Review: Fat Princess

Have your cake and eat it too.

Developer: Titan Studios
Genre: Action
Release Date: July 30th, 2009
Number of Players: 1-32
ESRB Rating: T
Platform: PS3

Author’s Note: This review was written after the release of the first patch, using version 1.02 of the game. Since the connection issues from the original release have been almost completely resolved (for me at least), they won’t factor into my score.

Fat Princess is the first title from developer Titan Studios. I’ve heard it described as Team Fortress 2 in a medieval setting, and while that isn’t completely accurate, it does give a pretty good idea of how Fat Princess plays out. Two teams of sixteen players each (a mix of human players and bots) compete in a variety of different game modes, slinging spells and decapitating opponents along the way.

Players are able to choose from five different classes, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Newly spawned characters start as a neutral class with low health and weak attacks. Even this base class has its uses, however, as it’s faster than all of the other classes. Class changes are made by putting on the class’ respective hat. Hats can be found either from hat machines in the player’s base or from fallen combatants strewn about the battlefield. The hat machines can each be upgraded once, providing an alternate version to the respective machine’s class.

review_fatprincess_1The Warrior is your stereotypical tank, having the most health and packing quite a punch. The Ranger has a moderate amount of health and the longest attack range of any class. Healing duties are handled by The Priest, whose presence can turn the tide in a battle. The Mage can unleash a devastating area of effect attack, and can also launch fireballs directly at enemies in a one-on-one situation. The final class rounding out the cast is The Worker. The Worker harvests the game’s two resources, wood and stone. Workers can then use these resources to upgrade hat machines, build structures such as ladders to aid in attack, and construct doors to keep out the enemy.

Players will find themselves competing in five different game types. ‘Rescue the Princess’ is the most popular mode, and probably the one you’ll be playing most often. Each team has the enemy’s princess held hostage, and the goal is to rescue your own princess while retaining possession of the enemy’s. Hold both for thirty seconds and you’ll win the match. While this may sound like a fairly standard Capture the Flag match, a couple of variations keep the formula fresh. Pieces of cake are littered across the map. Carry a piece back to the captive princess and she’ll eat it, growing fatter and harder to move. She’ll get skinnier over time, so you’ll have to feed her a constant stream of confectioneries to keep the enemy from making a clean getaway.

‘Snatch n’ Grab’, another game type, gives you slight variation on Rescue the Princess. In this mode your aim is to rescue your captive princess a total of three times.  Your team doesn’t need to be in possession of both princesses to score.

‘Team Deathmatch’ is fairly self explanatory. The princesses are done away with; instead each team starts with a point pool. Every time a player respawns, a point is subtracted from their team’s pool. Force the enemy team to zero points to score a victory.

review_fatprincess_2Placed around the maps in strategic areas are capture points. Hang around them for a while and you’ll take control of the capture point for your team. Workers can deposit resources here, and your team can also use these points to quickly recover health. In the ‘Invasion’ game type, your goal is to control as many of these points as possible. Each team again starts with a point pool, and if your team controls more than half of the capture points your opponent’s point pool will slowly deplete. Completely drain the enemy’s point pool to win.

The final game type, ‘Soccer’, plays completely different from the previous types. Players spawn on a soccer field, and instead of retrieving hats from machines the hats are randomly spawned around the field. Soccer balls randomly appear on the field, and your aim is to kick it into the enemy’s goal. Like a game of soccer in the real world, you win by having the most points when time expires.

While most of the action takes place online, there are a couple of single player modes. ‘Legend of the Fat Princess’ will take you through basics and let you familiarize yourself with the controls and game mechanics. It can be completed in about an hour, and there’s essentially no reason to play through it again after doing so. The ‘Gladiate’ mode lets you pick one of the character classes and attempt to defeat increasingly difficult waves of enemies without dying. The third and final mode is titled ‘Mess About’, and lets you set up a custom single player game. You’re able to select the game mode, the map to be played on, and the number of bots among other options. It’s a great way to familiarize yourself with the game’s maps and try out different tactics under controlled conditions.

review_fatprincess_3Getting online is a breeze. You can host your own game if the mood strikes you, or you can let the matchmaker find a game for you. Either way, you’ll be slaughtering Mages and stuffing the princess full of cake in about twenty seconds.

Online matches themselves are hit or miss. If you manage to get into a game with a decent number of human players who can work together you’ll have a blast. The classes are relatively well balanced and each and every one is enjoyable to play. If you find yourself growing bored of healing your teammates, switch over to the Mage and start setting people on fire.

A few technical details can mar the experience. The most glaring offense is the atrocious bot AI. You’ll frequently find yourself running right past a bot without them even attempting to engage you. They’ll stand there stupidly while you attack them from a distance. The bots have no concept of strategy, and will happily take over a meaningless capture point while the rest of your team is attempting to return the princess. This can become a serious problem, since bots fill the empty spots on a team if no human player is available. Since players can change teams after matches, what inevitably happens is everyone switches to the winning team, leaving a few human players and mostly bots on the other team. An auto-balancing feature would be a very important addition to online matches.

Games will frequently end in a stalemate. If the number of bots in a match far outweigh the number of human players, or if neither team is able to work together to capture the princess, games will devolve into pointless killing matches that eventually end in a tie.

review_fatprincess_4Graphically speaking, Fat Princess delivers. Titan Studios went for a cartoony style reminiscent of last year’s Castle Crashers. Character models and backgrounds are simple but elegant. Character animations are anything but flashy, but do serve their purpose. Deaths are particularly exciting, with plenty of cartoon blood and dismemberment.

A helpful announcer keeps you informed on current events. He’ll keep you up to date on what’s happening (“We have the princess!”), frequently with a comedic twist (“They’re in our base! Killing our dudes!”). Characters speak in high pitched munchkin voices, and the princesses irritably scream for more cake. The musical score is pretty much what you’d expect, with various medieval sounding tracks playing throughout the game.

Fat Princess Shows a great deal of potential. If you check out Titan Studio’s blog for the game you’ll find that they’re committed to making Fat Princess as great a game as possible. They’ve already released one patch that fixes several issues, and they’re hard at work putting together another one. They quite obviously didn’t just release Fat Princess and turn all of their attention to the next project.

Fat Princess can be found on the PSN Store for $15. It doesn’t quite live up to expectations, but still provides solid class based multiplayer gameplay.

Pros:
Great sense of humor
Can be a tremendous amount of fun
Has graphical style
Developer continues to support

Cons:
Laughable bot AI
No auto balancing of teams (yet)
Stalemate endings

Bottom Line:
Fat Princess delivers a good amount of team based fun, occasionally spoiled by technical issues. It’s worth looking into for all PS3 owners, especially with Titan Studios working to improve it even more.

Final Score (out of 10):

7.9

Review: The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition

Why’s the rum gone?

Publisher: LucasArts
Genre: Point and Click Adventure
Release Date: July 15th, 2009
Number of Players: 1
ESRB Rating: E
Platforms: PC and Xbox 360

The Secret of Monkey Island tells the swashbuckling tale of Guybrush Threepwood, a young man on a journey to become a pirate. The game starts with Guybrush arriving on Mêlée Island, somewhere in the Caribbean, and setting out to make a name for himself as a mighty pirate (which he often already claims himself to be). He crosses paths with numerous colorful characters, one of which being the evil ghost pirate LeChuck. Unsurprisingly, LeChuck spends most of his time planning and executing nefarious plans.

The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition is a faithful reincarnation of the original title (released in 1990) with enhanced graphics, music, and sound effects and voice acting not present in first release. Three of the voice actors from the series’ most recent release (The Curse of Monkey Island) reprise their roles as three of the main characters.

monkeyisland_4
Secret of Monkey Island, 1990 version

Other than a few minor adjustments, the game itself plays out almost identically to the original version. The interface has been streamlined, with the verb table and inventory that originally occupied the lower half of the screen being relegated to pop up menus. A hint system has also been added to help make the game less frustrating (more on this later). Fans of the original game will feel right at home, and newcomers shouldn’t have any problems. At the press of a button you can also switch (on the fly) between the updated version of the game and the original version in all its low resolution glory. It’s not exactly necessary, but does serve as a neat trick that lets you see what has been done to update the game.

At its core, The Secret of Monkey Island is a point and click adventure game, along the same vein as most of the LucasArts games released in the late 80s and early 90s. There is no time limit (excepting a few puzzles), so you can relax and play at a leisurely pace. It’s also impossible to die or get yourself stuck in a situation you can’t get out of, so you don’t have to worry about saving yourself into a corner. Most of your time as Guybrush is spent collecting, combining, and using various items to solve puzzles and interacting with the expansive cast of characters. There are a total of nine verbs that allow you to interact with items, other characters, and the environment, giving you a wide range of ways to experiment. If you take the time to explore and try different combinations of interactions you’ll be rewarded with Easter eggs (not literally) and humorous reactions from either Guybrush or other characters.

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Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition, 2009

The previously mentioned hint system is a welcome addition to the game. If you find yourself stuck or wondering what to do next you can hit the hint button to receive a nudge in the right direction. If you’re still having trouble you can press it again to get an even more direct clue. Press the button a third time and the game explicitly states what you need to do and a large green arrow appears onscreen pointing you to exactly where you need to be. Considering that a few of the puzzles would be near impossible to solve without at least a little outside help, the hint system is a welcome addition. It’s easy to abuse, though, and I recommend at least putting a little effort into solving the puzzle yourself before resorting to the hint button.

The visuals offer a mixed bag. The environments and characters look gorgeous in high definition, but the animations are clunky and awkward looking. It doesn’t detract much from the experience, but it’s worth mentioning.

Pleasant pirate-themed music serves as an excellent backdrop to the game. The music in the classic version was well done, and the update does a great job of retaining the same quality and feel.

monkeyisland_1After playing some of the games released within the past couple of years, the characters and dialogue in The Secret of Monkey Island are a breath of fresh air. At times subtly humorous and occasionally laugh out loud hilarious, conversing with other characters is a blast. From Guybrush himself to the Fettuccini Brothers to the Men of Low Moral Fiber – every single character in the game is expertly voiced and superbly written. Whether you’re hurling insults at other pirates to win sword fights or haggling with Stan the Used Boat Salesman over the price of a vessel, conversations never feel like a chore. In other games I often find myself just clicking through conversation trees just to get what I need and leave. I never even considered doing this in Monkey Island, and would instead extend conversations as long as possible in order to hear most of the dialogue. I cannot praise the writers enough.

The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition can be found for $9.99 on the PC through Steam or Direct2Drive, or for 800 MS points on the Xbox 360 via the Xbox Live Arcade. The game offers an amazing experience for such a low price, and should not be overlooked by anyone who is even remotely interested.

monkeyisland_2Pros:
Fantastic looking scenery and characters
Classic adventure gameplay
Strong music and voice acting
Value pricing

Cons:
Poor animation
Almost no replay value

Bottom Line:
If you are a fan of adventure games, or even slightly interested, I strongly recommend buying this game. At only $10, The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition is a steal.

Final Score (out of 10):

9.4