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Fat Princess
Graphics: 8.9
Gameplay: 8.7
Sound: 8.4
Control: 8.1
Replay Value: 8.6
Rating: 8.5

When we first heard the title, “Fat Princess,” we had no idea what to expect. Then, the interest and hype began to rise and we found ourselves following the game’s progress with a very close eye; the concept of a RTS set in a fairytale world and played at a frantic pace was most certainly intriguing. It was yet another mostly original idea, and we had already seen several on the PlayStation Network. Of course, we knew going in that Fat Princess would need a strong multiplayer component if it were to be ultimately successful, and unfortunately, the game has launched to significant server problems. We wanted to mention this early in order to clarify one thing: while we can’t ignore this downfall, we will also acknowledge it as temporary. Titan Studios is currently working with Sony to resolve the issues, and rest assured the online experience will stabilize over the next few weeks. Taking that into account, and after having successfully involved ourselves in several multiplayer matches (along with the obvious single-player test), we’re ready to give you an accurate review of Fat Princess.

There’s little doubt that this is one of the better-looking PSN games available, but we’re starting to say that quite often as of late. The bottom line is that designers are rapidly beginning to cram even more visual goodness into these downloadable offerings, and the vibrant colors and fluid lines are abundant here. The most shocking contrast is obvious the instant you take down your first opponent; he will literally fall apart and blood will soak the quaint landscape. After intense battles, puddles of red will mar that fairytale setting and you might even bark out a sadistic laugh when involved in the carnage. It’s just such a bizarre contrast. The map designs are great, too, as there are more than you might think, and each provides the player with various looks at the world of Fat Princess. There are bridges and rising and falling water (immersion in water hurts), differently designed castles, and a solid amount of diversity in the environment. The special effects are also quite good and fit the atmosphere perfectly, so we have very little to complain about in this category.

The sound benefits from a good narrator, the comical yelps and cries of the units (try not to laugh when an unfortunate unit catches fire), and a soundtrack that, while somewhat repetitive especially during long matches, fits the mood and style of the game as well as the graphical effects managed to do. Sometimes we thought there could be more sound effects to accompany the gameplay, but that was a rare complaint and one that didn’t hinder our enjoyment of the action. There is also a fantastic balance between the music and effects; we’ve noticed a disturbing trend in a lot of games these days, and that’s a distinct lack of balance in the sound category. In short, there’s a tremendous amount of polish and accomplishment that is present in regards to the technical aspects of this game, and that’s impressive in and of itself. You will be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t find Fat Princess appealing on a purely cosmetic and auditory level. Any drawbacks or shortcomings are just too small and/or trivial to mention.

Although it may appear cutesy and even silly on the surface, there’s a true-blue real-time strategy mechanic beneath that charming exterior. We don’t wish to imply that it’s anywhere near as intricate or in-depth as strategy or even action/strategy games you’ve played in the past, but the fact remains, the gameplay involved here is all about two teams competing against each other, and how each side prepares for and attacks the other is paramount. The best part is that instead of requiring several campaigns and different play-throughs to get a full sampling of what the game has to offer, you can experiment on a minute-by-minute basis. Whenever you die, you can choose to head out as another class simply by picking up a different hat, and because every player or NPC can do this, it makes the action ceaselessly dynamic and constantly entertaining. The only downside is that there’s really no way to “master” any one particular class you prefer, as any and all upgrading is done within any given match and must be brought about over time. The Worker will see to that, and yes, if you so choose, you can be the laborer who chops down trees and works his hands to the bone for the benefit of all.

The available classes include Warrior, Ranger, Priest, Mage, and Worker. The Warrior has a sword and shield and when he’s upgraded, he can wield a spear; the Ranger is an archer that has long-ranged attacks (obviously), the Priest runs around and heals allies (while Dark Priests can drain health), the Mage casts fireballs from his staff, and the Worker runs out with an axe to gather necessary resources from the woods. He can also deal with certain parts of the map that will open up new paths, so don’t discount the usefulness of that unit so quickly. The whole point is take your group of allies and conquer the other team in a variety of different ways; each map will have a different objective in the single-player mode, which means you likely won’t get bored soon. Sometimes, it’s a standard Capture the Flag match (only with Princesses), other times it’s just a straight-up team deathmatch, and you might even have a map where you have to control as many outposts as you can for as long as you can (remember Domination from UT?). In multiplayer, you can choose from several modes and all the maps available, so again, don’t worry about a lack of diversity.

The single-player story is insanely nutty as you might expect: there are princesses that simply can’t stop eating cake, and in order to rescue and/or kidnap said princesses, your job will become more difficult depending on how many calories they’ve ingested. So when the goal is to capture the other princess and maintain a firm grip on yours, you have the option of feeding your captive cake, which is found lying around in the battlefield. Bringing her cake fattens her up, which in turns makes her heavier and, of course, makes her difficult to carry away. You can run a normal speed with a thin princess but if she has blimped out, you’ll move very slowly, giving the enemy a lot more time to hack you to bits and reclaim their prize. We’d almost call this little gameplay addition ingenious, but it’s just too silly to be called “ingenious.” Let’s just say it works. And it’s funny. But if you’re playing a match that doesn’t involve any princesses, you’ll just rely on the various classes and your combat ability to lead you to victory. It’s good fun, but it’s not perfect.

You can lock on to enemies with the L1 button, which works just fine, but there seems to be a slight delay when attacking. When pressing the Square button to use a unit’s attack, we experienced a small delay between the time the button was pressed and the actual strike of the Warrior’s blade. Furthermore, with no way to block (for most units; the Warrior has a shield he can use against incoming arrows), everything usually boils down into a button-mashing frenzy. In other words, while there’s definitely a good deal of strategy surrounding the use and implementation of the classes, there isn’t much going on concerning the actual combat. Basically, it just revolves around the idea of killing as many as you can before you die, but at least we have a few features that enhance the battle gameplay. There are outposts to capture, for example, and if you wish to heal yourself at any time, you can simply stop moving and do nothing; your character will take a seat on the ground, eat some cake, and restore his health. Of course, if you get interrupted, you’ll have to either run away or turn and fight; your decision will likely rely on the class you’ve chosen.

The balance on the technical side is excellent but we do have a slight problem with the balance of the classes; we ended up using the Ranger far more often than the Warrior, for instance, just because he could stay away and pelt everyone with arrows. The arrows weren’t as strong as the sword or pike, but at least he wouldn’t suffer much in the way of damage, and because all units move the same speed, we felt he had an unfair advantage. On the other hand, the upgraded Ranger, who could yield a gun of sorts, didn’t seem like so much of an “upgrade” as that gun was very slow and didn’t seem to do much more damage than the arrows. But other than this small complaint, everything seems to flow and come together quite well, leaving you with a fun and even exciting little adventure that is bound to keep you occupied for extended periods of time. Going online to play with up to 32 players at once is preferable, though, and we certainly hope that the issues will be worked out ASAP. This game really does need that feature, as the multiple units calls for multiple players almost by default.

Fat Princess is both charming and amusing but it’s also nicely designed and capable of holding a player’s interest due to the diversity and variety found within. The different maps, classes, and modes are all quite distinct, and the frenetic gameplay offers up yet another strange yet oddly satisfying contrast (in addition to the blood vs. fairytale setting). Going online is still a problem but once the issues are fixed, it’s our belief that you will have one of the better online multiplayer titles available. Really, for $14.99, it’s tough not to recommend this one, and we seriously doubt that anyone else would refrain from that recommendation, either. Taking this game on its merits alone, it’s well worth the price.

8/3/2009   Ben Dutka