Since its launch last year the Nintendo Switch has become a necromancer’s playground where countless old games have gone to find new life. Code of Princess began its existence as a 3DS game, was subsequently ported over to PC via Steam and now has received a modern touch up and rebranding for Switch as Code of Princess EX. The new version contains a few tweaks and upgrades, but for the most part is the same game we’ve played on the DS and Steam, where the new review for this version features more new content (79 percent new review content) than the game.
The phrase less is more has never been more applicable than when used to describe the armor that is commonly provided for female characters in fantasy games. This is especially true of the battle garments donned by Solange in the PC port of the formerly 3DS exclusive title, Code of Princess. She fearlessly charges into battle with only the parts of her that cannot be shown on network television covered as if her armor is composed of metal censor bars. Her giant sword, the Deluxcalibur, which I guess is the deluxe model of Excalibur, is equally ridiculous when considering it is larger than her and possibly even heavier.
As she progresses in her journey she is joined by a myriad of equally-colorful companions. There is the thief Ali-Baba, who resembles Disney’s Aladdin in mild fetish gear including a padlocked chastity brassiere, Zozo, a necromancer (not a zombie) whose blue-fleshed body is a collection of spare parts pilfered from graves, and lastly there is Allegro, an axe-wielding elf bard who claims to also be a level 99 sage. His axe is rather unusual; it has a body shape of a Gibson Flying V but the headstock is more like that of an Explorer. Perhaps it is a more affordable Jackson or LTD. It looks acoustic but sounds electric even though he carries no visible means of amplification, never mind the fact that a Marshall stack would seem anachronistic with the fantasy setting. And those are just the characters that can be played as part of the main story campaign.
The gameplay of Code of Princess EX is a throwback to old school brawlers like Double Dragon but has some RPG elements incorporated and the movement is a little different. Instead of having free reign over the visible ground, the levels are horizontally scrolling with three different vertical plains where the action can take place, which can be changed by simply holding a shoulder button and pressing the appropriate direction on the thumbstick which can be a good tactic to chase enemies or avoid a swarm attack. Most levels can be completed in just a few minutes.
There are over fifty playable characters that can be unlocked and each has their own distinct move set and fighting style, even though all levels end up more or less being an arcade style brawler regardless of who you play. Characters can activate burst power to increase damage at the cost of sucking down MP at a ridiculous speed. Attack moves can be switched around by incorporating thumbstick movements like the classic quarter circle towards plus the attack button. The presumed intent of all the different characters and fighting styles is to prevent things from getting monotonous and to learn different strategies for each character. There is some truth to that theory, since Solange’s fiddler crab inspired sword handles differently than Allegro’s six string ax, but the truth is just about any character can button mash their way through any situation.
The RPG elements mainly consist of level gaining and new equipment. When characters level up they receive an increase in various attributes such as attack, defense, health and whatnot, though any increase in performance is barely noticeable until a ton of points have been dumped into a specific attribute. This mechanic does allow the player to go into the Free Play and Bonus Quest modes to level grind if they need a little extra help getting past a level but because the boost is so small it will require a few extra levels to make a noticeable difference.
The presentation of the story is among the more memorable parts of the game. The story itself is nothing special and rather nonsensical, but the self-aware lighthearted tone of the game forgives this. The most basic plot elements are Princess Solange left her kingdom after a failed grand theft giant sword plot from some bumbling villains who were trying to get their filthy mitts on the Deluxcalibur. Solange initially meets Ali-Baba, though her entourage quickly expands as she travels and trounces her dimwitted enemies. Code of Princess EX is not subtle at all in how silly it is, such as the fourth wall breaking that generally points out how impractical whatever it is Solange and her companions happen to be doing. The characters are entertaining with their own idiosyncratic behaviors and they seem fairly cognizant that they exist in a video game. This game is self aware of how ridiculous it is and that only adds to the charm.
Some general quality-of-life improvements have been made with Code of Princess EX. The AI has been slightly improved to become less dumb, though Sergeant Emble and Ergeant Semble are still far from being Mensa members. The level up system has improved from earlier versions. The biggest improvement is the addition of local multiplayer which should be an essential part in any arcade-style brawler. Code of Princess EX can be played cooperatively throughout the entire campaign locally and there are online options for cooperative and competitive multiplayer.
Code of Princess EX has received an HD makeover since coming over to the Switch. What is a bit odd is while everything looks fine in motion, the characters revert to their pixelated appearance during cutscenes as if this was something the developers skipped over when porting this from the 3DS. It’s a minor complaint, but seems out of place considering how nice the rest of this title looks. The music sounds fine overall though the actual sound quality varies throughout the game. There is no option for an English voiceover, though based on anime style video games’ history of inconsistent English voiceover quality, that may not be such a bad thing. The best thing about this version of Code of Princess is that it combines the portability of its initial release but can also be enjoyed on the big screen.
Code of Princess EX is currently the definitive version of Code of Princess and is a must play for anyone who is a fan of retro arcade style beat ‘em ups, especially if they can appreciate a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The character and enemy designs are visually interesting and the gameplay mechanics make playing through this tongue-in-cheek adventure enjoyable. The enormous character roster and multiple game modes provide a good value, but the biggest problem lies in the nature of the genre. The gameplay is repetitive even with the different fighting styles of each character, which can get old quickly, especially on single player.