One of the games I've been most closely paying attention to in the downloadable space is Fat Princess. The concept, cartoonish design and emphasis on team-based strategy are all things which I have found highly appealing as we've continued to cover the game in the last several months. I've seen it played a few times now, but never had the opportunity to hold the controller in my hands and really see for myself.
Fat Princess is, for those unaware, a team-based action strategy game. Two rival teams of up to sixteen players apiece compete in a variety of different game modes of varying complexity. At its most basic, the game can be played as team deathmatch. Snatch and Grab is similar to capture-the-flag, where the opposing team's princess is on her throne and must be dragged to your dungeon. Invasion involves capturing outposts scattered across the game map and maintaining control of them to drive down enemy morale.
The mode that Titan Studios really seems to be promoting and the one which I had a chance to play is Rescue the Princess. In this type of game, each team already possesses their opponent's princess and has her locked away in their dungeon. The objective is to spring your princess from imprisonment and return her to your throne.
It sounds far easier than it is, to the credit of the surprisingly deep gameplay mechanics. There are six classes available to play and you can swap out your class in the middle of a match just by picking up a hat of the appropriate type. Each time you spawn, you start as a Villager, the fastest class and armed with the ability to slap around an enemy and confuse their movement. The other five classes (Worker, Warrior, Mage, Priest and Archer) all have their own abilities and are very carefully balanced to cancel one another out.
The different classes are all a joy to play in their own special way and all are necessary to build an effective team. Workers are great for gathering resources from the map, while archers make for an excellent defensive perimeter. Priests provide potent healing and protection and Mages can cause enemies in their vicinity to burst into flame for hilarious effect. All types of characters have standard and charged attacks in their repertoire as well.
Every class except for the Villager also has the potential to be upgraded. By collecting resources from the map and using them to make improvements to the machinery in your castle, you unlock new abilities that fundamentally change the way classes work. Archers acquire shotguns which make them extremely dangerous in close range while Warriors trade out their sword and shield for a halberd which does massive damage but leaves them open to attack. Getting the upgrades is essentially like unlocking a whole new class and players can switch between the normal and upgraded modes of each class on the fly with the press of a button.
In addition to improving the classes, other sorts of items can be built. Catapults can be created and used to launch attacks and even players across the map and into the fray. Springy platforms can be placed to bounce players over enemy walls and castle gates can be reinforced and repaired to keep foes at bay.
Teamwork is clearly the most important aspect of Fat Princess. The more players who are participating in a task, be it carrying a princess away or cutting down a tree, the faster it can be accomplished. The strategic implications of having so many class options available combined with the very basic objectives which need to be completed forces teams to consider how they balance out the workload and really effective teams will no doubt be going in with a strategy in mind from the start. Of course, the best laid plans often go awry and the best teams will be able to ditch established tactic and roll with the punches when things don't go quite the way they had in mind.
The game will ship with eight maps available. Each map is perfectly symmetrical and features a number of outposts to capture. Outposts provide a helpful place for workers to drop off resources for the castle and, in some cases, a shortcut back home. There are all sorts of passages around the maps to discover and take advantage of, and its important to learn the spawn locations of cake to keep the princess hard to carry of as well as where trees and ore can be gathered to get castle improvements built quickly.
The problem I can see happening with Fat Princess is getting enough players together to form a good team. AI bots will fill in for human operators, ensuring that no team is ever short-handed. They're capable enough to make up for a good chunk of the team if you can't get a full sixteen people on a side and respond quickly to enemy advances, but they are no substitute for a real person and can be outwitted fairly easily.
This is the only thing which has me even slightly hesitant, however, and only encourages me to preach the gospel of Fat Princess. Honestly, this preview is only scratching the surface of this deep, deep game. I'm highly eager to have the opportunity to play on a team with a dozen other people. We still haven't heard a release date yet but have been told that the game is very close to release as the team is doing some final polish. If the demo level I played is any indication, there isn't going to be much time at all until I'm making sweet, sweet love to my Fat Princess again.