Fat Princess

Let her eat cake.

The word "unique" gets bandied about a lot these days, so it's hard to stay awake when you hear it coming out of a developer's mouth. Especially when you're jetlagged and you've had no lunch and you've already seen seven videogames today, all of them variations on the popular theme of shoot-the-monster-in-the-face. And especially when the word "unique" is followed by the phrase "combination of gameplay elements you've seen over the past ten to 15 years".

But it's a lot easier to stay awake when the game the developer is talking about revolves around swapping hats, slaying chickens and eating cake. Right then, Craig Leigh, lead designer at Titan Studios - you've got our attention.

"Fat Princess is a tactical action game combining class-based team strategy, resource collection and fast, bloody combat, mixed together in a sandbox environment," he says. "It's like an RTS but every player is a character. There's no commander; you all work as a team to achieve your goals." That might sound complicated, but Fat Princess is designed to be instantly accessible: "It's almost like My First Network Game - just pick up and play."

The game is played from a top-down perspective. There are four modes and eight maps to choose from, plus five classes you can switch between at any time. To do this, all your character has to do is put on a new hat. These are produced by special machines located in your castle base, but you can also pick up hats left lying around or dropped by dead players.

When matches begin you'll start out as a Villager, who can run and transport objects quickly. He (or she - you can choose) can also slap other characters, causing them to drop whatever they're carrying. The Worker harvests resources and can use his axe to attack. Plus he can build siege weapons such as springboards and drawbridges, and is better at damaging structures than any other class.

The Warrior is equipped with a sword, shield and a healthy resistance to injury. The Ranger carries a bow and arrow for long-range combat. The Priest is a healer, and the Mage shoots bolts of lightning at people to set them on fire.

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A Dark Priest strikes - best hang on to your hat.

Resource collection is essential if you want to upgrade the hat machines. They will then produce more powerful hats, making for more powerful characters. So the Worker's upgraded hat enables him throw bombs, while the Warrior gets a huge longsword and the Ranger becomes armed with a shotgun.

Priests become Dark Priests, which means they can drain enemies' health down to the lowest level and make them easy for other characters to finish off. Mages become Ice Mages and can freeze people in blocks of ice. "The Ice Mage is proving very popular in playtests because he provides crowd control," says Leigh. "He's squishy, but he's powerful."

"Squishy" might not be a technical term but you know what it means without having to think too hard - which is an underlying theme of Fat Princess. Even the menu options are self-explanatory, colloquial and a little bit cheeky; instead of picking the multiplayer mode you just choose to "Play with others", while for single-player you opt to "Play with yourself". You don't select the character customisation menu, you pick the "Twiddle your knobs" option.

The game's visuals are also tongue-in-cheek. They're brightly coloured, cartoony and cute, but there's plenty of blood splashing around the screen when characters attempt to chop each other up.

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Princess Diana would have been a lot happier if she'd eaten cake instead of being sick.

"One of the things we really like about the game is the juxtaposition of the art style and the blood," says Leigh. "There is a lot of blood. The game is very cheeky and funny, and it's just meant to be fun, but yes, we have gibs and blood and bombs." The line is drawn at decapitations and drug references, but Fat Princess is still getting a Teen rating in the States.

So where does the princess come in? Well, she features heavily in the mode we're being shown today. "This mode is called Rescue the Princess. The premise is the same as Capture the Flag, but the flag is a princess," says Leigh.

The map chosen to demo the game, Black Forest, shows the red and blue team's castles positioned on opposite sides of a river. At the start of the match each team has a princess in their dungeon. The object is to invade the enemy's base, capture their princess and carry her back to your own castle. The first team to put the enemy princess on their throne and keep her there for 30 seconds wins the game.

When battles begin the princesses aren't fat at all. But you can employ what Leigh's describing as "a cake-based strategy", or what I like to call, "The Battenberg Defence". As you explore the map, you'll find bits of cake growing in the forest. "It's the tastiest cake ever known to man," says Leigh. Carry it to your princess's dungeon and she'll happily chow down, her waistline ballooning in the process. The fatter she is, the harder she is to carry. At full weight it'll take four players to carry her at the same speed it would normally take one.

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