Sony recently offered us the chance to jump into the beta for its new PSN title Fat Princess. After reading the short description, we couldn't resist: "Fat Princess pits two hordes of players against each other in a comic medieval battle royale. Your goal is to rescue your beloved princess from the enemy dungeon. There's a catch though: your adversary has been stuffing her with cake to fatten her up and it's going to take most of your army working together to carry her back across the battlefield." If this doesn't prompt you to eagerly read on, suffice it to say that the comedic nature of the concept permeates throughout the game and the addictive gameplay will have you hooked from the moment you step into your kingdom's castle.
Dropping into the middle of an ongoing match, the game puts you in control of a gnome-like character in what you might assume is a typical castle-and-helpless-princess world, but that perception quickly vanishes as other gnomes run past you carrying cake while others build ridiculous contraptions within your castle walls. Venturing a little further, some gnomes are changing their hats as more repair the blood stained castle gates. The flurry of action is overwhelming, to say the least. Clearly, this simple concept didn't translate into a simple, linear game. Best to back up and go through a tutorial.
At a high level, the game combines "capture the flag" game rules with the cliche world of castles and princesses (minus the dragons, at least so far), rendered in a cartoon inspired style that fits the comedic premise of the game perfectly. The key twist is that the flags are princesses that can't stop eating more cake. Players can find cake strewn across the battlefield, and bring it back to feed the prisoner. The fact that one gnome can carry the princess quite easily early in the match means that rush tactic can often work very well against uncoordinated opponents. Wait a little too long and that fat princess will slow you down to a crawl, making you an easy target for the castle's defenders. It'll then take a very coordinated attack to steal your princess away from the grasp of your opponent. Breaking into the castle is one thing, but then you have to worry about having enough teammates to defend the six gnomes that can't fight back while they carry her away.
There are five character classes in the game. When you spawn, you're hatless and classless, not to mention weak and useless to your team. Fortunately, there are hat machines throughout your castle, which spit out as many hats as your team needs. Put a hat on your head, and you transform into the corresponding character class - you can change hats as often as you like, and you can even pick up enemy hats from the battlefield. Each class has a different weapon/ability, but all classes can carry resources and cake. All classes can also "power up" their attack (which is strangely reminiscent of A Link to the Past) and cause area damage. For an additional spin, the hat machines can be upgraded to produce "enhanced" hats, which give the wearer additional abilities and extra health. Talk about variety.
The mechanics are quite simple in the end. The worker class chops down trees and breaks up rocks, then carrying them back to a friendly building to add them to the team's resource pool. Resources can then be used to upgrade the hat machines, repair castle gates, build ladders over enemy walls, or even build ridiculous contraptions, like a giant catapult that flings gnomes to the other side of the battlefield. Though the worker's axe is largely ineffective in battle, the upgrade provides bombs to throw in defense. Holding down the attack button leads to a stronger axe swing, or larger bombs.
The other four classes are all geared for the battlefield. The basic warrior has a standard sword and shield, while the advanced warrior has a massive glaive. Powered up, the warrior can thrust his weapon right through any enemy that stands in his way. Pick up a feathered hat and you'll become a ranger, equipped with a bow and arrow or, the upgrade, a shrapnel cannon. The last two classes, the mage and the priest, are somewhat more theatrical in nature than the two fighters. The mage throws fireballs at enemies by default, but can be upgraded to freeze enemies in ice. Though weaker than weapon-based attacks, the powered-up versions of these abilities can affect a radius half the size of the screen. The priest's role is to heal friendly forces but can revert to the dark side, as it were, and suck out the health of his enemies. Like the mage, the priest's abilities have moderate impact on battles unless the powered up version is used, again affecting most of the gnomes within your visual range.
The game allows you to "Play With Yourself" against "" to get a feel for the game, but the 32-player online "Play With Others" mode is where the meat is. The presentation of the game is overall zany, especially evident in the rest of its menu items including "Bragging Rights" (personal scores and global rankings), "I'm Confused?" (the tutorial) and "Twiddly Knobs" (the customization features). Especially neat is the "Get Fabulous" menu, which allows you to customize the look of your gnome to fit your fancies.
Fat Princess is an amazingly creative game, already showcasing tons of variety in the gameplay and awesome graphics. The beauty of the mechanics is that it's still very reusable for twists on other common match types. At least one other game mode has been hinted at in the beta build, a team deathmatch where the game ends when one team exterminates a fixed number of gnomes from the other team. Given all the action and theatrics offered by this game, I can't wait to play the full version.