Nintendo thumb. In the late ’80s and well into the ’90s, Nintendo thumb was a very real thing. It was an affliction that occurred by the constant movement of the player’s thumb over the NES and SNES’s gamepad, usually in high action games, like brawlers, and especially in fighting games. In Code of Princess EX, out now for the Switch, Nintendo thumb has once again returned, as the hack-n-slash/brawler hybrid demands that players rock the gamepad (or control stick) to pull off epic combos and attacks during the game’s many combat scenarios.
Code of Princess EX is a remake/port of a 2012 Nintendo 3DS game, developed by Studio Saizensen and published by Nicalis. Players take control of Princess Solange Blanchefleur de Lux, the daughter of the king of Deluxia. The de Lux family serve as the wardens of a special sword, DeLuxcaliber, and needless to say, the Kingdom of Distron wants it. To make matters worse, the Distrons have control over monsters that they use to attack Deluxia, forcing Solange to take the sword and flee, becoming its sole protector.
Solange meets up with Ali, a thief, and they begin to stumble upon others, like Zozo, a necromancer made up of random body parts, a kickass warrior nun named Sister Hel, a pair of wandering mercenaries, Master T and a samurai named Tsukikage, a bard/sage named Allegro, and rounding out the retinue is a wheeling and dealing cat named Marco Neko, who will sell the group items (he later joins the fight). After the initial escape from the invaders, Solange and company eventually journey to the Distron kingdom to investigate and stop Queen Distiny and her generals. It seems there is a reason all eight heroes came together, and Queen Distiny is the clue.
I found myself really enjoying the story campaign of Code of Princess EX. The writing and banter between the characters during cutscenes made me laugh out loud more than a few times, and by the end of the story, I felt that I knew each member of my team on more than just a superficial level. I especially loved the writing for Zozo. I’ve not loved a character this much in years, and if you never played the game before, know that there are some zany narrative twists and turns, which I enjoyed. Better yet, the entire campaign can be enjoyed with a friend through a newly-included co-operative mode.
Each character has their own strengths, weaknesses, and skill sets. Solange is a straight forward fighter, while Zozo relies more on magic. Master T is a hand-to-hand fighter, and Ali is fast as a thief, just to detail a few. Characters level up with each chapter, with the main getting the lion’s share, and everyone else getting 50% of XP earned. Items found on your journey can also be swapped out, and character customization is surprisingly deep.
In addition to the single player campaign mode and the eight main characters, other game modes let you choose from over 50 characters/creatures to play as. You find these additional characters in the campaign mode’s chapters, and they can be used in Code of Princess EX’s Free Play mode, which can be played solo, or in either local or online multiplayer. There are also over 40 bonus quests to unlock, with each rewarding the player with more XP, gold and the chance to unlock new items. In fact, each mode in this game rewards the player with gold and XP, giving incentive to try out all of the different modes on offer. If that wasn’t enough, each scenario in Code of Princess EX is timed, giving die hard players cause to vie for the record completion times to share and compare with friends. The amount of content here is staggering, seeing that this was once a 3DS game.
Regardless of what mode you’re playing, Code of Princess EX‘s bread and butter is its combat. Each scenario drops the chosen character (or characters) onto a field that has three “Rails”: upper, lower, and middle. Characters can move from rail to rail with a quick tap of either shoulder button, and can lock on to specific enemies as well. Standard attacks are mapped to the A and B buttons, with a more powerful “Burst” attack available in limited quantities (you get three per scenario). Where the “Nintendo thumb” rears its ugly head is in how combo attacks are initiated. Not unlike Street Fighter II, which introduced many to quarter-circle combos, Code of Princess EX makes use of varying analog stick movements and button presses in order to unleash powerful attacks. Combat becomes a fast-faced button masher — at the expense of my poor thumbs.
The music and art direction on display are both stellar. The soundtrack has epic, sweeping scores and fast battle tunes for scenarios and boss battles. Voice acting is not localized, nor is there an option to change it, but hearing the performances in native Japanese adds a nice touch to each of the characters personas.
As for the art direction, Solange is designed in a very questionable metal bikini that barely covers her chest, yet every other character is dressed more for the occasion, which sticks out even more this time around. The wide use of the color palette helps differentiate which character is which, especially in multiplayer brawls with various players. The anime stylings work well in the presentations, especially in the fully animated cutscenes. The move to high definition is the true champion here. Backgrounds pop with color and detail, and combat and combos have never looked better. Code of Princess EX should be the template for all Switch-ported 3DS games, as the boost to rendering resolution really breathes new life into the visuals.
Code of Princess EX began its journey six years ago on a handheld system, and has now graduated onto Nintendo’s popular console hybrid. The transition is a welcome one, as long time fans will find a new, refined experience here, and newcomers will find a fun, frantic button masher with a surprisingly deep and amusing story that sucks you in and entertains, even as it obliterates the feeling on your thumbs. Pain has never felt this good.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game. A copy was provided to us by Nicalis.
With the newly added co-op campaign mode, higher definition visuals, higher framerates, and plenty more additions, Nicalis has breathed new life into an oft-forgotten title. Just make sure you prepare yourself for the inevitable bout of 'Nintendo thumb'.