It speaks volumes about how saturated the match-three puzzle genre is when even a hefty dose of RPG elements fails to bring anything resembling originality or innovation to a new release. Almost ten years ago games such as Gyromancer and Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords were mixing elements from the two genres, with the added bonus of feeling like they were offering something new back then.
Whereas battles took place behind the scenes in games like the aforementioned, Piece of Cake provides the luxury of being able to watch battles pan out in real time. Our biggest worry prior to playing was that the battle animations would distract, but that’s thankfully not the case. Fat Princess and her band of merry men – formed of an archer, warrior, bomber and priest – pick targets automatically, leaving your eyes to focus on finding matching gems of three or more. It’s a case of business as usual – match three featuring a bomb icon and the bomber (or ‘worker’ to use the correct terminology) will lob an explosive that stuns and harms all enemies on screen. Match four and you’ll get an extra turn while matching five creates an explosive gem.
Fat Princess herself, somewhat predictably, favours cake gems – build up a collection of these and the blonde bloater can be summoned in battle to cause some ‘hefty damage’. That’s when she isn’t busy being captured, at least – some matches start with icons at the top of the screen which then have to work their way down to the bottom, either to free the Princess or to capture a tower.
Creating a cascade of gems to form a chain of attacks is reasonably satisfying and for the first couple of hours Piece of Cake does entertain, slowly drip feeding new ideas and providing power-ups to experiment with. Within the first couple of hours of play there’s also the chance to unlock the original Fat Princess on PlayStation 3, which serves as a nice little incentive to keep playing.
Alas, even early on the reliance on micro-transactions becomes painfully apparent. Diamonds gained during battle are used to upgrade the four characters and the cost of upgrading doubles every time. While saving up diamonds to pay for the next upgrade the foes you face are busy rising up the ranks, becoming constantly tougher while your squad remains uneven.
This becomes a major issue during boss battles, in which the gems that boost health are suspiciously few in number. Health packs then become vital to progress but require gold coins – the in-game currency. Quelle surprise. Gold coins are also used to top up stamina tokens, one of which is required to play a single match. Stamina tokens are easily the biggest enjoyment blocker of all. As soon as the second world we were facing the choice of having to wait twenty minutes between matches or pay up. For the record, we waited. Fat Princess isn’t badly designed – in fact, it does feel thoroughly play tested – but the thought of paying out money just to swing the odds in our favour simply didn’t appeal.
To use a fitting analogy, Fat Princess: Piece of Cake is the gaming equivalent of a packet of Haribo Goldbears. The packaging is both colourful and enticing, but once around halfway through you’re left wanting something with more variety. Like Haribo Starmix. Or in this case, a far less micro-transaction heavy experience.