When it launched in mid-2009, Fat Princess was a very enjoyable game marred by some technical hitches related to the online (which were later fixed). It was easy to pick up and play, and charming in the way that it was innocent on the outside and brutal on the inside. Though this is all intact in the PSP edition - Fistful of Cake - there are a few problems which keep it from the greatness of its predecessor. I won’t go into too much detail regarding the basic gameplay; for more information, see our review of the original Fat Princess.
As in the original, you play as a citizen of the Red Kingdom, fighting against your eternal rivals the Blue Kingdom, who have stolen the King’s daughter. There are six classes, defined by their hats - change hat, and you change class. You spawn as a villager, whose abilities include running at an improved speed and slapping people, and who can don any of five different chapeaus - those of the Worker (builder, repairman and bomber), Warrior (Viking-style tank), Mage (incinerator and ice-inator), Priest (servant of God and healer) or Ranger (bowman/rifleman). Square and Circle are attack and pick up respectively, L locks on, and the analog nub moves your character (though it doesn’t work nearly as well as the PS3’s analog stick for this).
All of the game modes from the original are present, including the old favourite, Rescue the Princess, and are accompanied by a handful of new game types. Jailbreak is similar to Team Deathmatch, with credits which run out as you die, with the key difference that towers are replaced with jailhouses. Capturing these jailhouses gives a small boost to your life credits, and holding them damages those of your opponent. This can take a while, but it’s entertaining. Demolition is another new one, which has players taking the Big Bomb to their opponent’s citadel and blowing up the (empty, thank goodness) throne. This mode is something of a disaster, really, because it relies on more teamwork than you can count on from AI, or players with whom you have no means of communication. Finally, there is the Grim Reaper mode, which is fun as long as you’re the guy with the hood and scythe. All other players have to gang up on Death (who can, himself, die. Hmmmm) and then rush to take his helm when it respawns. Trouble is, he has a one hit kill. It’s very possible to kill him, but not easy. Death has to gather souls, and when he collects a certain amount, he wins. Wisely, the developers limited this to 8 players (offline, that is). Can you imagine 23 people ganging up on one poor (harvester of) soul(s)?
There are a handful of new maps, but many of them are so similar to the existing ones that you won’t even notice they’re new. The original six maps in Fat Princess, all of the players knew. These extra ones simply bring the total too high. Existing maps have also been downgraded a little, which is unfortunate - they no longer contain as many pathways to the enemy castle.
There are also two new modifiers available in Fistful of Cake. The first, available in all modes except Soccer and Grim Reaper, is “Dilapidated”. This could truly be the most annoying modifier in any game, ever: it breaks all of your hat machines except for the Worker machine, and you have to gather 3 Wood and 3 Metal to fix each. Until it is fixed, a hat machine does not dispense hats. Then, on top of this, you need the 3 Wood and 3 Metal to upgrade the hat machine and gain access to the improved version of the class. The second modifier is the Stunt Double, available only in the princess-capture modes: that is, Snatch ‘n’ Grab and Rescue the Princess. This allows you to place an explosive decoy which resembles the Princess or Prisoner (enemy Princess), in the vain hope that somebody will pick it up and explode. Trouble is, the game never tells you how to obtain one of these, so I’m not sure they even implemented it.
The story mode and main single-player attraction, Legend of the Fat Princess, is intact and better than ever. It retains the eccentric story and lovable characters of the original, and is double the length - 14 levels to the original’s seven. This time around, the story seems connected to the levels, unlike the original game which followed storybook cutscenes with levels completely unrelated to what had been said. This leads to some peculiar and unique modes, such as one where you have to build a shrine in the centre of the map before your enemy (this would have been nice as a standalone mode) and another which is an interesting (and rather annoying) variant on Rescue the Princess. Without giving anything away, you don’t have the enemy’s Princess, and they don’t have yours. But it’s not any easier to get to her.
The story should take you around two hours to complete, depending on difficulty and skill (and luck). It’s reasonably easy on Normal. Easy is laughable - a worker can defeat a warrior, and Hard is just ridiculous. To be honest, more of the difficulty comes from awkward controls and terrible friendly AI than the inherent, intentional difficulty of the game. Your AI team mates are perfectly happy to work together, but seem to hate you. You can use Up on the D-Pad to call three of them to help you, but they do so reluctantly, running after any enemy who comes within 20 metres, and even jumping off ledges to their death, just to avoid helping you. And when you die (because you will), they go about their business and die around five seconds after you.
On top of this, there is a Gladiate mode, also present in the original game. You choose a class and run around an arena killing things. This is entertaining for a few minutes, but there isn’t much lasting appeal in it: there are no rewards other than a high number, and it gets repetitive quickly. It’s like Team Deathmatch, but without the quirky maps and posh narrator.
What made the original Fat Princess great was its online, and Fistful of Cake has no online community to speak of. I don’t say this lightly - I’ve been trying for a week to find online games. I feel bad about lowering the score (significantly) because of this, because it’s not really the fault of the developers. But whether it’s their fault or not, it’s the reality: as of writing, the game has been out in America for four days and Europe for over a month. When I can find a game, it’s when I select “Jump In”, which puts you in a game without your stating any preferences. This has only happened a handful of times - often, I can’t find a game at all - and when I do manage to find a game, it’s with one other human player and 14 AI characters (The maximum for the online is 8 vs. 8). So really, it’s not all that different from the offline mode, and you can only play a game for so long when you are against the same daft enemies and fighting alongside the same downright moronic allies.
The graphics are reasonably good, with the same colourful environments and gore, but they’re nothing fantastic. The framerate drops occasionally, but for the most part the game runs smoothly. Meanwhile, the same upbeat music as in the PSN original plays throughout. It can get a little repetitive, but then you don’t really focus on it. The high-pitched squeals from the characters are as fantastic as ever, as is the voice acting from the storybook. But one thing is missing: the victory theme. I loved the victory theme, and it’s gone. *Sniff*.
Now, this is a problem with the PSP rather than the game, and as such it couldn’t really have been avoided, but it’s still an issue: the analog nub. For a third person shooter, it works fine. You’re not running around in circles trying to stab your enemy or set him on fire from a top down view in third person shooters. But in a game like Fistful of Cake, you need control over your actions. It’s so woefully inaccurate, it takes several seconds to enter a tower - seconds in which the enemy stabs you and you drop the Princess. Aggravating, to say the least.
Fat Princess: Fistful of Cake is every bit its predecessor at heart. Unfortunately, its heart is obscured by awful control and broken online. It doesn’t bring a whole lot of new content to the table, which is good in one way, but considering what it had to take away, just to run on the PSP, it’s not really justified. This isn’t Fat Princess 2. It’s Fat Princess 1.1: Now Impossible To Control Your Character And With No Online Community. Unless you think you’ll be able to enjoy the single player modes for a long time, give this one a miss.