Game Review

by Todd Ciolek,

Code of Princess

Nintendo 3DS

Code of Princess
When her kingdom falls to a rival nation, Princess Solange escapes with the legendary sword known as DeLuxcalibur. She fights off a monstrous army, meets several eccentric allies, and uncovers a secret that could change the course of human civilization.

Many judged Code of Princess by appearances. That's understandable. The title character is a blonde swordswoman named Solange Blanchefleur de Lux, and she's dressed so scantily that the uncynical might mistake her for a parody of the typical fantasy heroine. Yet there's more to the game than what she is or isn't wearing. At its heart, Code of Princess chases the same style of chaotic brawler as Treasure's remarkable Sega Saturn classic Guardian Heroes, and it occasionally catches hold.

Granted, there's nothing particularly intricate about the setup. Solange is the princess of a kingdom under attack, and the forces of the Distron army send her on the run alongside wary thief ALI-Baba, chattering elf-sage Allegro, and laid-back necromancer Zozo. Their journey's broken into tiny bites, with each short stage pitting them against monsters, soldiers, or one of the more dangerous Distron generals. Players can switch characters before each battle, and the aftermath raises their levels in customizable fashion.

Despite the RPG accessories, Code of Princess is very much a slugfest in battle. Instead of roaming freely in the diorama-like stages, the characters leap between three different planes of combat. It's restrictive in concept, but it turns everything much more intense, as players dash, jump, and pull off the types of elaborate attacks seen in a full-scale fighting game. Particularly useful is a “burst” move that stuns enemies and boosts attack power at the expense of a magic meter. It works best with the game's lock-on feature, which lets players deal higher damage to a specific enemy. It's all an enhanced take on the Guardian Heroes approach.

Fortunately, a pedigree in Saturn cult classics isn't necessary to enjoy the game. It's easy to learn how to exploit the lock-on feature, how to recover health while bursting, how to juggle enemies in mid-jump, how to shift planes to dodge attacks, and how to pick out the useful accessories sold by a merchant cat named Marco Neko. Former Guardian Heroes designers Tetsuhiko “Han” Kikuchi and Masaki Ukyo once again extract an elaborate repertoire of attacks from a limited range of tapping motions, and there's remarkable range among the characters. If you tire of Solange's heavy-hitter approach, try Zozo's long-distance magic and ALI's agile strikes and explosives (which can actually damage her if you're not prepared). And so Code of Princess has the same fervor that drove Guardian Heroes.

Code of Princess might capture a compelling spirit in the thick of battle, but it doesn't quite know where to take it. Most of the levels hurl flocks of enemies at the heroes, and the opposition's none too intelligent. They're only dangerous when they manage to corner you, and your best tactic usually involves sprinting away, switching planes, and ambushing foes when they follow you. Even bosses fall for this trick, and sometimes they'll stand idly in one plane while you beat back their underlings in another. Only a few of the game's main micro-chapters offer any acute challenge beyond the threat of sheer numbers. If Code of Princess certainly has the feel of a fantastic brawler, it doesn't have the structure.

And if you want to go by appearances, Code of Princess doesn't have that much to see. The developers clearly worked hard to cram everything into a 3DS screen, but the game's often cluttered and a little confusing. Combat's also stricken by slowdown at unfortunate times, particularly if you make the mistake of flicking on the 3-D. The backgrounds tend to repeat as much as the gameplay does, and the characters have a blurry, plastic look that doesn't really flatter Kinu Nishimura's designs. At least the ACE+ collective comes through with some memorable music.

The Code of Princess story is a relatively short concoction of fantasy-anime clichés. Rarely pausing for breath, it spits out sudden invasions, vague background details, utterly non-shocking twists, and, of course, some last-minute ruminations on mankind's destructive nature. Yet it's lighthearted more often than it is serious, and the localizers and voice actors make the most of it. Solange's naivety grates at times, but she plays off her friends; Allegro and ALI get some good lines, while Zozo manages to be amusing even in this era of zombie-media saturation. Their conversations are playful and rife with fourth-wall mockeries, though the dialogue sometimes veers into the sort of forced wackiness found in lesser webcomics. And let's admit it: Solange's outfit is embarrassing even if the game makes fun of it.

If the story doesn't elevate Code of Princess, the side attractions might. There's an extensive list of bonus fights, and the roster grows with each story-mode victory. Players can unlock playable versions of every character, from towering dragons to the seemingly harmless villagers who wander levels. Most of the grunt foes are simple in their attacks, but deeper selections lie with the supporting characters: powerhouse Master T plays like a Street Fighter fixture, samurai Tsukikage is a nimble hit-and-run specialist, and mace-wielding Sister Hel is a tank. There's even an extensive versus mode, with online clashes for up to four players. A shame it never scrapes the insanity of Guardian Heroes and its 12-player clashes.

Code of Princess can't quite reach the classics that inspire it. It finds ambitious ideas trapped in an unambitious game, pairing swift and enjoyable combat with mediocre design. At least it grasps the essence of a good brawler: that vibrant thrill of dashing into a legion of enemies and hurling them left and right in your destructive wake. There's a short-burning joy to Code of Princess, but it doesn't have much more below the surface.

Overall : C+
Graphics : C
Sound/Music : B
Gameplay : B-
Presentation : C+

+ Satisfying battle techniques, decent multiplayer
Slowdown, confusion, and shallow level design all take a toll

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