During one such fruitless tug-of-war match, I eventually gave up, put the controller down and went to make tea. Not a cup of tea, mind you, but cooked tea. Dinner, if you want to be posh. I cooked and ate an entire meal, returned to the joypad and the match was still going on. Neither team had made any progress. As games drag on, I've found more and more characters are just left standing motionless, as players clearly drift away to do something else.
Part of the problem seems to be that a lot of players just don't seem that interested in the teamwork that is essential to victory, but it's equally plausible that the game simply offers so many different tasks to perform that it's a Herculean task trying to impose some kind of purpose on a gang of strangers, each seemingly more interested in their own score than the victory conditions of the map.
It's not entirely fair to decry a game for the behaviour of its players, but at some point the design of the game has to become a factor. Titan Studios has boasted that the experience has been designed to be as intuitive as possible, with players able to grasp what needs to be done without overt direction, but judging by the experience since launch, that's not been the case. Unless you happen to have 15 friends online, it's really the luck of the draw whether you end up on a team of mindless idiots or not, and, combined with the limitless lengths of the Princess modes, that can't help but make the multiplayer core of the game feel frustratingly inconsistent. What should be a gleeful battle royale becomes fruitless drudgery.
This is less of an issue in the Team Deathmatch and Invasion modes, since they both have a finite length by design. The former is self-explanatory - you keep killing the enemy until they're all dead - while the latter requires you to control at least half of the outposts on the map to steadily decrease enemy morale to zero. These modes play to the game's inherent chaotic strengths, and mean that even when everyone else is running around like a nutter, you can still at least contribute to victory by doing your own thing.
Even then, combat is complicated by the fact that, with their hats on, everyone looks much the same. Get into a scrum of more than four or five players and everything just becomes a splurge of red and blue. The lock-on feature feels flaky under such conditions, unable to keep up with characters dashing on and off screen, and the square button takes the brunt as you bash away at the mass of pixels, hoping that your vaguely disconnected attacks are doing something useful.
Those hoping for a single-player distraction from the ups and downs of multiplayer will be poorly served. The story mode is nothing more than a glorified tutorial, taking you through the different modes and maps in missions that bear little resemblance to the rather enjoyable storybook scenes that introduce them. They're also blighted by inconsistent AI. Team-mates are either too efficient, often winning the match without your input on the early stages, or infuriatingly dumb. You can prod up on the d-pad to get a handful of nearby characters to follow you, but they frequently dawdle off-screen and vanish, or hurl themselves into deadly hazards, trying to reach inaccessible enemies. The final levels are almost impossible to beat, unless you exploit the enemy's equally dim AI and take advantage of pathways that will keep them distracted with inessential encounters while you leg it with their lardy lady.
Much like the cakes that the princesses so greedily scoff down, the game is delicious at first, an overwhelming confection of bright colours and varied flavours, but the sugar rush wears off much too quickly, leaving you bloated and exhausted. There's the basis of a really enjoyable and original multiplayer experience here, but it's simply too chaotic to encourage the co-operation required to keep the gameplay moving. Packed with lovely ideas, yet lacking focus, balance and pacing, it's little more than a guilty snack.
6 / 10