Your introduction to Steal Princess will consist of a high-pitched, soulless anime intro. Following this intro will be a long in game cutscene that shows protagonist Anise doing what she does best…stealing.
Just as Anise is about to make her getaway, an alarm goes off and triggers a trap that ultimately knocks her unconscious. When she comes to, she finds herself in the presence of King Sigmund, the ruler of Albyon and the game’s incredibly annoying version of Navi, Kukri.
A deal is struck whereby Anise will be allowed to roam free if she helps rescue the king’s missing son, Prince Oliver. Kukri – who, along with the king, keeps referring to her as the “legendary hero” – will be accompanying her on her quest. The entire farce between Anise and the royalty is actually pretty funny, as all along, both sides pretend that she isn’t a thief and merely happens to share the same name as the infamous thief Anise. The smart-aleck king makes it a point to rub this point in every now and then, which makes for some funny dialogue.
Unfortunately, this is where Steal Princess‘s immediate appeal ends. Things get a little trickier once you start to play the game, which is more of an action/puzzle experience. If you think that sounds like Zelda, don’t.
Zelda consists of adventuring, dungeons and puzzles. Steal Princess consists only of puzzles within smaller maps (the initial ones are about 3 screens long) that aren’t nearly as sophisticated. There isn’t much to hold your attention because, even though the game focuses on puzzle-solving, other games do it better, and offer a much wider variety of puzzles and items to solve them with.
The experience goes something like this: every area is broken up into maps. A short distance away from where you spawn on the map is a locked door. In order to get through the locked door, you need to find the key to it, which could be inside a crate or on one of the enemies on the map or elsewhere.
Every enemy on the map has a weakness to a particular weapon. Weapons that – again – are scattered throughout the map, whether they’re inside a crate or on another enemy. The only weapon Anise has on herself at the start is her whip, which she can use to stun and reel in enemies or activate switches. She can then use these enemies (or wisps triggered by the switches) as stepping stones to reach higher areas which introduces a platforming element to the experience.
By the time you’re done getting rid of the various baddies on the map, you’ll likely have found the key to the exit, which you can use to unlock it. At the end of each map, the game will award you with a gold, silver or bronze medal depending on your completion time.
If the basic experience sounds a little simple, it’s because it initially is. Oh, there is enough variety during later stages (some of which are actually quite fun), but Steal Princess feels so unpolished that it will probably prevent a lot of people from investigating the game farther than a couple areas in.
The controls feel unsatisfying and the touch screen controls aren’t very responsive nor very precise. Sometimes, just getting Anise to face the right way while standing still is a chore. Movement often tends to feel oversensitive and faulty. There’s no no sense of satisfaction whatsoever when you hit an enemy and sometimes, it’s hard to gauge whether you’re about to get hit yourself or not because of the viewpoint.
Steal Princess includes a map editor, which you can use to design and share your own puzzles through Wi-Fi. But again, when the game is so flawed at its core, a map editor doesn’t really help turn things around in its favour. Unfortunately, accessing the map editor requires you to play through a lot of the game in order to earn enough money before you can unlock it, so even if you’re just interested in making your own levels, you won’t be able to for a while.
The game doesn’t look so hot either. Textures are bland and there’s barely any variety across the maps in a single area. Though I very much like Anise’s character design, that’s the only category in which the art in Steal Princess managed to impress me.
The game also feels a little disjointed. Although there is a story as with a lot of Yoshifumi Hashimoto’s games, it it takes a backseat to the puzzle-solving and platforming. In fact, you’ll often find yourself wanting to skip as much of the dialogue as you possibly can because Kukri tends to get very annoying after a while.
Food for thought:
1. Anise seems to have a bad case of hiccups every time she jumps.
2. I would love to see Marvelous (who developed the game along with Climax) give Anise another chance in 2D. That might actually make for a very pleasant Castlevania-esque experience.