A franchise often comes from the same game concept done over and over again; done too often, it can lead to audience fatigue. The franchises that tend to last the longest are the ones that aren’t afraid to branch out and explore new territory. However, it’s always a crap shoot when an established franchise tries a different genre. Sometimes the risk pays off well like when the FPS series Halo tried RTS with Halo Wars. Sometimes the switch is deadly like when the fighting series Mortal Kombat tried to do platforming with Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero or a beat-em-up with Mortal Kombat: Special Forces. Then there are the times when switching genres doesn’t improve or detract from a franchise, leading to simple indifference. Fat Princess Adventures, for the most part, falls into that last category.
Fat Princess Adventures: Playstation 4 [Reviewed]
Developer: Fun Bits Interactive
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: 5 December 2015
Price: £15.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Publisher]
The previous Fat Princess games were basically goofy takes on the old multiplayer stand-by “Capture the Flag”. Teams of red and blue players choose their classes from the standard fantasy archetypes of fighter, archer, and mage and try to rescue their team’s eponymous Fat Princess while guarding the opponents from rescue attempts. The thing that separated the Fat Princess games from other games that had Capture the Flag modes were the bright, colorful, and goofy style used, which stood in direct contrast to the grittiness often seen in games like Call of Duty or Battlefield. The Fat Princess games made it clear immediately that they were not meant to be taken seriously and were to provide simple, silly alternatives to the games I mentioned earlier. With those things taken into account, transitioning to a dungeon crawler makes perfect sense for the Fat Princess franchise.
For a first-party PS4 game, the aesthetics are rather hit-and-miss. The settings are as bright and colorful as the previous entries with the exaggerated “Renaissance Fair” décor given extra levels of detail with the jump to the newer console. The simple particle effects for the magic spells are TOO simple; I saw better particle effects when I played the PS2 game FantaVision. On the opposite end, the blood effects are very slick with effective texturing and reflections, a welcome improvement from the strawberry jam that appeared in the prior games. However, the worst parts of the visual package are the character designs. All of the characters (including the ones the player creates) are ugly, short, and way too fat (even before eating the copious amounts of cake in the game). Even though the designs are similar to the prior games, they worked then because the prior games used cell-shading, giving the chubby characters a cartoony look that made them cute. As we see in the newest iteration, without the cell-shading, the characters look like rejected Cabbage Patch Kids.
Unfortunately, as bad as the characters look, they sound even worse. The voice acting is outright terrible. The Princesses speak in shrill, high-pitched voices that sound a lot like Adam Sandler in Jack and Jill, and my created character spoke like he was competing for a role as a William Shatner sound-alike. Worst of all, these characters NEVER SHUT UP!!! They belt out inane one-liners about every fifteen seconds in this game. To spare my sanity, I had to turn off the voices before the first chapter was over. Fortunately, the music is decent if uninspired, fitting in with the fantasy motif well enough while not doing anything distinctive. There are some cool musical treats here and there like a surprise track from Barry White that, while not fitting in with fantasy, do reinforce the goofy nature of the series.
The story is as generic as they come. An evil queen wants to take over the kingdom of Great Bitten (go ahead and groan), and the player character and up to three friends are the only hope. The writing tries to make up for the cliched plot with humor, but most of the jokes are woefully lame. There are food-related puns everywhere, even on the character creation screen. Some one-liners were even stolen jokes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Fortunately, a dungeon crawler is the one RPG sub-genre that can be successful without a strong story as long as it has three things: Interesting dungeons, Solid combat, and Great loot
Unfortunately, in Fat Princess Adventures, all three of those elements are only about average. The dungeons are varied and look distinct from each other, and the fact that certain treasure chests can only be opened by certain classes can make exploring interesting. However, since a player can only change classes at the checkpoints, backtracking becomes irritating when locked chests for multiple classes are found at a dead-end.
The combat works well enough. The four classes of warrior, archer, mage, and engineer have their own strengths and weaknesses. They also have distinct abilities like the warrior, who can use his shield to block projectiles and the engineer can set and throw bombs. One unique element is that, if the player eats cake (the game’s most common health pick-up) when his hit points are already full, he super-sizes, becoming extra powerful for a few seconds. Unfortunately, there are real balance issues in the game. Unlike most games with multiplayer which scale the difficulty based on how many people are playing, this one starts difficult for one player and doesn’t alter its difficulty even if three others join in, making it too easy with a max player count. On top of that, the archer is overpowered. While the other three classes saw plenty of trips back to the last checkpoint during my playtime, I didn’t die once with the archer.
The loot is quite disappointing. Since the characters don’t gain any new skills with leveling up, acquiring new gear is the only way to alter combat, but none of the loot is that interesting. On top of the overuse of food puns in the names, most of the pieces of gear that can be found only add attack power or base defense with the occasional item adding an elemental effect. The best dungeon crawlers make the player excited to find a new weapon or accessory; this one doesn’t.
It’s clear that this game is meant to be played in multiplayer, and aside from the difficulty balance issues, the game is well suited for parties. Up to four people can play through the story locally or online, and drop-in/drop-out is available. One unique element to the multiplayer is the Grindhouse mode. In this mode, the players replay previously completed scenarios from the story with bonus stipulations randomly entered by a slot machine. Stipulations may include challenges to kill the most of a certain enemy type or randomly changing character classes during the game. Though Grindhouse is fun, I do wish that the mode wasn’t limited to story scenarios. Maybe they could include original scenarios expressly for Grindhouse mode via DLC.
Fat Princess Adventures is a competent dungeon crawler, nothing more, nothing less. On a system that has better options like Diablo 3 and Borderlands, I can really only recommend Fat Princess Adventures to those who had already played those games to death and are aching for more looting. This one is like a piece of stale cake; you can eat it, but why choose it when there are fresher pieces available?