Publisher: Atlus USA
Release Date: 05/21/2009
Ah, Climax. It’s a bit sad when your best contribution to gaming was helping Sonic Software Planning aka Camelot create Shining in the Darkness. Of course that’s not saying that Climax hasn’t made a few good games over the years. I enjoyed Dark Saviour for what it was and Landstalker was a fun game. I own Time Stalkers but I have yet to actually play it. Over the past decade though, Climax has been mostly silent. When they’ve actually released a product it’s been mediocre at best. Which of course brings us to Steal Princess. On one hand, I generally dislike platformers. On the other? Steal Princess appeared to be that magic mix of puzzle and platformer that made me love The Adventures of Lolo when I was a lad, so I decided to give this latest Climax game a try.
So has Atlus USA brought a hidden gem to our fair shores, or does Steal Princess continue Climax’s “decade of suck” streak?
Anise is your one eyed thief with horrible bangs, Anise. You know, like the spice. Anise is a master thief, even though she has one eye and thus no depth perception which makes her chosen profession exceptionally hard to take seriously, but hey, it’s a video game – let’s suspend that disbelief. One day Anise tries to break into the Demon’s Tower on Talis Island, but she fails and nearly drowns. When she recovers, she finds she has been saved by Kukiri, a fairy and one-time sidekick to the Legendary Fairy, Kukiri proclaims Anise the new Legendary Hero and that she is destined to save the world. Of course, she could always say that she’s not really the legendary hero and admit she’s actually the lehgendary thief Anise, who will then be put in jail forever for her litany of crimes. Of course, King Sigmund knows both Anises are one and the same, but through passive aggression and blackmail, he manages to get Anise to take the job of saving the world from the Three Barons of Hell and the Demon King’s would-be replacement.
The overall plot is fairly generic and most of the story is really bad localized banter between Anise and Kukri. Wow, is the translation awful. I mean, the script is just horrible. The language is wooden, flows poorly and there’s not a single likeable character in the game because of this. There is lots of repetition and stilted dialogue ensuring that only the most forgiving gamer will find the story aspects of the game rewarding. I found myself rolling my eyes at most of this and eventually just glancing at the words briefly to see if there was finally plot progression instead of boring filler text.
Steal Princess‘s story and writing reminded me of a poorly translated game from the 16-bit era rather than something modern. That’s…not good.
Story Rating: Poor
This is NOT a pretty game. More to the point, this is a pretty ugly game. The best looking aspect of Steal Princess are the static portraits that each character gets. Even then, character designs are not that impressive. In several cases, such as your three Barons and even the main character, their designs are underwhelming at best.
A great example of how bad the graphics are comes with the intro music piece and corresponding animated video. The graphics are so bad that when there is writing in the video, you can’t ready because it’s that blurred on the DS’ top screen. What the hell? That’s pretty bad.
In game graphics are awful. Remember how I said the game’s plot reminded me of a 16-bit era game? Well, I can honestly say I’ve seen better 16 and even 8 bit video games. The backgrounds are uninspired and dull. Monsters are poorly rendered and rather ugly. Weapons and items have a small coloured aura around them, although sometimes auras are very close in colour, such as one time where I had two different green aura to deal with. It gets even worse with the annoying twinkling blob that is Kukri on the screen that sometimes blocks your visuals and the glowing whips that hover in the air on some levels (For you to whip and drag Anise up to another level) are equally as poorly done.
This is one of the ugliest games I have ever seen on the DS. Everything here looks rushed, blurry, poorly rendered, incredibly jaggie, and ultimately sloppy. This is a really ugly game in every respect possible. It’s just lucky the few animated bits in the game and portraits are merely below average instead of, “Holy crap, the NES and Sega Master System had better looking titles than this and with weaker hardware.” Good god Climax, what happened?
Graphics Rating: Dreadful
The only thing enjoyable about Steal Princess is the soundtrack. The opening musical number is really catchy and a lot of fun to listen to. The rest of the music has a great temp and fits the theme of the game nicely. It’s just too bad that’s the only fun thing in the game.
There is no voice acting in the game, much like a lot of DS titles. Sound effects are generic and very repetitive. However, each level is so short (under three minutes) that you won’t ever become annoyed by them. Just don’t go looking for anything interesting or impressive here and you’ll be fine.
The music is really nice, and if only Climax had been able to make a game that was at that level of quality throughout, we’d be talking about a good game instead of one best left on shelves or burned in mass quantities.
Sound Rating: Above Average
4. Control and Gameplay
Here is where everything falls apart for every reason you can imagine. Each level involves you having to clear the screen of either specific enemies, one enemy (These are usually bosses) or the like. Once you have accomplished your goal, you get a key, which you take to a key block. This unlocks the gate. You go through the gate and the level is done. Depending on your time, you get one of three medals. Hurrah. Repeat over and over again until done. As I mentioned in the preamble, Steal Princess is trying to recreate the magic of The Adventures of Lolo. However the game is so broken in nearly every way possible that it manages to give the entire puzzle platformer hybrid a black eye that it will only recover from when this game is long forgotten in the annals of history.
Let’s talk controls first. All three are awful and mostly unresponsive. I tried this game on both a DS and a DS Lite to see if my big DS was just having problems. Nope, it’s just this game is that badly designed. I’ll warn you right now to not even bother with the stylus heavy controls, as they are sluggish and there is noticeable lag. For a touch screen game, this is inexcusable. However, the pure D-Pad and button controls are only a bit better. There are many times when I pressed to whip up at a higher level whisp and Anise instead chose to whip down. This is with using the target selector button as well. When a games controls are so bad that pressing up equals down and pressing down equals down, you have to wonder how this managed to get by quality control.
Steering and aiming Anise is liking driving a semi. The is slow to respond and the game sometimes lags, which leads you to falling, not jumping properly or death. Considering this is a game that rewards you on your overall time for each level, constantly having a second or two of lag or unresponsive behaviour is again, utterly unacceptable.
It gets even worse when you try to pick up weapons or items on the screen. God forbid you have two items close to each other. The same button for picking up is the same button for putting down. Often times you’ll be picking up the wrong item and then having to put it down, then trying to pick up the right item only to pick up the one you previously held. The only way around this is to put something down far away from any other item. It has this same issue with gems, of which you can carry as many as you want. So many times my character PUT DOWN A GEM instead of keeping it and picking up the weapon or bomb or what have you? What? WHY? Why is this even an option. When would you EVER put down a gem? Yet another horrible design flaw in a consistently horrible game.
Then there is the most frustrating part of the game. Every time you pick up an item, you have an animation of your character picking up the item. The clock is still running. Now if this was just a millisecond animation, I’d be fine with that, but holy hell, the animation for entering the key into the key block? I took a stop watch and that goes between four and six seconds. FOUR AND SIX SECONDS in a game where you are being timed for speed and yet you can’t move or do anything at all? Why would someone put this in a game? Many times, this horrible animation issue is what stands in-between you and your gold medal. Factor in sometimes Anise will simply move awkwardly or fall off the edge of a cliff even though you are steering her away from it and you’ll pretty much want to pulverize the entire dev team for making such awful choices in regards to gameplay.
There is nothing positive that can be said about this aspect of Steal Princess except that it is playable. There are no game crashing bugs or control issues that are so serious you can’t pass a level. Still, this is one of the worst games I have ever played on the DS. It’s not Bubble Bobble Revelations bad, but it’s still is a game that has no redeeming gameplay values whatsoever. Just download Lolo from the Virtual Console and call it a day.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Dreadful
There are a ton of levels to Steal Princess. IN fact, there are too many. You will find yourself bored senseless with the game after the first section of the game. Grasslands contains a whopping 25 puzzles, all of which are boring, easy and monotonous. The rest of the game isn’t much better and everything is exceptionally linear, unless you want to go back and replay a level you’ve already beaten for more gems and a better time.
You can unlock bonus levels to play through by beating bosses, entering passwords and paying off your debt, but these too are pretty boring and mundane. You can make your own levels to swap with friends, but it takes forever to get any interesting pieces and there’s only so much you can do with Kobolds and the minimal pieces you start off with. By the time you have money or items unlocked to make an interesting level, you will be so bored with/sick of this game, you won’t even bother to try.
There IS a lot to encounter in Steal Princess and making items is a neat idea. It’s just too bad the game is so awful that only the insane or OCD-ridden will bother picking up this game to progress through the optional aspects of the game. Hell, most gamers will put this down long before they reach the second encounter with Lucretia. It’s that bad.
Replayability Rating: Poor
What’s really odd is that for all the awful problems with the controls in Steal Princess. This game is laughably easily. The only times you will ever has problems beating the level is due to either awful control issues and trying to get Anise to the goal in spite of them, the rare issue trying to make out an item’s aura, using an item for the first time as you get used to how they operate, or the game just choosing to aim in the different direction from where you press. Note these are all GAMEPLAY issue. There are no hard puzzles, no fiendish opponent AI, nor is there any thing that ever requires you to think beyond the most basic and obvious logic for beginners brain functions. When a game has god awful gameplay and it still lacks any semblance of a challenge, even on EX levels or in boss fights, you know you’ve got yourself one hell of a dud on your hands.
I honestly can’t imagine anyone finding this game hard, save for control issues. Because the game is suck a cakewalk and there are so many repetitive, boring, and uninspired levels, Steal Princess becomes in exercise in seeing how long you can deal with boredom incarnate before walking away.
Balance Rating: Bad
It’s nice to see Climax tried something new here. The plot is pretty cliche and the characters are all generic, but the overall flow of level designs with different monsters, weapons and the ability to make your own puzzles was a fun idea. It’s just too bad it didn’t translate very well into the finished product. With a little more variety, such as doubling the locations but halving the levels, and making the levels more than, “Jump, kill, key, yay!” would have really helped this title.
The Map Maker flows pretty well and it’s quite easy to make your own designs (as well as being more fun than the main game), but in the end, we have a generic game and if you’re in need of a quality puzzle meets killing things game, you might as well go pick up the first Puzzle Quest instead.
Originality Rating: Mediocre
One of my big problems with Steal Princess was that the amount of levels per each section was way too much. Let’s take the very first section of the game, called Grasslands. Grasslands has a whopping twenty-five puzzles. All with the same background, monsters, and nearly always the game goal. At first it appeared that there was only six levels. I was fine with that. Six is a good number per section. Four to eight is about the right range to keep from monotony and boredom. Then the number went up to twelve. I was fine with that, but started to glaze over at the repetition. Then it went to eighteen and I honestly found myself wondering if Climax had honestly assumed quantity over quality was the right approach. Then went I unlocked 19-24, my reaction was basically, “They are going to be lucky if people bother with the game past Grasslands.” God knows I didn’t want to and I’ve reviewed far worse games this year. Steal Princess is just that boring.
With a complete lack of creativity to level designs, awful graphics, a lack of any real challenge and simply terrible controls, Steal Princess is more a game for the masochist in you. Hey, if you like monotony and doing the same thing over and over again, this is right up your alley. Me? I need a little variety and challenge to stay interested in a title.
Addictiveness Rating: Bad
9. Appeal Factor
One of the more bonehead moves Atlus USA has been doing is charging five dollars above the MSRP for each of their DS games. Why? Who knows? It’s certainly insane to expect the average gamer to pay more money for a broken and badly designed game than for a quality puzzle or platformer title on the DS. Still, if people are willing to part with $35 for a decidedly below average title, that’s their money lost; not mine. Besides, every game is someone’s favourite and even the best games have their detractors.
For the most part, when a game boasts poor controls and still manages to be decidedly easy, that’s a huge turn off to most gamers. With the poor graphics, horrible translation and lack of any real marketing for this title, Steal Princess is likely only to be played by reviewers or diehard Atlus fans who pick up every title the publisher releases.
Puzzle hybrids have proven to be popular on many occasions. Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, Puzzle Quest, and The Adventures of Lolo are all great examples. However, those games managed to do everything right where Steal Princess manages only to do wrong. I can’t see anyone loving this game, but I can certainly see a few people enjoying the Map Maker option or who have a high tolerance for monotony making it through this and enjoying it for what it is.
Appeal Factor: Bad
With a price tag at $35, you have to expect either some nice extras or an amazing game well worth the extra cash. Alas, there are no extras with Steal Princess and the game is pretty awful in nearly all regards, so Atlus’ current pricing program is a big middle finger to gamers everywhere. I really wanted to like this game, but there was nothing here TO like. Steal Princess is ugly, overpriced, poorly designed, far too easy for any challenge at all, and the story is laughable. There is no reason to even consider getting this game as it’s a great example of how a game can do everything wrong and yet still make it to store shelves. As much as we reviewers pick on Wii shovelware that is usually budget priced, it’s interesting that no one picks on the shovelware for other systems like this. Well here you go. The first shot is fired. Bang.
Miscellaneous Rating: Worthless
Sound: Above Average
Control and Gameplay: Dreadful
Appeal Factor: Bad
FINAL SCORE: PRETTY POOR GAME!
Short Attention Span Summary
Steal Princess is one of those games that is going to have trouble finding an audience. Its first strike comes from the awkward control scheme that tends to do the opposite of what you press. The second strike comes from the fact that despite the poor gameplay, the game manages to be so easy that you will never once be challenged by all of the levels in the game. The final swing and miss comes from the fact that levels are repetitive and monotonous. Twenty-five levels in a row of practically the same thing is never a good way to keep one’s attention. The awful translation and almost 8-bit level graphics are just maggots on this rotting, festering cake. At least the soundtrack is catchy.