Fat Princess

fatprincess
What we liked:
- Balanced, interesting classes
- Art, sound and level design
- Frantic combat
- Chicken potion
What we didn't like:
- Imbalanced matches
- Bad AI
- Needs to discourage host ditching
DEVELOPER: Titan   |   PUBLISHER: SCEA   |   RELEASE: 07/30/2009

That princess is stacked.

Conceptually I am for Fat Princess, and I think people should make games like this. Objectively, it is not the sublime multiplayer experience you would wish for – but that’s not to say it’s disappointing. Truth is, you have likely had tons of fun with games way more flawed and far less polished. Don’t confuse all the icing with a casual game, either, rescuing the Princess is a tactical battle as you gather resources, build defenses, and capture outposts.

The Single player campaign, Legend of the Fat Princess, gives the storybook tale of how the dutiful subjects were cast into this cake-feeding fray, and doubles as about an hour’s worth of tutorial. Gameplay is class-based, and you spawn a subject of the realm and choose your calling from the nearby hat-manufacturing machines: Priest, Mage, Warrior, Ranger or Worker. Need a change of vocation? Just switch to a new hat, even picking them up from slain enemies on the battlefield. Of course, you could just remain a bitch-slapping villager, smacking things out of enemy hands and running like the wind. Whichever hat you may settle into be sure to try them all on for size – the classes are one of the great joys of Fat Princess.

Rangers pack more health than the stronger Warriors, Priests are an invaluable healing tool and Mages use magic. The Worker class is not, as you might expect, the lost class. Your actions are rewarded, and even highly valued. That’s not to say your team doesn’t need an offense, but your castle definitely needs doors. Workers harvest resources and construct improvements like catapults and ladders as well as upgrades classes. The resources gathered by the Worker are gathered communally, so when playing with bots try to get to the goods and determine what is being built before they can, or they’ll just go about upgrading the Ranger when you really want a catapult to get into the enemy castle. Where a Warrior earns himself 10 points for slaying an enemy, the Worker gets ten for chopping some wood and 10 more once it’s delivered. Likewise the Priest gets points for healing and the Mage for freezing enemies. Additionally, if you weaken a foe, you get points for that even if someone else delivers the fatal blow.

Since players accrue points for kills, capturing and controlling towers, collecting resources, building items and nabbing the princess and getting her ample tush onto the throne, the Why I’m Awesome part of the menu has page after page of stats. From the number of times you rescued the princess to chickens killed, the only thing missing is more transparency in the ranking system and unlockables. Benefiting from the unlockables is the option to Get Fabulous, though I’m going to get a little grumbly about how sparse the female character options are. Plenty of unlocked options for the menfolk and I’m still sporting the same hairstyle? I’m not even taking issue with the brutish square jaw (I don’t imagine the finer featured lasses of the kingdom are cut out for this kind of battle) just a little Farrah hair, please. Namely, it would be nice to know how to go about unlocking more, and how you have progressed to next rank. Ranks change mid-match, so quietly that you may not realize, and you can gain as well as lose rank. I support the idea that you are not necessarily rewarded just for playing ten hours more than the other guy, and instead gain rank through success at the game. However, this encourages a lot of host ditching, which is naughty.

There are four different modes, and only two of them use the title character. By now, most everyone is probably familiar with the basics: in a game of Rescue the Princess you try to capture the Princess from the opposing team’s castle and return her to her throne, all while keeping their kidnapped Princess so plumped up with magical cake that should they break through your defense they couldn’t dream of successfully returning her considerable heft to their castle. Likewise, when you go to fetch your own lady of frosting bring backup, not only will your pals keep the enemies off your back if they keep close enough they actually ease the burden and allow you to run faster. Don’t worry, the feeding of cake to the princess shouldn’t conjure up any recollections of Seven or foie gras, the Princess loves the magical stuff. Not since Marie Antoinette has royalty been this fond of pastry.

Snatch ‘n Grab demands that a team steal the Princess and deliver her to the dungeon three times, Invasion requires that your team control more than half the outposts for a given time, and Deathmatch is, well, deathmatch. You can also try your hats on in Gladiate, choosing a class and entering an arena to battle waves of enemies. The Soccer feature has the teams face off in a slap-dash take on a soccer match with plenty of murderous mayhem. I think I actually played upwards of five minutes without actually seeing the ball, as everyone trampled around in a swarm like a murderous team of preschoolers.

The control scheme is simple and effective. Square performs an action, like an attack or a repair, with a charged attack available for most classes. Circle grabs an object (like cake or a Princess) and X jumps. Holding L1 locks you onto the nearest enemy or resource. In addition to the cake and resources harvested by Workers there are also items like a potion that can turn enemies into chickens. The goofy antics of chicken transformation and gore of a massacre typifies the Fat Princess experience: cute as button blended with butchery. Once lost, health can be restored by a nearby Priest, or by taking a seat and resting up. Additionally, it seems that you gain a heart’s worth of health just by walking through the doorway of a controlled outpost, and I found it fastest to run through a door, jump down and repeat.

The portly princess is not short on good looks and this extends to the level design, like The Great Gorge or Sugar Cove (which trades castles for pirate ships). Having played in the beta I enjoyed the very storybook Black Forest level and couldn’t have dreamed of the fun and beauty packed into the other stages they had in store. There are all the trappings of a G rated film until you go medieval on a foe, hacking them to pieces and leaving their blood smeared across the lush green grass. Levels are mirror images, with islands and narrowing paths. Deceptively complex stages for power tug-of-war, there are areas where you can blow right through the castle walls, forge new pathways, or uncover a handy escape chute. It seems, however, that as soon as a team controls the center of a map they can really dominate, as it puts them in control of the resources necessary for upgrades. The game’s sound is great, particularly the narration and cries of “They’re in our base killing our dudes!” and “We’re being ganked!”, and I delight in thoughtful inclusions like the interactive credit sequence, surely the best since Flower.

The single player “Play with Yourself” campaign does a good job of training you up to a reasonable level of proficiency for multiplayer exploits. This is essential, because your success and the fun you have in the game relies on the moderate talent of the players online. The recent patch has resolved lag and connectivity problems, unfortunately the multiplayer is still an imperfect product. While the game is built for 32-player multiplayer, you will rarely enjoy such a game. Finding a good multi-player match is one of the game’s greatest challenges. Once you join a match it could be 75% bot, and that’s not what you came for. More often than not, you will be thrust into an imbalanced bout mismatching bots and players.

It doesn’t take much to be better than a bot (I watched as 3 of my AI bots ran directly into lava while another two stood still holding logs for half an age), and in an evenly matched round, the game can drag on. Even if the opposite team is controlling the game, you can still achieve stalemate (I was in a match with a team that couldn’t even keep doors on the castle and the match still dragged on because we weren’t quite so incompetent as to let them walk out with the Princess). When stalemates happen gore-bore set in. If, however, you have enough friends on hand you can almost guarantee a good time. You can reserve spots for friends if you host, but you cannot make a private room, so you need everyone on your friends list to ensure their participation on your team (note, there are no clans).

The imbalanced matches overrun with bots are my primary issue with the multiplayer, and a related (in my opinion lesser) snag is inconsistent communication. Rescuing the Princess is a bit of a team sport, and not everyone has a mic, or uses them if they do. Of course, there was a delightful guy using his mic only to complain about the lack of mics, threaten to quit, and ask if people could hear him threatening to quit. Still, I think Titan is justified in touting the intuitive nature of the game, and that some of the current teamwork passing as guesswork will improve without the mic communication as players become more experienced with classes and levels.

If you’re finding all that Fat Princess has available overwhelming for downloadable fare, there are instructions. They’re actually quite easy to flip through, but page after page of tutorial is just…Well, wouldn’t you rather be playing the game than reading about it? Thought so.