In the grand tradition of games like The Wind Waker and Ninjatown, Fat Princess is another one of those kiddy-looking games made for serious game players. It takes a lot of first-person shooter tropes like large teams, player classes, flag captures, and seizable control points and drops them into a silly but ultra-violent cartoon world played from the overhead perspective. There's a lot more to the gameplay here than the cartoony art style might indicate, which is so common these days it's practically a cliché.
Speaking of clichés, Fat Princess initially had significant issues with connectivity and lag, just like a lot of other high profile online games lately. It took about a week for developer Titan Studios to issue a patch that, fortunately, has made it much easier to get into online games--and smoother to play once you join them. If you've been waiting for the online issues to clear up before jumping in, they've cleared up. Now the only barrier to having fun in Fat Princess is making sure your teamwork is up to snuff.
There's a lot of things happening in a typical Fat Princess match. The game uses a basic capture-the-flag framework, except the flag you're capturing is actually your kidnapped princess being held in the enemy's base. But you're also holding their princess hostage, and you can stuff her face with cake to fatten her up and make her harder for the enemy forces to carry back to their base--assuming they can breach yours in the first place. Each side's base is well-fortified with walls and other defenses, so just getting in there is a task in itself.
There are five character classes--warrior, ranger, priest, mage, and worker--each with one upgrade level that increases that class's offensive abilities. The worker is also responsible for collecting wood and stone resources that you'll need to upgrade your classes and also build special structures. For instance, there's a catapult you can build inside your own base that will launch several teammates across the map, and ladders you can quickly construct that will let you quickly scale the walls of your enemy's base. These additions contribute heavily to your team's mobility and chances of winning.
You can dump gathered resources into any of multiple outposts on each map, but only if your team holds a given outpost. So there's a level of strategy not just in deciding which upgrades and structures to spend your own resources on, but also in trying to hold the right outposts to deny the other team the crucial resources they need to build their own add-ons and upgrades. Keeping the upper hand on that front can make a big difference to your chances of victory, and luckily, after over a week of release, the player base in my experience is learning the value of such strategic moves.
If the flow of Fat Princess' matches is pretty tactical, the in-your-face combat is anything but. The game has a 16-versus-16 player limit, and that makes for a lot of little cartoon dudes and dudettes frantically flailing at each other on your screen. Throw in buckets of animated blood and flashy area-of-effect magic spells and it can be a little tough to keep up with where your own character is and what's happening at all times. The game is almost too chaotic for its own good, but you'll likely become skilled enough with the lock-on, strafing, and charge attack abilities to get a handle on the fighting after a few sessions. The fighting classes each fill different necessary roles--melee and ranged attacking, simple crowd control, and healing--and you'll probably want to get good at using all of them, since your team will need every class at one time or another in a given match.
For $15, Fat Princess is nicely stocked with content. Most importantly, the game has a solid collection of nine regular maps with varied layouts and distinctly different art styles. There's a tropical map where your base is a pirate ship run ashore, and a rocky volcanic map where lava rises periodically to cut off access to certain resources. The game looks absolutely fantastic, too; it combines cel-shading with an exaggerated style of animation to produce an effect that's strikingly like a really well-made cartoon.
The core and best part of the game is the CTF-style princess-grabbing mode, but you can also play reduced rule sets like a conquest mode and simple team deathmatch on them as well. There's even a marginally entertaining soccer-field map that lets you play a version of the sport with all the player classes mixed in, as well as offline modes that give you a very basic story-mode-slash-tutorial and a series of gladiator-style arena challenges for each class. Finally, you can unlock a stack of new colors and hairstyles to customize your cartoony little combatant as you rank up in the online mode. There are hooks built into the game for future DLC, but the basic package feels like a good value already.
Despite its early growing pains, Fat Princess manages to walk a pretty straight path between frenzied combat and larger-scale tactics. It's a unique take on team-based multiplayer with a lot of personality and charm--and, with any luck, a lot of staying power on the PlayStation Network.