You can't have your cake and eat it with free-to-play. The model's non-existent entry fee tends to pave the way for intrusive money making schemes, and in Fat Princess: Piece of Cake, it actually spoils what could be a mighty fine slice of iced sponge. Similar in concept to GungHo's uber-popular Puzzle & Dragons, this regal spin-off mixes match-three action with light role-playing mechanics, resulting in a trifle-like hodgepodge of tactics and accessible arcade entertainment.
Unfortunately, the stamina system causes this promising looking triple layer to come crashing down. As with so many other titles of its ilk, you'll have six lives at first. Regardless of whether you live or die, you'll use up one of these each time that you attempt a level, and it'll take 20 minutes for another to recharge. Should you run out of tries, you'll need to either put the game down and wait for your stock to replenish, or buy some more with gold coins. You can guess where this is going.
This would be fine if you didn't need access to the crown jewels to be able to pay the package's ransom. It'll cost you £0.59/$0.99 for eight gold coins, which will score you a grand total of four retries – but you'll need to pay up to £15.49/$24.99 to turn off the obtrusive system entirely. This seems steep for what the game actually is, and while you can earn additional coins via end-of-level slot machines, you'll need to gamble with the few that you actually have in order to do so.
It's these issues that will eventually result in you revolting against the game, which is a shame, because what developer One Loop has actually produced is great. Gems represent different heroes, which when matched will carry out unique attacks. There are four character classes each based upon the villager hats from the PlayStation 3 game, with the worker, for example, wielding bombs and the priest acting as a healer. You'll need to use these abilities carefully to off enemy assaults.
The goal of each level is to guide the titular princess to the throne at the end of the stage, and she can join in on the action if you feed her enough cake. Her body flops are extremely powerful, so you'll need to make sure that you keep her sweet with sugary treats, while also ensuring that your villagers are performing a steady string of attacks, too. This is where cascade combos come in, with matches of four or more resulting in the creation of super gems, which help clear out the grid.
You will lose villagers as you progress, so you can either deploy medical kits – which, again, can be purchased using gold coins – to resurrect your weary heroes, or simply bank on matching enough plain gems to bring them back to life. Occasionally you'll need to bust through gates or bump off bosses in order to progress, and you'll have to ensure that you're matching gems within designated boundaries in order to do this. Other objectives include clearing specific columns to crush towers.
There's quite a lot to the game, then, and that's before you even take into account the basic levelling system which sees your crew improve as you progress. You'll collect diamonds as you play which can be spent on villager upgrades, and these enhance each character's health and attacks. Of course, you can pod out gold coins should you want the quick route to success, and you can even purchase permanent boosters which will significantly increase your strength or health.
While these are not really necessary, though, the pricing is still double where it should be. We understand that the developer needs to make a crust, but we found the fees a bit of a deterrent during our time with the release. Kicking back a couple of quid here or there like in No Heroes Allowed: No Puzzles Either! wouldn't have really bothered us, but you'd need to pay a whopping £2.99/$4.99 for just one of the boosters mentioned above. That's far too much.
The presentation is at least fit for a king, with ceremonial melodies from the series' mainline entries. There's a nicely animated map which depicts your journey through all 55 of the title's primary levels, while the core puzzle screen includes a small window in which you can watch your villagers attack. There is a little bit of slowdown when you match a lot of gems in one move, but seeing as the game doesn't demand quick reactions, this is a fairly easy oversight to forgive.
Fat Princess: Piece of Cake should have been a tasty little time filler, but it's saddled with a sickly stamina system and a repugnant pricing model that only a royal could reasonably afford. There's an enjoyable little puzzle game here, which makes its missteps all the more maddening. As an hors d'oeuvre for the forthcoming Fat Princess Adventures, though, it's all a little unsavoury.