shoot 'em up; Killer7, an highly-stylized first person adventure game and finally Resident Evil 4, a complete reimagining of the classic survival horror series as a third person action game. Although they were not directly related to one another, they were all overseen by Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami. Each of these games had fairly original concepts and art direction. 

These games are all now considered cult classics but aside from Resident Evil they didn't exactly get big sales. Sadly, Dead Phoenix would be quickly scrapped once these games started being released. As good as they were, none of these sold that many copies on the Gamecube. Capcom would later part them over to other systems, of the five games only P.N.03 retained its GameCube exclusive status. I do kind of consider the 2nd Viewtiful Joe game as sort of 5th Capcom Five title in my eyes.

Overseen by Mikami personally, P.N.03 was pretty different from the other titles. This one features a badass female protagonist in her fight against machines as well as emphasis on "rhythmic" combat.

It revolves around this freelance merc' named Vanessa Z. Schneider.

The story takes place in a science-fiction future. She's been sent to a colonized planet to destroy robots gone berserk inside research facilities by a mysterious client. The enemies are the CAMS, aka "Computerized Armament Management System".

Those are the very same robots responsible for the death of her parents.

To help her in her journey, she wears an "Aegis suit" exoskeleton which allows her to charge from the environment inside the labs to project beams of energy from her hands.

There's not much story exposition in the game aside from a few static screens similar to the codec screen from Metal Gear Solid.

Although at some later point in the game she does find a mysterious clone of herself in one of the buildings, but Vanessa's forced to leave her behind while the place is destroyed.

Why? The truth is revealed later in the end... It might be related to her current client for this mission..

There's no much story going on. Gameplay is where it's at!

Moves are kinda restricted, for a good reason. The Aegis suit allows Vanessa to perform attacks from her hands, "energy drives". It's a pretty simple concept. Attacking will deplect your energy meter. While shooting you have a short invulnerability window to do some damages to multiple enemies at the same time. There's a couple of checkpoint zones where you can get your health or energy back.

All of this result in score which you can consult in between rooms like an old arcade game. These points are used to buy upgrades, new attacks and more energy drives.

The thing is that you can't move and shoot at the same time similar to the older Resident Evil games. It's a choice by the developers. Making several aspects of the game very reminiscent of old school arcade shooters.

You have to memorize and be aware of the CAMS' attack patterns, you need to learn and identify those by visual clues. You can perform evasive maneuvers left and right to move in between shooting. The idea is to go back and fore around cover to avoid getting hit while destroying the robots. They may sometimes give you back some health and energy. 

To be more effective you need to chain combos and destroy multiple targets at the same time. All for better score rankings, and therefore points to buy stuff.

Level design takes the form of several rooms you need to explore and clean from all foes. And sometimes there will be a boss waiting for you at the end.

Finally the game also offers trial missions in randomly generated levels to both learn the controls and also score more points to buy more upgrades before launching into the story.

Controlling Vanessa feels a bit odd and stiff at first since all you do is keep pushing forward and spin back and forth. But it's all about shooting as many enemies as possible in style.

P.N.03 began under the pretty mundane project title "robot war game". They were also going to name it Jaguar or White Jaguar due to the way the character moved around, but finally opted for Product Number: 03 as both a nod to the Capcom Five project itself and the story behind the plot.

P.N.03 is a very fun game to play, and also a pretty fun game to watch. Thanks to a really original art direction and audiovisuals. They were going for a difficult but short action shooter in the same vein as the classic Capcom-NES games.

The game was imagined by Shinji Mikami as the complete opposite of his Resident Evil series, meaning while Resident Evil games were dark, pretty masculine and brutal, P.N.03 would be white, more feminine and delicate. (I also kind of believe they recycled Jill's face model for this Vanessa here!) They wanted a more minimalist approach. And all animation were done without the use of motion capture tech, which is even more impressive when looking back at her animations in-game!

But the game is not without its many flaws. To be fair, this one feels like the most rushed out of these Capcom Five games. Capcom was in a poor situation at the time and they rushed this one out of the gate. Which explains why they never attempted to re-release or port it afterwards despite its cult following.

It's a simple enough game. The objective is just to destroy all robots and move from one room to another. It doesn't take long to go through the entire game and it has that same feeling as classic Mega Man games. It's about 11 stages each composed of different rooms (or "screens"), some go up to 20 rooms! Each represent their own challenges you must identify to go through as quickly as possible. And if you're good enough and bought all the right suits and upgrades you can chain combos for each specific room.

There's no messing about, no long drawn-out cutscenes, no intro. Just run and gun. But with style!

Sadly the game bombed commercially, it had some pretty poor sale and received a lot of mixed reviews, but to be fair I don't think critics really bothered getting into the game. Sure, it starts pretty unintuitive and repetitive for the first few stages but it has pretty fun mechanics. It's an arcade-style shooter. Replay value comes from mastering the controls and replaying it in short bursts.

Finally let's also mention the very eclectic frantic electronic music composed by Capcom regulars Shusaku Uchiyama and Makoto Tomozawa.

Overall, P.N.03 is not a very great game but it tries to go back to what made the classic Capcom games memorable back on the NES. Out of all of the Capcom Five games, it's the one closest to their classic 8-bit hits in spirit. 

It has a very unique style, appropriately almost robotic. It just feels very inspired despite a sort of rushed feeling. The game has a lot of personality. It's very short and can get pretty tedious, but it's a fun flashy game all about scoring and style!

With some really great atmosphere and music. There's also a ton of unlockable alternate suits for completionist, each comes with their own plus and weaknesses (as well as a very "sweet" secret one). It's short but addictive. And it honestly didn't deserve the harsh critics received back then. All I can say is that it's A Must Play! It's still plenty fun!

In a way game reminded me a lot of the MDK games, in both atmosphere, gameplay and spirit.
The game feels like a mix between a shooter like MDK and a music game like Space Channel 5. The 2009 game
Bayonetta by PlatinumGames - formed by Shinji Mikami and other Capcom veterans in 2006 - shares a lot of the same tone and attitude with this game!

Sadly P.N.03 would remain exclusive to the Nintendo Gamecube. I do believe this game would have made better with some more exposure outside of Nintendo's console.

A lot of ideas from P.N.03 would be further explored again and reused in another PlatinumGames 2010 title and a later Shinji Mikami game, Vanquish.
I give it:
2.5 / 3 Quacks!

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