Hands-onP.N. 03

We play the final Japanese version of Capcom's stylish dance-oriented action game. Impressions inside.

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The Japanese retail version of P.N. 03, Capcom's newest action game, showed up at our offices today, and we took a quick run through the first three levels of the game to see how it plays. P.N. 03 stars a teched-out combat operative named Vanessa who prefers to dance her way through battles rather than simply charging in with guns blazing. So far, it seems like Vanessa needs to clean up her moves a little bit before the game achieves the stylish action that it seems to be striving for. In the beginning stages, she doesn't seem to have the grace necessary to pull off the strange fusion of combat and dance that P.N. 03 presents.

Vanessa starts out with a basic energy projectile attack that auto-targets the enemy most directly centered in your sights. You can use a number of graceful moves, such as twirls, cartwheels, and backflips, to dodge out of the way of enemy shots, which should make for a pretty cool-looking action experience. Unfortunately, the process of dodging, moving around, and shooting is made pretty awkward by the game's stiff and unforgiving controls. P.N. 03's most damning flaw is that you can fire only while standing still--if you're jumping, running, or dodging, you can forget about attacking. You're meant to twirl or roll out of the way of oncoming enemy shots and then return fire, but the transition from firing to moving and back is too awkward and lengthy, and you end up taking a lot of unnecessary hits. In fact, we had to play the game on easy mode at first to even get a feel for the controls without dying.

However, Vanessa can be upgraded in a number of ways, and further playing may indeed reveal upgrades that make her a good bit easier to wreak havoc with. The game's levels are linear and the action is straightforward, and as you clear each room, you amass points by killing enemies, finishing a room without sustaining any damage, and the like. When you find a place to upgrade yourself, you can cash these points in for a new suit or upgrade various aspects of your character, like energy and basic attack. The various suits also have special moves that can be invoked with simple D-pad and button combinations, and the two we've seen so far were basically more-powerful attacks that could hit multiple enemies at the same time. Again, these moves take a lot of time to use, and it's easy to end up sustaining damage while trying to pull them off, since you have to stand still while you're inputting the command sequence.

Based on the first hour or so of gameplay, P.N. 03 seems to be an ambitious but rather flawed action game. It does look pretty good, with a lot of sparse, futuristic environments that resemble the ship interior seen in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The soundtrack consists of standard pumping dance techno, which is appropriate, given the dance theme. We'll bring you more on P.N. 03 soon.

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