Atlus is hard at work bringing over games that we normally wouldn't see in North America. The publisher's latest addition to the Nintendo DS library is an action puzzle platformer game that is intended to put your mushy brain to the test. An endless stream of increasingly complex levels requires some basic platforming skills as well as your keen problem-solving abilities to reach the end goal. You play as the young thief Anise, a sassy girl with long tresses and an eye patch, who is mistaken for the next up-and-coming legendary hero and must traverse through intricate and often dangerous areas to save a kidnapped prince. There are more than 150 stages, and we've only been able to skim the surface. The game is preset with ample tricky obstacles to overcome, but you can also create your own levels and share them with other players over Nintendo Wi-Fi or local wireless.
After a bizarre but stylish and flashy opening sequence, you watch as Anise sneaks around a dungeon only to spring an Indiana Jones rolling-boulder trap by accident, fall off a ledge, and get swept away by a strong current. She then wakes up at the king's castle, where she meets Kukri, a buglike fairy who at first thinks the girl is dead but then insists that Anise is the "great hero" who is supposed to defeat the demon lord with Kukri's infinite wisdom and guidance. Insisting that this is a case of mistaken identity, Anise--who is actually a master thief--does eventually agree to help the king find his kidnapped son (who is supposed to be a descendent of the last legendary hero), if only to avoid punishment because of her dubious history.
The game is broken down into several areas with multiple levels within. The first few levels introduce the different elements of the game, which is a nice way of easing you into the puzzles because the difficulty will ramp up as you go. The victory condition must be met in order to continue, which generally involves getting rid of all the enemies so that they drop a key for you to unlock the door to the next stage. You'll pick up color-coded weapons and explosive items, and you'll use Anise's trusty whip to hit switches, but as you make your way through the levels, finding that key becomes tricky. Hazards in the area will hinder your progress, and you'll need to figure out how to dispose of your enemies in a specific order or make use of your limited items carefully to meet the goals that are set. Your accomplishments are tracked, and depending on how long it took you to complete the stage, you'll earn a gold, silver, or bronze medal. The levels don't take more than a minute or two once you figure out what you're supposed to be doing, and restarting is quick and painless. The option to replay the levels is always there for those who have the competitive drive, and if that doesn't motivate you, knowing that your performance will also affect the ending might encourage you to perfect your skills. The ability to save after each map makes this an easy game to take on the go, especially given that each level is so short.
There's a map maker available from the start, which allows you to create your own custom levels to share with friends via Wi-Fi or local wireless. More map templates, enemies, objects, and items become available as you make your way through the game, or you can purchase them with gems that you pick up. Since you choose a template when you create your own level, most of your customization involves placing hazards and other goodies around the map instead of building a level entirely from scratch. Being able to share your devious stages is a great way for people with a thirst for puzzles to have access to a never-ending amount of content.
This 3D action puzzle platformer is by developer Climax, as well as Marvelous, the maker of Rune Factory, so you'll find that the quality of the visuals is similar, from the animated opening to the in-game graphics. The dialogue is funny too, although Kukri the purple fairy can be a little long-winded and you might find yourself skipping through the text to get on with the puzzles. While at times Steal Princess might feel like a role-playing game, its progression is linear as you move from level to level with storyline and dialogue peppered in along the way.
Steal Princess looks to be another solid entry in Atlus' lengthy 2009 lineup, with goofy humor and challenging puzzles for anyone to enjoy. There are gameplay videos to check out, so be sure to take a look. Put your thieving skills to the test when Steal Princess is released on April 21.