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While the west has enjoyed a 2D renaissance with beat-'em-ups, platformers and Metroidvania games booming on WiiWare, the Japanese never really left the flat dimension. Recent highs include overlooked slasher Muramasa and the charming Cave Story.
Code Of Princess builds on this heritage, piling on so much content it's a mystery how developers Agatsuma contained it all without creating a new dimension. Primarily a fightin' man's RPG that wears its number-crunching on its sleeve, it entices action-lovers with whip-fast combat, four-player co-op, massive swords and metal-bikini-clad ladies standing with their feet oddly turned inward.
It's not the first time a beat-'em-up has been bolted to RPG customisation (take Treasure's Guardian Heroes, for instance), but Code Of Princess stands apart for several reasons. The art style, for instance, is as sharp as it is brimming with personality, hand-drawn characters moving with grace and fluidity against 3D levels.
These layered backdrops are cruder than the characters but bring a crucial depth, and play to the main draw of the 3DS. Sounds gimmicky? It isn't. Jumping between the three layers allows you to manoeuvre and evade, making this a beauty in motion.
And it keeps the pace despite the mayhem of multiplayer; the four characters have their own skills and personalities. Tricky Ali can deal quick hits with agile moves; Solange, with her special 'code' (hence the title) gets straight to the point with a sacred sword; Lady Zozo peppers magic from a distance; and Allegro is an all-rounder, even using music-based attacks. The hectic blend of styles is sure to satisfy in co-op, and the AI handles your buddies in solo play.
You might not even need friends if you're up for a little grinding. Code Of Princess has a pale, spotty, nerdy side filled with character buffing and skill boosting. During its levels you earn experience, which you can invest in new weapons, shields, accessories, helmets and gloves. So far, so generic.
The juicy parts come with the sheer depth of customisation and the vast amount of variables. Returning to early levels decked out in endgame gear to laugh in the face of previously formidable bosses is a joy, and one that will be virtually unrivalled on the 3DS. If only we could get a western release date confirmed