Code of Princess EX Review

Developed by Studio Saizensen
Published by Nicalis
Reviewed on Switch (other versions available on Steam and 3DS)

The original Code of Princess is a 2D beat em up game that Atlus USA released on the 3DS in 2012.The game bears strong similarities to Treasure’s cult classic Guardian Heroes, which is not surprising as developer Studio Saizensen is comprised of former Treasure staff members. Code of Princess was eventually ported to PC via Degica Games with upscaled visuals. Courtesy of Nicalis, it has been ported to the Switch as Code of Princess EX with enhanced visuals and the notable addition of local co-op play.

While beat em ups aren’t particularly known for having strong storylines or fleshed out characters, EX takes a page from Guardian Heroes with its colorful cast of characters and storytelling that blends slapstick comedy with drama. The game’s heroine is Solange, an immodestly dressed princess who’s tasked with protecting a family heirloom, Sacred Blade DeLuxcalibur. After her home is ransacked by monsters set loose by an opposing army, Solange is forced to flee with the sword and befriends quirky individuals including a thief, a bard, a blind samurai, and even a necromancer made up of human remains. With such a strange cast, designed by Kinu Nishimura (Capcom vs SNK 2, Zero Escape series), there’s a lot of humor and quirky interactions. Solange’s risque outfit is often poked fun of and the villains are campy and comically absurd.

The game play itself is reminiscent of the aforementioned Guardian Heroes. Your character is unable to freely move vertically across the battlefield, but is instead limited to movement on 2D lanes. You can switch between background, center, and foreground lanes, which adds a bit of unique complexity. There are standard attacks, a lock on attack that targets a specific enemy, powerful special moves that consume your magic meter, and a burst mode that puts characters in a temporary powered up state. Character movement, particularly for Solange, is a bit sluggish. It’s fortunate you’re able to switch to quicker characters like Ali, but overall the game initially moves at a slower pace. As with most games in the genre, the game can feel a bit repetitive, so it’s best played in short spurts. Each of the main playable characters have unique attacks and magical abilities, adding much needed variety to the gameplay.

A majority of the 50 plus stages are short, simplistic affairs where you fight through generic mobs before fighting a boss. Most can be completed within a few minutes. There are also side quests where you replay stages but with different objectives. There’s also a free play mode that bypasses the story sequences. Like its predecessor, EX also has some light RPG elements. Each character gains experience and and points in stats such as strength, defense, etc. They can also equip weapons and armor that increases stats and add attributes such as faster MP regeneration. Unfortunately, EX is one of those games where you can’t actually see the equipped items on the characters.

Compared to the original 3DS version, EX delivers much smoother gameplay. The original game often suffered from slow down and a choppy framerate while EX performs at a much more stable framerate. Other changes include additional playable characters in the campaign mode, rebalanced boss AI, improved background details, and inactive party members now gain 50% experience points. All versions offer online co-op, but EX adds local co-op that works well with individual joy cons. There’s also a chaotic player vs player mode for up to four players online. The netplay works fairly well, but unfortunately the online population is very barren. Another issue with the game is its pricing. It’s currently available for $40 on the eShop. That’s rather steep considering the original Code of Princess is only $14.99 on Steam, although that version lacks the gameplay/visual refinements and doesn’t have a local co-op mode. The EX physical edition does come with a full color manual and a soundtrack CD, however.

Visually, the game has been upscaled from the 3DS’ native 240p resolution to full HD with redrawn character sprites and improved background textures. The 2D sprites are well animated, but appear slightly grainy when zoomed in when playing in docked mode. Every character has a 3D rendered look as they were originally polygonal models converted into 2D sprites. The polygonal backgrounds are mostly simple and add little to the atmosphere. Where the game shines are the expressive event portraits and unique character designs. Sadly, it’s missing the entertaining English dub produced by Atlus for the 3DS version. Instead, the game uses the original Japanese dub. It works well considering the anime inspired character hi-jinks. The repetitive use of voice clips for certain characters can be a bit annoying after a while with no option to turn them off, unfortunately. The music ranges from serviceable to forgettable background noise. 

Overall, Code of Princess EX is an entertaining 2D beat em up that doesn’t quite live up to its spiritual predecessor, but is still an enjoyable co-op experience with tons of unlockable characters. Almost every enemy character you encounter can be unlocked for use in free play, but most have limited move sets and are only worth trying once. Still, the sheer number of characters combined with local co-op gives the game a lot of replay value. This is easily the best version of Code of Princess and Nicalis should be commended for improving the game. The core characters are more memorable than the gameplay itself, so hopefully there’ll be a sequel with faster, more engaging gameplay and better level design.  Several Code of Princess characters will appear in the upcoming Blade Strangers fighting game, also developed by Studio Saizensen.