When Guardian Heroes hit the market in 1996, the gaming world shook. Never before had the genre seen such a detailed mix of beat’ em up action and RPG elements. It drew in crowds that weren’t even fans of beat ‘em ups like Double Dragon that came years before it — that’s how much power it had.
Fast forward to 2012 — a number of developers who worked on Guardian Heroes are now poised to release Code of Princess, a press-dubbed “spiritual sucessor” to Guardian Heroes. As is the case with anything that has to live up to a ton of hype and legacy, this really could have gone either way for them. Fortunately for fans, I’m pleased to say that you won’t be disappointed.
Bottom line: if you like beat ‘em ups with a solid side of quirk, Code of Princess is a must have, despite some niggling issues.
Code of Princess lets you know that it’s an unabashed anime experience right off the bat — from the anime-centric japanese vocal intro, to the quirkly (fully voiced!!!) dialogue. Although there is a fairly haphazardly serious story against the backdrop of silliness, the comedic oriented dialogue pokes a hole right through it.
If you don’t enjoy insane characters and plotlines like those featured in the Disgaea series, odds are you will not enjoy the entire mood of the game — thankfully, I’m totally into that scene. I just hope you are, because you’d be missing out on a pretty awesome game.
As previously mentioned, CoP is a beat ‘em up through and through, but it has an entire RPG system augmented on top of it. Each character has their own style, weapon, and moveset to unleash on enemies, complete with blocks, overdrive/magic moves, and the ability to move between three horizontal planes.
On the RPG front, you can customize your character’s stats after every level-up, and equip items that you find along the way. There are tons of items to be found and the level/stat limit is through the roof, so you could literally spend over a hundred hours perfecting and grinding up everything.
Speaking of grinding, you will have to do some of it unfortunately to progress with the story. The game’s story mode is mostly beatable on your own merits, barring the occasional instance where you’ll have to go back and replay a few missions before you can muster up the power to conquer it. It’s not absolutely unheard of in the genre (Castle Crashers comes to mind) — it’s just something you should be aware of.
Outside of grinding, there is another drawback: frame-rate issues. If there are a handful of enemies on the screen (as there often are in non-boss battles), things can slow down to a near crawl. I have no idea if this is due to the limitations of the 3DS or the game itself — but it does happen, and it can effect your inputs. Thankfully, the more you clear out enemies the more it eases up, but it’s still an evident issue that unfortunately detracts from an otherwise pleasant visual experience.
Another issue I have is that it’s just so damn hard to see everything, sans combating the frame-rate issues. Even with a 3DS XL, I was hard press to properly see the action if my character was dropped into the background — more often than not, I opted for the forefront planes instead just for this reason.
For the game’s story mode, you’ll have at it through a fairly lengthy campaign with four selectable characters, which you can switch to and from at your leisure. Should you choose to continue past the story however, you’ll find the real meat of the game.
This isn’t an overstatement: there’s much more content here to play around with than just about any beat ‘em up to date — and no, none of it is DLC — it’s all included (phew!). Not only can you tackle individual story missions at your own leisure, but you can also embark upon special bonus missions, and a fully-featured coop and versus mode.
Oh, and you’re going to spend a long time leveling up and unlocking all of the special characters in the game. Like, I’m talking over 50 characters here — even small, minor, miniscule peon enemies are playable.
With a myriad of options, characters, levels, and level-ups to be experienced, it’s hard to argue against Code of Princess if you’re a fan of beat ‘em ups. Although I have a number of issues with the mechanics of the game itself (the frame rate and field of view), if you’re a fan of the genre and have a 3DS, pick this up before it’s considered a rare hard to find classic.
This review is based on a physical copy of Code of Princess for the Nintendo 3DS. This particular game was tested with a 3DS XL.
If Code of Princess sounds interesting to you, Guardian Heroes is also available on XBLA.