One of the unfortunate truths of modern gaming is that nearly every genre and nearly every gimmick has been absolutely done to death. That's why it's easy to initially dismiss Fat Princess: Fistful of Cake as just another multiplayer-centric game with cutesy characters. Doing so would fail to acknowledge all the cool quirks that make this title unique. Yes, there are still a few shortcomings that really hamper the experience, but this eccentric little game still has a lot of heart.
At the heart of Fat Princess is a simple capture-the-flag match between two teams. In this case, the flag happens to be a princess who can be fattened up by feeding her magical slices of cake. Obviously, a pudgy princess is harder to transport, so matches are a careful balancing act of keeping your team's maiden plump and rushing in to make a grab at the other team's royalty. The dynamic puts a fun twist on an otherwise tired dynamic, and it makes this one of the more enjoyable team-based games you're likely to find.
Complementing the twisted gameplay is a delightfully simple yet surprisingly deep character class system. At any time, players can switch among the game's five classes by simply picking up a new hat. Each class has its own uses, and while the warrior or ranger may make for great frontline fighters, they need to be backed up with mages and healers in order to fight effectively. On top of all this, workers are constantly harvesting resources, upgrading structures, repairing damaged castle gates and building impressive siege works. This freedom to fill any role at any time is incredibly refreshing, and players will likely have as much fun discovering the intricacies of each class as they do actually kidnapping the enemy's princess.
On top of this basic structure are a number of other game types, including straight deathmatch and a mode devoted to capturing and holding outposts so as to bolster your army's numbers. Fistful of Cake contains a couple of bonus modes exclusive to the PSP, the most notable of which is Reaper: a Juggernaut-like configuration where whichever character finds the Grim Reaper masks gets a vicious scythe and can go to work taking down other players. Even though this is actually a solo mode, all the other players will have to form temporary alliances if they want to take down the Reaper, and the ensuing scramble to grab the mask once it is dropped is frantic and a ton of fun.
While the amount of multiplayer content available is impressive, its execution is a bit more lackluster. While the original PS3 version of Fat Princess supported up to 32 players in any round, the PSP can only host 16. Even worse, only eight of those can be human players, with all other slots being filled out by bots. It wouldn't be a tremendous issue if the AI teammates were actually useful, but most of the time, they're content with running around and doing their own thing, blissfully unaware of the victory conditions. Thus, AI characters who you desperately need to step up as warriors to make a final push on the enemy stronghold instead opt for the life of a worker, shoveling wood and stone into your castle's stockpile while ultimately doing very little to help the war effort. The problem is exacerbated by your inability to issue squad commands, so players are powerless to intercede and force the AI into doing something helpful.
"So what?" you're likely asking. "Just coordinate with the other human players and forget about the bots." That would indeed be a grand strategy if voice chat were supported in Fistful of Cake, but sadly, it isn't. The game is an absolute blast if you're sitting around a room with friends calling out strategies and calling for help, but playing a mute game online is frustrating, as it's practically impossible to communicate an effective battle plan with your mute partners. If only the characters could develop some form of interpretive dance ....
Those who choose to opt for the single-player experience will find a delightfully lengthy campaign, doubled in size from its PS3 counterpart. While the single-player segment is little more than in-depth training for the multiplayer portion of the title, it's still fleshed out with an entertaining story and tons of cool scenarios. The major stumbling block is the aforementioned AI issues, and since it's just you with a team full of bots, there's no way to work around the incompetence of your allies. You'll often fail stages through no fault of your own, and battles go on much longer than necessary due to the fact that you're the only one who's concerned with winning; all the other characters just want to stab each other and hurl ice spells. There's some fun to be had in this mode, but it can definitely feel like a grind at times.
One portion of the game that earns top marks is the presentation, which makes a quite impressive transition from the PS3 to PSP. The vibrant, colorful art style and beautiful characters feel right at home on the handheld, and the whole motif actually seems better suited for the PSP anyway. The delightful British narrator also returns, complete with his dry, yet hilarious, Internet and gamer memes. There's something about hearing an Englishman exclaim, "All your base are belong to us!" or "Help, we're being ganked!" that brings a smile to the face every time. The characters themselves chip in from time to time with pithy dialogue of their own, and the end result is a pure audio-visual treat.
The amount of enjoyment you'll end up getting out of Fat Princess: Fistful of Cake is directly proportional to how many friends you can gather in the same room to play. Under ideal conditions with a full team of human compatriots/antagonists, this is one of the most enjoyable PSP games out there, bar none. Countering that, the single-player setup and online multiplayer are both hamstrung by dumb AI and mute teams. Patching in voice support would be huge and make Fistful of Cake an easy purchase for any PSP owner, but until that happens (if it happens), gamers may want to make this one a group purchase.
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