Talk about bum cakes, my girl's got 'em.
It looks a little like Animal Crossing, all runty cute characters, eye-popping colors, clean blue streams and fell-able trees. It hero-classes like a breezy RPG, sans all the menu-drilling horse-puckey. It sounds, at times, like Worms, with high-pitched calls to victory and the cries of the injured. It bleeds like Manhunt, Gears of War, and Silent Hill combined. It multiplay co-ops Left 4 Dead right back to the grave. And it Saves the Princess like a Zelda dusted-up with a quota to fill... when it's not cramming wedges of cake down said princess's throat, that is.
[image1]Potential-suitor gamers have been waiting for a year since Fat Princess's original debutante sneak-peek, and it was looking more polished than ever at the recent Game Developer's Conference. Come Q3 2009, up to 32 players per session can finally have at this unusual, decidedly busy action/strategy scramble-fest.
Fat Princess is essentially a cartoonish, top-down, strategically-spiced PSN game of Capture the Flag—or in this case, that would be 'Flab'. On the Black Forest map currently available in the beta, two teams of 16 players each (usually a mix of live players and bots, at least at this point) start out in their respective castles on either side of a lake. Its opposite shores are connected by some choke-point bridges, but characters can also safely swim directly, albeit more slowly across, as long as they don't dally too long in the water. Each castle starts out with the other team's princess in their dungeon; victory hinges upon having the enemy's princess in your dungeon AND having your own (rescued) princess back on your throne at the same time. So far, so normal. And then things start getting weird.
In addition to the ubiquitous high-fantasy resources of timber and metal, you'll find big tasty-looking slices of cake inexplicably laying around on the playfield. Take these back to a princess in your castle and she'll instantly chow down on them, quickly assuming elephantine proportions—thus becoming increasingly more difficult for the enemy to snatch and transport back to their castle!
The mechanics and controls are simple, but the accumulation of little details, tricks and strategies, is where Fat Princess starts getting interesting. In each castle, you'll find contraptions that constantly crank out various class-defining headgear—horned warrior helms, common engineer/worker caps, queerly papal priest hats, and snazzy archer/ranger hats. Donning one of these—even when found outside on the battlefield amid large pools of blood and discarded weapons after some ghastly melee (which means pretty much constantly)—instantly gives your character the weapons, stats, and abilities of its associated class.
[image2]Put on the warrior helm, and you'll not only gain a sword and shield, you'll increase your health from a sad little two hearts to a respectable six—that, and you can go out and start cutting any opposing-team members you come across to bloody ribbons. Donning the worker hat lets you chop down trees and mine metal, the resources needed to upgrade your castle's hat-gadgets, build special siege devices, and repair the castle doors that the enemy is constantly battering down. Get your Pope-hat on, and you can support your warriors in the field with a constant stream of magical healing energy. The ranged-combat, um, ranger starts off with a crossbow and can be upgraded (as can the other classes) to carry a deadly musket.
FYI: If you want to see the faces of overprotective parents crumple and fall in disbelief, let them see their little Timmy playing this gorgeously cute, clean, Animal Crossing-esque title for the first few minutes... and then watch for the facial tics as the two teams finally close with each other and clash on the battleground. The gratuitous, matter-of-fact, oh-god-it's-everywhere splatters of gore that quickly soak the available ground are rendered just as brightly and cartoonishly as everything else in the world.
The nice little touches abound: Once you've fought your way into the enemy's dungeon and are ready to liberate that as-likely-as-not Fat Princess (she will lose weight over time, but a dependable supply of cake slices will obviate that) you can smash the wooden cover off of the conveniently placed well in her cell. Jump in there with the Princess in your arms, and you'll re-emerge in the lake outside. (There's also an equivalent easy, safe, stealthy shortcut into the enemy's castle... which I didn't discover until many, many games of busting in there the hard, bloody, life-losing way.
Another quirky, later-stage upgrade to your castle makes a bottle of rainbow potion ready for use. Haul it out into the chaos beyond your castle walls and hurl it at a pack of enemies, and any unfortunates caught in the resultant blast—including you—will immediately be turned into cute, bwock-bwocking chickens. Which you can then also messily kill, if you don't have anything better to do at the moment.
[image3]Such idleness is unlikely though; in Fat Princess, everybody's got a job to do, and no one character-class necessarily outshines (or outscores) any other. While your spirited but perhaps less-skilled teammates are taking up the sword and dashing out to the fray to be butchered time and time again (as with Age of Booty, you can die here as pointlessly, stupidly, and repeatedly as you like), you can easily rack up points behind the scenes as a 'mere' worker, feeding those collected resources to your cute, cartoony medieval war-machine.
Further, while warrior-class characters snooping around the enemy's front yard tend to draw all the immediate attention, it's quite conceivable to sneak your 'unthreatening' worker or priest past the horrendous battle raging outside the enemy's gates, get him nearer to the imprisoned princess, and use your (less-encumbered) speed to spirit her out of the clink and back toward your side of the map. If you don't have a clear mental picture of just where all players involved are currently engaged—or are worried about precisely when the next huge cobbled-together 'rescue' force is coming to assault your castle—a quick press of the select button will bring up a real-time map to assuage, or confirm, your worst fears.
Naturally, teamwork is everything. Fighting-power in numbers is obvious, but it works elsewhere, too. If you come across a fellow worker repairing your battered castle doors, you can press circle to aid his efforts and cut down his work-time. And even if you can't scrape together 15 friends to fill out your team, you'll be able to call on your AI buddies in a pinch. A quick press of the D-pad makes your character squeak out a commanding “Help me!” to bring your cartoonish comrades running to your aid—very handy when you're down to one heart and desperately trying to schlep the double jumbo-sized princess you've just liberated back to safety (with seven or eight pissed-off enemy warriors chasing right behind you).
[image4]Luckily, the friend-in-need scheme is designed for that, too. If you see a friendly would-be princess rescuer struggling under a real fatty, you can temporarily add your muscle to his and speed the carrying operation along. (Or you can do what I do, which is to bust into the enemy's holding-cell, musket blazing... and hope to God that the enemy has been neglecting to feed her. For the record, this almost never works out how one might hope.) ... …
Don't let the candy-colored, 'kiddie' looks fool you; what we've experienced thus far is engaging, heart-pounding, fist-in-the-air, frantic multiplayer strategy-action game. We've only played on the one map as of yet, and are looking forward to seeing a variety of other environments. Fat Princess waddles its way to PSN multiplayability in Q3 2009, and we're waiting not-terribly-patiently for the Sony folks to get off their collective fat ass and finish so we can take it for a full review. Let us eat cake!