Like video did to radio, 3D killed the 2D star. As someone who inflicted blisters on top of already existing blisters on my thumbs while playing titles such as Double Dragon, Gunstar Heroes, and even classic Mega Man in my youth, I mourned the passing of this beloved gaming genre. Once in a while, though, a game comes along that brings my beloved old-school fare back from the dead. The latest is Code of Princess, a 3DS game that originally landed on American shores last October and now just recently became available for download from Nintendo’s eShop. In the interest of full disclosure, I just want you guys to know that not only am I a big fan of classic beat ‘em up and hack-and-slash games, my all-time favorite representation of the genre is Treasure’s Guardian Heroes. In short I just might be a teeeeeny bit biased in my affection for games such as this.
On that note, Code of Princess is a serenade to fans of old-school, side-scrolling action games. You’ve got the requisite campaign or story mode — which is supplemented by bonus quests — the always welcome co-op mode, which can be done via local or online means, a versus mode as well as free play. Certain modes also allow the use of every character and creature in the game, sometimes with comical results (like a honkin' huge dragon vs. an old female villager, for example).
For the campaign, you start out with the brave and somewhat airheaded Solange, a powerful and brave warrior princess with heavily armored, uh, hands. Hey, it’s the latest fashion in the kingdom, people — and it’s handstitched to boot! The game begins with the world seeing a mysterious increase in monster attacks, with the royal family of Deluxia getting the blame for it. Fortunately for the people, the kind and totally unsuspicious Distron army has come to save the day. Yes, we all know how that story goes. As the kingdom gets overrun, Solange’s father tells her to escape with the family’s sacred sword, the Deluxcalibur. No I did not just make that up, though in all honesty, that actually sounds like something I totally would come up with. Through her journey, Solange is joined by a big collection of anime-style misfits. They include one overcompensating bard, a surprisingly normal thief, a zombie — oh, correction — necromancer, a lovestruck samurai, a talking cat, a musclebound animal lover and a warrior nun whose philosophy is more in line with two eyes for an eye. These misfits are only topped by the ensemble — inside joke alert — of enemy goofballs that populate the Distron army’s ranks. By the way, as someone who normally prefers the Japanese language track for games like this, I must say that the game does a bang-up job with the English localization. The over-the-top dialogue for character Baku Juppongi can be especially described as being deus ex magnifica.
Now some folks have made the mistake of looking at this as a role-playing game with beat-em-up mechanics, which could potentially lead to disappointment. Make no mistake, this isn’t an RPG in line with titles such as Fire Emblem: Awakening or Persona 4 Golden. Instead, the more accurate way to look at Code of Princess is the other way around — it’s primarily a beat-em-up with RPG mechanics, just like Guardian Heroes. And as a beat-em-up, this game is actually quite good. In fact, I consider this a more worthy followup to Guardian Heroes than the latter’s sequel Advance Guardian Heroes, particularly in terms of the fun factor. Like Guardian Heroes, you can jump in between the foreground and background. Even Solange’s diving fire sword move looks like a straight-out tribute to Han from the original Guardian Heroes. Speaking of moves, this game heavily relies on combos as well, allowing players to chain regular moves and specials. Eventually, you’ll be able to deftly launch and juggle enemies, then launch them again. A lock on and burst mechanic also allows you to deal even more damage when stacked together, though it likely won’t compare to the damage you’ll do to your thumbs once you get your combos down pat.
Stat allocation via level up also adds another, uh, level of strategy and fun to the game. Throw in the fact that you can unlock more than 50 characters and its quite possible to get plenty of replay value from Code of Princess. Admittedly, the game can get repetitive even with all the different characters — an issue pretty much for classic beat-em-up games in general. Like those titles of old, maintaining interest in this game is all about experimenting and pulling off tough combos as well as playing with other people either via online or co-op. This brings up another issue — the fact that the online lobbies seem to be dead at this point. You’ll basically have to rustle up some non-imaginary friends if you want to play co-op or versus modes.
Even with its issues, however, Code of Princess is a great representation of a classic genre that has fallen by the wayside with the advent of 3D action games and first-person shooters. I remember chuckling when I finally started feeling that long-lost yet familiar sensation of blisters forming on my thumbs as I made my way to the final boss fight after playing the game all the way through from the very first stage. All of a sudden, memories of Double Dragon, Streets of Rage and Gunstar Heroes started flooding in my head. That’s when I knew I that I was taking part in some old-school fun. This game certainly isn’t for everyone but if you like classic action games, then you’ll want to give this a look.
FINAL RATING: 4 stars out of 5
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