A New Guardian
Originally released in 2012 on 3DS and published by Atlus, Code of Princess received somewhat of a cult following for its scantily clad protagonist and combo-based combat system. Here in 2018, Nicalis has re-released this 2D brawler on Nintendo Switch by adding the “EX” at the end of the title which implies some new features.
Back in the Sega Saturn days, Guardian Heroes took a new approach to the brawler genre by putting a little more emphasis on story and implemented combat with a unique flavor via the 3-tiered rail system. Code of Princess is a spiritual successor to Guardian Heroes as it uses a similar combat mechanic and was created by Tetsuhiko Kikuchi and Masaki Ukyo, two developers that created Guardian Heroes. Although Guardian Heroes was ported to Xbox 360’s Arcade and a sequel was created on GBA, Code of Princess can easily act as a game in the same vein.
Code of Princess has the player controlling Princess Solange, carrier of the DeLuxcalibur. This prized sword is the eye of envy of pretty much every bad guy in the kingdom and the Princess runs away from home as her father is murdered. While the story isn’t laugh out loud humorous, it doesn’t take itself seriously and is self-aware of the clichéd drama that plagues any RPG.
Besides playing as a babe in a bikini, the meat of gameplay is stringing together combos like a fighting game on three planes of action. Button mashing usually works well enough but creating combos by flicking the analog stick in ha-do-ken style ways increases damage and can make easier work of tougher enemies. Just like Guardian Heroes, each character can fight on one of three planes, or rails, instead of freely roaming around like in Double Dragon. If one rail is getting crowded with enemies, it might be beneficial to escape to a new plane by holding a shoulder button and jumping to the foreground or background layer. I think switching between each plane should have been mapped to a single button as pulling off an escaping combo after an involved battle combo is a little more difficult than it needs to be.
Unlike most other beat’em ups, say Final Fight or Streets of Rage, Code of Princess basically has the player running around a single screen instead of moving from left to right with a beginning and end point while punching anything that moves. This means enemies will often approach from both sides, making the player rely on crowd control maneuvers. But what separates Code of Princess from other brawlers is the vast playable character roster. Dozens of fighters become available the more the game is played. Like any RPG, they can be leveled up and equipped with better gear. Even the enemies you fight will be unlocked to be playable.
Code of Princess follows a strict rule set that becomes monotonous within the first few stages. The player selects a mission from a menu screen, then a fighter, then adjusts equipment if need be, then attack all the baddies until they are all dead. This formula never deviates from this repetitive recipe and the main driving force is unlocking more playable characters and grinding for better loot or level ups. Selecting stages from a simple menu interface loses a cohesiveness to the overall presentation too. The worst part, however, is the combat itself. This EX version does boast more fluid combat at 60 frames per second but fighting never truly grows beyond button mashing. The lock-on and burst mechanics try to spice up combat but winds up being features that get neglected as repetitive attacks are usually enough to get the job the done, especially when leveled-up. Even though this updated version sports a higher frame rate, combat still feels chunky and stiff.
Originally created on 3DS, the art style is a mixed bag as it isn’t ugly but isn’t gorgeous either. While the upgrade cel-shading looks nice in handheld mode, it starts to look a little duller when blown up on a big screen. Sometimes the foreground can block the view point on the bottom combat rail and sprites do not move as fluidly as they should; instead of adding extra frames of smoother animation, just the frame rate was increased. Again, it doesn’t look bad and there are some nice character designs here, it just wasn’t taken to the next level you might expect from an ultra HD edition of a cult favorite. At least the soundtrack has some memorial tunes although the lack of English VO is an odd mystery.
The highlights of this EX version are smarter AI, updated balancing, characters are supposed to level-up in a new way (characters still gain some experience even when not fighting), and local co-op was added with split Joy-Con support. Luckily, online co-op is still available if you wanted to partner with a buddy or two to tackle some of the more challenging later missions together. Unfortunately, finding suitable partners online was a bit of a challenge but hopefully this issue will diminish after enough players have had a chance to play and level-up. Also, physical launch editions get packaged with bonus goodies such as a color instruction manual and a mini soundtrack CD, something Nicalis has been taking seriously with their physical Switch games.
I think Code of Princess is a product of its time as there were not many brawlers, let alone new IP brawlers, on the 3DS back in 2012. However, here in 2018, fans have games like Dragon’s Crown that is playable on PS3, PS4, and even the Vita with cross-play that has a gorgeous art style, a growing combat system, and much deeper RPG and co-op mechanics. Here in Code of Princess, the main gameplay element, combat, is a bit of a drag and becomes repetitive quickly although there is a ridiculously huge playable roster in which to experiment. If you missed the 3DS version, are a fan of Guardian Heroes, and like bikini-wearing blondes with big swords, this Switch version is the version to check out. However, the 3DS version is still available through the eShop at a fraction of the cost of this Switch version.
Not As Good As: River City: Tokyo Rumble (3DS)
Better Than: Comix Zone
Also Try: almost any TMNT 8 or 16-bit game