Fat Princess, briefly the center of a minor controversy based on the perceived insensitivity of the title, initially seems like a beautifully pure arcade game. Two teams of up to 16 players range across cartoonish fantasy landscapes, scrapping over a cake-addicted princess who acts as the object of a gory, revamped version of capture the flag. (In the first days of release, network connections were shaky. Connecting to a multiplayer game could be time-consuming and problematic. A quick fix is likely, but early adopters should take note.) The action is frantic hack-and-slash whimsy spiced up with light strategy concepts. Yet while the deformed little warriors are charming, they forge a confection that isn’t much more filling than the dessert you’ll shove into the titular royal gob.
Players choose one of five classes by grabbing a hat (either from a machine located at home base, or from a fallen comrade), though they can switch classes at any point. Classes are archetypal fantasy roles: fighter, mage, archer, priest/healer, and worker. Each one’s usefulness is largely apparent after a few moments of play; only the worker is different. He’s the backbone of any strategy, harvesting wood and metal to build castle defenses and upgrade the classes. Upgrades generate a secondary weapon, and advanced workers become offensive powerhouses who sling bombs in addition to axes.
Meanwhile, there’s cake. Large pieces of the stuff litter the ground. Feed it to the princess and she’ll grow ponderously large, like a prize-winning melon, making her extra-difficult for the other team to carry. It’s a cute attention-getting concept, but Fat Princess feels like it needs one more ingredient. As teams quickly upgrade classes and fulfill each princess’ gluttonous desires, the game often turns into a war of attrition. Even though the Princess slims down if her diet isn’t maintained, there’s no crucial tipping factor to generate a win.
So the core design, which seems so elegant at first, leads either to quick decisions between teams of unmatched skill, or long slogs worthy of a Russian winter campaign. When the action drags on, the not-inconsiderable cute factor starts to wear away. Fat princesses need love, sure, but they also need more complex characters to earn it.