Code of Princess EX is an updated Nintendo Switch port of the original Nintendo 3DS game, which was a side-scrolling beat-em-up featuring hack-and-slash gameplay, RPG progression, and colorful anime characters. The changes to the new version are minimal, and the shallow combat wears thin over time, but newcomers and fans of anime brawlers may still appreciate the action-packed core gameplay.
The story follows Solange, a princess clearly underdressed for battle, on her quest to save her kingdom from monsters. She joins forces with a merry band of travelers, including a master thief named Ali, a zombified necromancer, and a guitar-wielding sage who seems to know he’s in a video game. Code of Princess doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is refreshing, considering its clichéd plot. I grew to adore the likable cast and their quippy dialogue, especially when they poked fun at Solange’s insane wardrobe choices.
It’s a shame the English voices were removed from this port, but the Japanese voice acting still sells characters' quirky personalities. The background music was also a highlight, with energetic feudal tunes by two of Xenoblade Chronicles’ composers. The visual presentation is overall improved in the EX version, and the colorful backgrounds and anime cutscenes look great in HD. The characters are a bit fuzzy, but I appreciated their fluid animation, which when combined with the fast and consistent frame rate, ensures smooth and responsive action.
Gameplay is the same throughout the entire campaign. As Solange or any of her teammates, you enter a stage, wreck every enemy, occasionally defeat harder bosses, and move on to the next area. It’s a standard brawler revolving around constant combat, whether by flinging your sword wildly, firing ranged magical skills, or utilizing combos to juggle enemies. There is RPG-like progression in the form of level-ups. I didn’t have to grind much, thanks to minor changes to the Switch port. Your entire party now gains experience regardless who battles. Another change that simplifies progression is that you can no longer distribute individual stats upon level-up. Thankfully, you can purchase equipment to customize loadouts, which sufficiently scratches that RPG itch.
A few elements help Code of Princess EX’s combat stand out. First are the Lock-on and Burst systems. By using a specific move, you can Lock-on to an enemy, which displays its current HP and also guarantees that your ranged attacks hit. More importantly, it allows you to deal that foe double damage. It works well with the Burst mode, which also doubles your power, along with stunning foes and granting unlimited skill use. The drawbacks are that Burst mode only lasts a limited time and has a sparse three uses throughout a single battle.
Stacking Lock-on and Burst mode makes any character a powerhouse, and this strategy led to nearly all my victories. Seriously, it can take the full nine minute time limit to kill a tough boss without buffs, but the Lock-on and Burst combo destroys them in seconds. It’s fun to lay waste to enemies, but as battles became harder, wins felt more dependent on timing the three Bursts efficiently as opposed to beat-em 'up skills. Then again, given that some enemies can trap you in continuous attack cycles, I didn’t mind utterly destroying them. Besides, it’s actually less overpowered when compared to the 3DS version where you could toggle Burst off to conserve it.
Another unique mechanic is the rail system. Every area is divided into three rails, or planes of depth – foreground, middle, and background. You can hop between any of the three rails whenever you wish to dodge attacks. However, most enemies have no trouble finding you no matter where you are. Plus, without the 3D capabilities of the 3DS, jumping between planes isn’t as flashy. While I appreciate the concept, it’s not a game changer here. Otherwise, stages are quite dull. Only the backgrounds and minor obstacles differentiate locations.
Returning focus to the characters, their gameplay is as distinct to each other as their personalities. It’s exciting to experiment with their playstyles. Whereas Solange fights slowly but strongly with her heavy sword, Ali speeds through the battlefield with ease. Then there’s the guitar-rocking sage with his electrifying range attacks, the magic-wielding nun, and the martial artist who spams Street Fighter Hadoukens. The main story features eight heroes, but when replaying missions in free play or tackling bonus quests, you can play as over 50 characters, including everyone from enemies to NPCs. The extra content adds significant playtime to the five to six hour campaign, although the additional characters are superfluous. It’s not necessarily feasible to play as a henchman monster, but it sure is funny to beat up weak enemies with kids, senior citizens, and even the local bartender.
Although every character has a different moveset, nearly all of them activate their techniques using the same simple button combos. Unfortunately, the movesets don’t expand, so you’re stuck performing the same several skills over and over. You can change your character for variety, but even that wears thin after a couple dozen missions. Battles start feeling the same over time. Yes, brawlers are known for being repetitive, but it’s the lack of depth here that ultimately hurts the game’s longevity.
Multiplayer offsets some of the lulls, simply because beat-em 'ups are well-suited for co-op. You can play with friends in any of the game modes, including the campaign. However, it can be difficult to get games started. Local play is limited to two players, while online allows for up to four players and even adds a versus mode, but the lobbies are usually empty.
Code of Princess EX is fun in spurts, but is otherwise a mixed bag. I enjoyed the cast’s jabs at the story more than the plot itself. The mechanics are empowering and fun to play out, but lead to a repetitive and predictable gameplay loop. Likewise, the plethora of playable characters is offset by limited movesets. The relatively high price for a port of a 3DS game may not win many fans over either. Ultimately, Code of Princess EX is most tailored to enthusiasts of the beat-em 'up genre and to players seeking a cathartic experience.
I am a lifelong gamer, having grown up with Nintendo since I was young. My passion for gaming led to one of the greatest moments of my life, my video game themed wedding!