Sometimes a good game just needs a fresh coat of paint to really make it sing. When you look at older titles like Warframe, it’s crazy to think that such a game has existed for nearly four years, but, looking at where it was and where it is now, they’re basically different games. Or things like ORION: Prelude, which stuck through so much to create a genuinely great title out of a truly ugly, buggy game. These games were pretty good to begin with, but updating them, refreshing them, just adding more created a masterpiece. And, for games that maybe weren’t given the love they deserved, a bit of a makeover and an update brings it all together. So I’m truly grateful that Nicalis buckled down and, now, is proudly bringing Switch owners the present that is Code of Princess EX.
Solange Blanchefleur De Lux, simply called Solange, is the crown princess of the kingdom of DeLuxia, who has the bad fortune of being exiled simply because monsters are overrunning the place. A puppet army, called the Distron Army, is supposedly fighting for the people and, in the process, overthrowing the castle, but it’s pretty evident that they’re working for something bigger and eviler. This is only further confirmed when the army calls for the head of the princess and the sword she possesses, DeLuxcalibur, which is both the symbol of the royal family and also a badass, magical sword that’s roughly two meters long. Immediately befriending the thief Ali Baba, Solange escapes her persuiters and is eager to figure out what the hell is going on and why her father just got murdered by an angry mob. Gathering around her a great team of mismatched miscreants who all are drawn by DeLuxcalibur’s power, Solange will discover the true nature of the Distron Army, their leader (Queen Distiny), and the meaning of the Code of Princess that we address in the title.
Code of Princess is a weird title, when you follow the lineage of how it got published. This was originally a 3DS title, and I would argue it was one few exclusives to the handheld that really went under the radar. Released in 2012, this was after Nintendo dropped the price and put out New Super Mario Bros 2, but it was still a while before the console properly took off in 2013 with Pokemon X and Y. The game was a bit of a hard sell, as well: even though Atlus did a marvelous job with localization and publishing, Solange’s extremely revealing armor probably didn’t excite game shops to put it front and center on the shelves, and the digital only release in the UK and Australia meant an even more difficult market for whom to pitch. Nevertheless, the game was able to get a bit more traction when it went over to Steam for a port, but the problem was it was basically a port with some added APIs to keep it functional on Steam. Some things worked better here (online battling, for example) but others, like the English voice acting (which was pretty decent) got left behind. Ultimately, the graphics were upscaled versions from the 3DS, leaving plenty of people a bit miffed and resulting in relatively low scores on Steam.
Code of Princess EX addresses several big issues and adds in some great bonus detail. For one, the graphics are certainly better: while far from crystal clear art to rival Ys, the character sprites look significantly better in combat and on the playing field, though arguably still a bit rough around the edges. If I had to venture a guess, the decision to keep the polygons rough was probably due, in part, to the heavy amount of on-screen animation and separate AI all acting at the same time, sometimes close to ten different characters at once. Performance versus presentation, a decision I heartily endorse. Nicalis also made several big changes behind the scenes, making the game flawless with the frame rate and playback; I experienced zero issues throughout the several hours I invested in the game. Gone are individual stat allocations, replaced with an automatic stat upgrade per level, along with non playing party members getting a 50% chunk of the EXP of battles they didn’t participate in. Lastly, you aren’t limited to the four characters you meet first for campaign battles: everyone from Solange herself all the way down to Master T can be selected and played to your heart’s content. This is one of those great overhauls where new players won’t know what changed because of the seamless integration, but veterans will see and appreciate the decisions made for the Switch port.
The main gameplay of Code of Princess EX is a three lane, beat-em-up brawler with a bit of magic and RPG customization built-in. Choose from your arsenal of picked up equipment before you head into battle to outfit whichever hero you like best in the strongest gear for their style. Zozo the necromancer might choose a stronger focus on mind and vitality, while Solange can just dump into attack and brutalize everyone. You can hang out in your one lane and wait for enemies to come to you, or you can leap from rail to rail, engaging like the avenging angel you are. All the combos for your standard and strong attacks are listed in the pause menu, so you can figure out the right way to handle yourself in seconds. If you get surrounded, a limited number of “burst” maneuvers will give you some breathing space and temporarily strengthen you, giving a window of mayhem that could turn the tide entirely. And, naturally, you’re racing against the clock each level, so be sure to compete and make the most out of your expert swordsmanship.
What’s excellent about Code of Princess is that it wants you to get better at the game without needing to learn a whole slew of new techniques and styles over and over again. What you see in the pause menu – the thing since the game first started – are all you can do forever. Sure, each character has a different approach to things (Ali can get some sick combos going, but forfeits reach for speed), but you basically work out, early on, that the key to this game is similar to the key to many great fighting games. Eliminate the grunts the best you can and get good at combos and juggling. There is such a great variation in enemy attack patterns and techniques that you never end up just simply mashing a button and calling it a day (at least, not after the first couple levels). You have so much to account for: enemies appearing from different sides; wizardly characters with wicked range attacks; trolls that dive between lanes to create confusion; and the fact that some enemies just refuse to die, playing dead for a while before getting up and attacking your exposed backside. Each level is ranked by difficulty stars, and, after you hit three stars, you stop worrying about speed completion and start focusing on simply surviving the fight. You even consider going back to the previous levels and grinding to get your stats higher because there might be a small point advantage that can tip the scales. Or, if you’re like me, you decide to invest in the last big trick up the EX edition’s sleeve: co-op campaigning.
Holy crap, do I love co-op mode for Code of Princess EX. There’s always been the option to see two players flood the screen in Free Play and the Bonus Stages (side scenarios that unlock different achievements and equipment), but adding a second player to the campaign mode is a game changer. Now, it was difficult to do two players on the 3DS because, well, you needed a friend with their own system, and, again, the original handheld was sometimes a bit choppy. Two players on the big screen is a fluid, gorgeous affair, and it really gives you a chance to combo up and see what a double-edged beatdown can look like. Having a secondary player either take Allegro or Zozo makes for a real sword-and-sorcery scenario, and it’s brutally effective, even at higher levels. Now, this by no means makes the game easy: Studio SaiZenSen was never going to lower the bar that far. But having the option to have a second person at least draw fire and give you a chance to breathe. Additionally, it gives you a chance to really see how you fair with other characters. By default, many people will want to stick with the one character that they love the best, and this stunts your growth. But with the buffer of another player helping to keep you alive, you’ll be more willing to challenge your freeplay practice in the real campaign.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how positively exciting and hilarious it is to do the freeplay mode settings, simply because of the variety the game offers herein. When you decide to replay certain missions in freeplay, you don’t just get a chance to rock out as any hero: you can play as almost ANY character you’ve encountered, from big bosses like Semble and Emble to lesser baddies like skeletons. You can even go through some things as Eluda, the sassy barkeep that you run into early on, and there’s nothing like watching her go toe to toe with armored knights and just slap the living hell out of them to victory. This is one of those moments where, if you love the game as it stands, you completely lose your mind mixing and matching fun scenarios, making the villains the heroes and just rampaging till you’re fit to burst. Each match often takes only a couple of minutes, so it’s not like you have to invest a ton of time into things. But you might want to grind around a bit so that, when the game officially launches, you can take your customized character online for brawls against others.
I would have liked to say something about the online capabilities for Code of Princess EX, but that’s the problem with review codes: you can never predict when other people will be available, and, after several times at different date intervals, I had no luck. Let’s just agree that this game needs to deliver some great online fun for players, because skillful matches on the Switch could mean even bigger hype for Nicalis’ big, multi-character titles coming soon (Blade Strangers and Crystal Crisis). Still, the thought of being able to fight against other people as a fully buffed Eluda is enough to get my vote, so I’ll be seeing some of you online real soon.
All in all, Nicalis has taken an already fantastic game and finally killed the bugs and oddities that kept it from greatness. Sure, maybe the graphics could have been a little smoother, and maybe some people are begging for English voicework (not I), but those are paltry in comparison to what’s been incorporated. Balancing, fixing, improving and rebuilding this game to what it can really and truly be. Code of Princess may not be the longest in terms of story, but it’s an engaging one, well acted and sprinkled with memorable characters, hilarious moments and plenty of interesting reveals. And yes, there are anime boobs throughout, but after living through Gal*Gun2 I think the bar is set too high for Code of Princess EX to really shock or dismay anyone. The combat, the equipment system, the co-op campaign and (hopefully) the online play all add up to some exciting potential for this great lane brawler. Don’t miss this a second time: the Princess is absolutely in this castle.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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