Fat Princess: Fistful of Cake Review

   05/05/2010 at 17:57       Flying_Pig       4 COMMENTS. - Score 3/5
 - Fat Princess, Fistful of Cake, PSP Mini, Fatty boombatty

 Sony’s rather lovely handheld often appears to have something of an identity crisis.  It hosts both unique games - specifically designed for, and making the most of the limitations (and otherwise) of the PSP - as well as conversions of console classics shoe-horned into the hardware with very mixed results.  I’m not just talking remakes of PSOne and PS2 classics, but full blown versions of games from Sony’s current generation machine.

Fat Princess is one of the latter.  Originally released for the PS3 (on PlayStation Network) in July 2009 and receiving a positive review on this very site here.  Even before its European release, Sony had announced that Fat Princess was being put on a diet to squeeze in to the Size Zero PSP.  The good news is that the diet has done little to dull the original’s chunky charms and the core of the game remains intact.

Starter for Ten

Fat Princess: Fistful of Cake is a team orientated game which pits two teams (Red/Blue) against one another in a quest to rescue the lardy lady of the title.  Each Battle Royale takes place in a bright cartoon world of primary colours and cute little characters.  However, a fluffy kid’s game this is not – there’re lashings of claret in each encounter as you slice, shoot and ignite your foes in your attempt to rescue your portly princess.

Depth and tactics come by way of the six different character classes, ranging from the hack’n’slash Warrior with his sword and shield, the Ranger and his bow and arrow and the magical Mage who likes nothing more than roasting his enemies with fire.  You can change your character class simply by picking up and donning a new hat, all of which are dispensed by the various machines in your castle.  These machines can all be upgraded offering these classes additional functions, such as the Blunderbuss for the Ranger.

The Worker deserves a special mention - they’re the lynch-pin of your army; harvesting wood and metal enabling them to upgrade your hat machines, repair your battered castle gates or building ladders to help you over the enemy castle walls.  Once upgraded they can also be a pretty devastating offensive class; with the ability to fling bombs into groups of oncoming bad guys.

All of these character classes are extremely well balanced, with no one class being materially better or worse than any other, with your favourite being down to your preferred method of playing.  To be successful you need a good balance of all classes in your army and ensure that time is spent upgrading your hat machines and defences, rather than simply rushing headfirst into the enemy fortress.

Within each level there are always various tasks which need to be carried out.  For example, while you’re trying to rescue your own princess from the enemy castle, the other team are determined to rescue their own from your own stronghold.  To hinder their efforts, you have the option of collecting cake scattered throughout the level and feeding it too her.  Simply put: The more cake you collect, the fatter the princess becomes and the harder she is for your foes to carry away.

From a technical perspective, the transition from PlayStation 3 to PSP is very impressive with nothing being lost in terms of graphical splendour and playability.  Sure, there are only 16 players (reduced from 32) involved in any level, but this doesn’t impact on the gameplay due to great level design and the general mayhem of attempting to rescue your porky princess.

Main Course

The primary single player game is the ‘Legend of the Fat Princess’ story mode, which consists of 16 levels which serve as a basic tutorial, gently introducing you to the various character classes as well as some of the subtleties of upgrading your hat machines and making the most of your AI team members.  The levels are sufficiently varied, so while in one level you might be tasked with liberating your chubby majesty from the enemy as normal, in another level your mission might be to reduce the enemy's ‘lives’ to zero or capture the various defence towers dotted around each level. 

The while story is told with a great degree of humour and charm and is much more than a simple sweet filling.

However, like its PS3 big brother, this all feels like preparation for the online multiplayer.  In addition to the simple capture-the-princess, the deathmatch and capture-the-outpost modes from the PS3 original, there are new modes in which you must capture jails or place a bomb on the enemy's throne.  These extra modes tend to be more diversions to the meaty Rescue The Princess mode.  However, I loved the change of pace in Grim Reaper where players must don a grim reaper mask and go on a killing spree to rack up points.  The challenge comes from the fact that everyone else wants the mask and is trying to kill you to secure it.

In Fistful of Cake you have the choice of 16-player infrastructure or eight versus eight ad-hoc matches.  However, the early salt in the cake is that in terms of online infrastructure mode only four of the sixteen players are real people, the remaining twelve being bots.  Furthermore, there’s no way to invite your friends and no voice comms.  So unless you happen to have seven other mates with a PSP and a copy of FoC, your online experience will be limited to sessions with three other silent ‘randoms’ and a dozen bots. 

This wouldn’t be too much of a problem if the AI of your computer controlled comrades was decent.  Unfortunately, it’s not.  While by no means terrible, your AI workers will happily gather wood and metal to upgrade the hat machines, but will often ignore the fact that the other team had just smashed your front door to smithereens.  Fortunately the enemy bots are no smarter, but it grates when your team members seem to be happily ignorant of the level objectives, paying you no attention as you slowly carry your recently rescued corpulent crown-bearer, followed by a host of enemy Warriors keen to relieve you of your heavy load and your life.

The developer has attempted to overcome this, by giving you the option of conscripting up to three cohorts to follow you, however that’s all they do, making no attempt to clear your path or supporting you in your mission.

You can switch off (or reduce the number of) AI bots, but then the levels feel empty and 2-on-2 is little more than a painful grind.  Indeed, even with a full complement of bots, games can drag out for a long time, both sides quickly upgrading to the point of stalemate, little progress being made by either side.  The lack of ability to communicate with your human buddy means that it’s almost impossible to work as an effective team and more often that not everyone’s too focussed on doing their own thing.  A win may eventually arrive, but by then it’s either down to complete luck or the fact that everyone just wants the game to be over, regardless of the outcome. 

Cake for Dessert

Fat Princess: Fistful of Cake is a fresh take on Capture the Flag, albeit in a world or cartoon violence and cake-obsessed princesses.  On the one hand the Story mode is charmingly written and beautifully presented, and will keep you amused for quite a few hours and a fun experience in its own right so even you stay offline, there’s a reasonable amount of a game to chew over.

However, what I’d consider to be the Jam and Cream filling of FoC – the multiplayer – left me disappointed and unsatisfied.  Often these sessions become a chore rather than a calorie-rich riot. I’m sure that if you can find a group of friends for some ad-hoc multiplayer, then FoC will be a blast, however I can’t see many people being able to do that.

FoC isn’t a bad game, by any stretch, but just seems to lack any real fun.  Visually it closely matches the PS3 original and certainly offers a decent, colourful diversion in single player mode, but multiplayer simply fails to deliver, thus making the whole package somewhat bitter-sweet.

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