Landstalker may be no more, but Climax Entertainment is back with Steal Princess. The Nintendo DS game shares a similar isometric perspective as Landstalker, but Steal Princess is not Princesstalker. Steal Princess is more like a series of quick puzzles set in one room at a time where the goal is to find a key and open a door. Things like merdogs, spikes, and pits block you from escaping with precious jewels.
Anis starts every level with a whip and an empty item slot. The whip can be used to activate switches and grab monsters, but it can’t kill them. Usually, you need to clear all of the monsters to get the gold exit key. The last monster drops the key for Anis to pick up. Once it’s in your possession you can bring it to the gray locking cube to open the door. The last monster key drop is cleverly used in one stage where Anis starts out with a sword right next her. You can immediately slash the wolf-like creature guarding the lockbox in front of you, but doing this only makes the stage harder to clear. You need to use cannons to shoot Anis over a pit of spikes and into a line of beast creatures. Then you need to use a different cannon to shoot Anis back to the starting point and right into the wolf-creature at the starting point. If you killed the beast earlier the key will appear across a pit of spikes and not conveniently next to the lock.
Being shot from a cannon and crashing into beasts is one way to kill monsters. It’s not the typical way to get the job done in Steal Princess. If you want to slay monsters you need arms, such as a sword, bombs, or a lance. The weapons in Steal Princess are color coded. A red sword can only wound red monsters. A blue lance can only phase blue monsters. A green bomb… well you get the idea. Some weapons also have usage limits too. In one early level Anis needs to hit switches to blow up crates to uncover a ball and chain. When you hold A down Anis swings the chain and prepares to lob the iron ball at a beast. But you need to be careful since the ball can only be thrown once. You need to wait for the patrolling beasts to vertically line up so you can hit both of them with one swing. The other limit is Anis can only hold two items. One slot is taken up by her whip. Climax seemed to design Steal Princess this way to make levels where players search for and swap colored swords to vanquish all of the monsters.
Steal Princess blends platforming into the tiny rooms. Anis needs to nimbly move past vanishing platforms and vault over spikes. Monsters can be helpful here since Anis can pick up a monster with the whip, throw it into the spikes, and use the creature as a makeshift platform. The whip is also used to swing across platforms by latching onto glowing orbs. These sections can be a little tricky since the game attempts to target next orb for you unless you’re controlling the game with the touch screen. You can poke the light orbs manually for easier jumps. However, I’m not keen on playing Steal Princess with the D-pad/stylus combo. With this control scheme you use the L button to jump, walk with the D-pad, and pick up/attack by poking things. The problem is if you miss tapping a spider Anis will drop her weapon.
Each room only takes a couple of minutes to clear and a boss prevents you from progressing to the next area. The first boss is a bat sitting on top of a spinning, spiked ship. You can’t reach the floating ship by jumping alone. Anis has to latch on with the whip and pull herself up. Once you’re riding the platform with the bat you can hit it once with the sword. The bat retaliates by knocking Anis to the ground with a tornado. Back on the ground, the ship shoots purple sparks. You need to dodge these while you wait for another opportunity to climb up with the whip. After a few sword strikes Anis is awarded a heart container and a path to the next area.
All of the elements in Steal Princess are elementary, but Climax did a fantastic job creating levels that made me think and challenge myself to race through them. Depending on your time you can earn a bronze, silver or gold medal. If you want to play Steal Princess like a time attack game you can, but you need to forego picking up precious gems. Skipping the animation where Anis holds a garnet over her head shaves seconds of your time. Gems can be traded for gold which can be used to purchase items for the create-your-own-stage Landmaker feature. When you start Steal Princess you can’t even place monsters in custom stages. All you have is the boring lockbox, exit gate, and two map templates. The level creator is pretty robust, but you can only save six stages on the cartridge. Unfortunately, DS carts don’t have unlimited storage.
Marvelous hasn’t said anything about releasing Steal Princess internationally even though they already confirmed Avalon Code. Steal Princess didn’t look like a difficult game to localize, but after playing it I understand their reluctance. There is a fair amount of text to translate and voice acting to redub. However, if you just don’t care about the story Steal Princess is an easy game to import. You get some puzzle tips from Anis’s fairy friend on the top screen, but most of the levels are intuitive enough where you can figure out everything on your own.
Images courtesy of Marvelous.