PN03 is a game which absolutely defines the Gamecube. You might not have played it, but if you’re into Platinum Games and their output, you’ll recognise the connection. This game is such a parent it goes to dinner parties and smugly insists it knows best about complex international issues.
Directed by the powerful Shinji Mikami, the man behind Capcom Five stablemate Resident Evil 4, playing PN03 today it feels like a prototype for the big man’s later masterpiece Vanquish. Playing as Vanessa, a mercenary in shiny white power armour, the player fights through room after room of killer robots in crisp, Apple Store environments. There’s top cover shooting, cool power ups and upgradeable armour.
Kamiya denies it, but as much as Vanquish is PN03’s son, Bayonetta feels like its daughter. Vanessa is cool as a cucumber, with wicked glasses over a great haircut. She has a dry sense of humour and when she struts her stuff to unleash special moves, she might as well be summoning a demon with her magic hair.
All the Platinum tropes are there; one story, played out over a series of missions. A score at the end of each. A store to buy power ups and equipment, between levels and accessed via a portal in levels. Fast-paced action, built around a unique character.
Like all the best Platinum games, PN03 is bloody excellent. Like, properly actually amazing. Vanessa’s movements are full of character, from her little dance to the background music when she stands still to the more elaborate moves that accompany her attacks. The shooting is quick and impactful, with simple Street Fighter-esque combos unleashing special attacks.
Sure, the game is short. Sure, the one-stick controls feel archaic in 2015. But PN03 is as Gamecube as games get. This is the machine where Mikami became the true master of his craft that we know today. This is the machine where Link became a cartoon, Mario got a water pistol and shooters could be about dance moves. This was the machine where a graphically top-of-the-range third person cover shooter could be a Nintendo exclusive.
With one stick, a big green button and some shoulder triggers, PN03 plays a better game of shooting than half the guff that gets released today. The Gamecube generation can sometimes feel like the last generation where big publishers were willing to take risks, and maybe PN03 shows us why. It was ahead of the time, unique and brilliant, but it barely sold. Another thing Vanquish inherited from its mum, then.