Sounding like a headline from Heat magazine (Exclusive: Fat Princess! Eugenie admits to putting on nearly a stone over the last five years!) this title from Titan Studios is one of Sony’s latest download-only offerings from the PlayStation Store, billed as a ‘team arcade action’ game. Think Command & Conquer, with almost all the strategy elements removed, and the traditional military units replaced by manic little Lego-esque men, and you’re halfway there, although probably still wondering about the title.
The gameplay essentially revolves around two princesses. Each team has a princess, complete with traditional medieval castle, and the basic goal is to capture the enemy’s princess whilst safeguarding your own. To do this, you have five different character classes at your beck and call – the Worker, the Warrior, the Ranger, the Mage and the Priest, each of whom has basic powers, and also the potential for an ‘upgraded’ persona, which we’ll get to in a bit.
Every character class is fairly self-explanatory and anyone who’s played any kind of RPG will know what to expect, but to summarise: the Worker can collect materials and build things, the Warrior is armoured and good at close combat, the Ranger is an expert at ranged combat but weak close up, the Mage can blast the bad guys with fiery spells and the Priest essentially acts as a field medic, with the ability to heal other units.
Rather than choosing your character type before you spawn, you start off each time in the castle as an ordinary fellow, or ‘avatar’, with no skills, and can then choose what you want to be. Once you’ve picked your character type, you’re not stuck with him though. Changing characters is simplicity itself – want to become a Warrior? Pick up a warrior helmet and ‘voila’, you transform into a sword-wielding grunt. Change your mind and fancy a bit of bow-and-arrow action? Just grab the Robin Hood-style headgear of the Ranger and your little bloke throws away his sword and becomes an archer instead.
You can swap hats as many times as you like, and there is no limit to them – inside your castle five different machines churn out the hats as and when they are needed, so there’s always new headgear available. This means that if you find that the character you’ve got doesn’t have a skill you need – you’re a Warrior for example, and you find that to cross a gap you need a Worker to build a bridge – you simply get a new hat, get the job done, then swap back again.
This ‘hat swap’ system (which is basically the same concept as the hat machines in Lego Star Wars) is simple and intuitive, and guarantees that the action never slows down. But of course, it still doesn’t explain the title of the game, does it? That’s because we haven’t yet mentioned the cake.
See these princesses, even though their little subjects are spending their time (and their lives) trying to defend their ruler from the enemy, are not satisfied with just being kept safe. No, they want to be safe, and happy. And happiness for these girls comes in the form of cake. Yes, there you are, with the enemy literally at the gates, fighting to defend your little kingdom, and the lady in charge suddenly starts demanding to be fed – royalty, eh?
However, rather than being just a distraction, the greedy female’s needs are actually a key gameplay point. You see should the enemy manage to break into your castle and capture the princess, they then have to carry her back to their own castle. And the heavier she is, the slower they move, giving your forces time to rescue her. So the idea is – feed your princess as much cake as possible – slices can be found just lying around on the ground in this world – and she starts to fatten up, getting bigger and bigger until the enemy can hardly lift her, much less carry her. The key to success then, is to make sure you always have a ‘fat princess’ – hence the title.
This means that although the emphasis here is very much on action, you do need to employ a fair amount of strategy too. If all your little men just grab weapons and race off to battle the enemy, then there will be no-one to feed the princess, and – just as importantly – to gather materials for the castle. This is another important aspect of the gameplay, as you need to chop down trees for wood, and mine rocks for ore in order to build things. Your castle doors get damaged? You need wood to repair it. And then there are the hat machines – each of them can be upgraded at a specific cost of wood and ore, after which the character type gets a new costume, and some new powers: the Worker gets a bomb, the Warrior a much bigger blade, the Ranger a rifle rather than a bow-and-arrow, the Mage the ability to freeze characters, and the Priest gets a ‘Dark Priest’ alter-ego, who can drain life from enemy characters. And once a character has been upgraded, if you’re wearing the right hat then you can switch between the two abilities at will.
The materials that you gather can be used for other things to – the Worker can build ladders and little springboards to open up shortcuts or provide access to the enemy castle in ways other than through the front gate, and if you really set your mind to it, and collect loads of wood, you can build a catapult which will fling your warriors into the battle far faster than having them trek all the way across the map.
As you might now be coming to realise – battling the enemy is just one aspect of this game. Which brings us to the obvious question… is it any good? Well yes, although it may not be to everyone’s taste. Essentially, this game is designed to be played online, and that’s when it’s at its best. An offline mode is on offer, but the trouble is that the AI of the characters in this mode isn’t really good enough for it to be half as much fun as the online game.
Because the whole game is designed around working as a team, the AI is essential – you can’t attack the enemy castle single-handed or you’ll simply find yourself getting slaughtered, and it’s here that the offline game lets you down. I found that my little AI guys, although they were great at gathering resources and defending my castle, were rubbish when it came to backing me up in an assault. A simple (one option) command system allows you to get a small group of guys to follow you, but I found that this simply didn’t work very well – my little blokes kept falling off cliffs, or wandering off to fight random bad guys, with the result that I’d start at my base with a big armed party, but get to the enemy castle solo, resulting in me getting killed, having to respawn back in my castle on the other side of the map and start all over again. And this happened to me time and time again.
Online though, it’s a different story – playing with teams of up to 16 players on each side, the game becomes far more engaging, as you work with your human companions and try and outwit the others. Ultimately, what happens is that someone – always someone with a headset, this definitely being a game in which voice communication is a bonus – ends up taking charge, and ordering the other players to bring specific character classes into the field. If the teams are evenly matched these the games can still drag on for absolutely ages, but it’s still far more fun than playing on your own offline.
Currently there are four game modes on offer: Rescue the Princess and Snatch ‘n Grab are both ‘capture the flag’ variations involving the princesses. Team Deathmatch has no royalty in play and it’s basically a case of kill the other team or be killed. And then there’s Invasion, where you need to capture and occupy the ‘outposts’ (cute little forts) which are spread around the map to make the enemy’s point-counter drop to zero quicker than yours does.
While these modes are fun, it has to be said that after a while they do get a little ‘samey’. I’m optimistic that as time goes on new game modes will be added to the list via downloadable (and preferably free) updates, because when you look at something like Call Of Duty which has something like four times the number of online game types to choose from, a basic four does seem a little rubbish.
That said, this is still a very fun little game. The characters are extremely polished and very cute, the gameplay is extremely easy to pick up (which is lucky, as there is no tutorial mode, just several pages of onscreen instructions) and the pace of the game is frantic, never slowing down for a minute. The development team are clearly all obsessive TV fans too, because by tapping left and right on the controller d-pad you can make your little guys ‘taunt’ the enemy, and a lot of these taunts seem to be quotes from popular TV shows – I noticed lines from Battlestar Galactica and Dexter to name just two.
As it stands, at the price-point that this is currently set at, it’s hard to complain, and it will doubtless provide many, many people with considerable hours worth of frantic online play. To really offer total value for money and proper longevity though, we need to see more game modes added to the current list… are you listening Sony?
With that in mind, Fat Princess gets a very good 7 out of 10.
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