The title Fat Princess might not seem to inspire bloody warfare, but thatís just what erupts in Titan Studioís latest PS Network offering. After two princesses sample a massive piece of cake they stumble upon when in the wilds, they are overcome with an insatiable hunger that snowballs into warfare between the princessesí kingdoms. The best way to keep each princess within the castle walls is simple: feed them, because the larger the princess is, the harder it is for the other side to move them. As conflict erupts, the villagers, fighters, archers, workers, mages, and priests of each side flood out of the castles and pour over the land in a bid to secure both princesses. Itís chaotic, itís bloody, and itís good times.
Like Little Planet, Fat Princess sneaks up on you, disarming you with its charming graphics, adorable characters, and engaging narration. As you slowly sink into a comfortable lull, it snaps its trap on you, and the next thing you know it is hours later, your vision is blurred, and youíre swearing unholy vengeance on the reds. That priest was healing me! Eat lead!
Throughout the story mode, you will follow the princesses and their fathers as all try in vain to get the women to kick the (eating) habit. Matching their ever-growing girth are the kingsí tempers, flaring out of control and causing each side to sound the trumpets. Essentially a drawn-out variation of capture the flag, the unit types and twist of a living Ďflagí adds to the tried-and-true formula. Told in the style of a fairy tale, the single-player mode unfolds with the kingdoms fighting, the princesses eating, and a prince charming on his way, complete with delightful drawings and voiceovers, as well as a fairly melancholy ending. The story is really a primer, though, and after cutting your teeth against the computer itís then time for the real test: multiplayer.
You start out each round as a villager, with no weapon or protection, but speedy and capable of slapping items (including princesses) out of opponentsí hands. You can brave the wilds slaphappy and carefree, or you can don a hat to transform into one of the other classes. Fighters have a sword and shield, dealing heavy damage with a circle slash while protecting themselves from arrows. Archers have a charge shot that can send long-range volleys into unaware opponents while mages harness the elements, unleashing area-wide and concentrated attacks. Priests can tend to single units or charge up and heal all those within a blessed area. The workers gather and deliver trees and minerals with their axes so that they may construct upgrades to the factories that pump out the unit-specific hats, beef up the castleís defenses, and construct siege items. Each class manages to be entertaining to play as, including the support characters.
The upgrades that the units receive are in the form of additional combat abilities, such as the archer sporting a shotgun in addition to their bow. Wizards unlock the ability to switch between fire and ice, with fire attacks doing heavier and lasting longer (tip: if youíre on fire, run for water) and ice stunning enemies while harming them. The workers can put aside their axe and toss bombs, priests turn into a life-draining dark version of themselves, and warriors gain a staff and charge attack that is great for closing the gap with long-range opponents. Hats from fallen comrades can also be equipped, which further adds to the chaotic mix as match-ups quickly change and strategies need to be adjusted on the fly.
Fat Princess doles out points liberally; a key factor that keeps the support characters as viable options for those wanting to climb the ranks. Points are distributing for what you would expect Ė killing, capturing, and saving - but workers are given points for both harvesting and dropping off resources while villagers are given points for slapping enemies. All units can deliver cake, but the speedy villager gets a bit of a point boost as they can make cake runs much quicker than the other classes; plus, itís an absolute blast to run circles around warriors, racking up points as you slap them to death. Success goes beyond a particular roundís standings and into an overall ranking system that tacks on a rank Ė squire, private, etc. Ė when acquired, as well as into an unbelievably detailed stat section. Whether you favor the front lines or the rear, you have a shot at earning the title of Ďking.í
You may start out as a villager, but that doesnít mean you have to look like every villager. Thanks to a customization feature that allows gender, voice, skin tone, and hair to be adjusted, with additional unlockable choices, you create a pretty unique look. With up to 32 players in an online match you might spy someone sporting a similar look, but itís rare to spy a carbon copy. The computer also does a good job of picking out different looks for AI-controlled bots as well, which adds even more flair to a game thatís already eye-catching and personality to a six-class game. Another nice touch is that even the amount of gore is customizable with three different levels, letting older players enjoy the dark humor of cute cartoon characters bloodily having at it or other players enjoy the cute characters bonking each other over the head. In Fat Princess, even death is cute.
Siege engines can also be built to assault castle walls, including a number of catapults and springboards. Springboards can be used to access towers more easily, create handy shortcuts over chasms, or bounce over castle walls. Catapults launch units from one base into the other for commando-style raids. While the raids can cause panic in the other castle, shortcuts arenít to be taken lightly either, as they often allow workers to reach towers quicker which means faster unit upgrades. Both structures also offer alternate routes to the enemyís castle, avoiding such environmental hazards as rising lava and deep waters.
Rescuing a princess is easier said than done. A key element to success are the towers stationed around the maps, which are crucial for powering onto all of the upgrades. The team with the stronger units cannot only hold the enemy at bay, but they can also assault the enemyís castle walls. Of course, getting into a castle is one thing but getting out with the princess is quite another. Even if you succeed in making it to the dungeon and grabbing the princess, her weight can slow you to a crawl, making you easy prey. A few friends can help even things out, though, as multiple players can carry the princess faster. If you ever get tired of saving the princess, and you will, you can always play in a rowdy soccer match or in the offline gladiatorial arena.
The main drawback, to both single- and multiplayer, is that the matches often turn into quagmires. While the maps are largely good, several have bottlenecks without shortcuts or other means to effectively bypass the enemy. While large skirmishes sound like fun, and are at first, you quickly realize youíre stuck in a never-ending clash Ė just wave after wave rushing into the hotspot. The rounds eventually end, but matches can last of upwards of 30 minutes whenever 20 is the optimal time; not to mention the feeling of frustration as you keep plowing away and not accomplishing much. Another problem is longevity: as enjoyable as the game is, there are only six classes, one upgrade for five of them, and nine maps, even with casual play it wonít take too long to exhaust the possibilities. Online performance has been patched, and while I did have some connection problems and frequently saw the snail icon, indicating lag, I was able to connect to games after a few tries and was rarely disconnected once in a game. A bit more balance would go a long way.
With the initial connectivity issues all but eliminated for most players, the main matter that remains for Titan Studios to address is map balance. The addition or altering of the maps would not only alleviate the tendency for matches to bog down into drawn-out slugfests, but they would also increase the gameís longevity. Those issues are more for the future than the present, because at the moment Iím still having a blast. Fat Princess might need a little more work, but as of right now itís a rollicking good time.
(This review is based on a copy provided by the publisher.)