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Code of Princess review: Beautiful - but with big barriers to entry

Oh, and westerners will only see half the game

Ask us to draw up a code for princesses, and it would probably involve delicate manners, tasteful dresses, peas under the mattress and a preference for mooning over doltish princes rather than scrapping in a metal cage bra.

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Thankfully, no one did ask us, which is why we have this - a highly peculiar brawler starring barely-dressed royal Solange and her strange retinue. If you don't read Japanese, you probably won't know what's going on a lot of the time, but there's enough charisma in the art alone to keep you engrossed regardless.

Peculiar it may be, but it's a brawler all the same: think Streets Of Rage's enemy waves confined to a single arena about the size of your average beat 'em up stage. Veteran Capcom artist Kinu Nishimura (Street Fighter II, Darkstalkers) gives the characters a sharp and saucy cartoon look that carries through into their attacks. Lady Zozo carries a staff made out of spines and wears a long scarf with the word 'milk' on it, frying knights with satisfyingly spiky jolts of blue plasma; jester Allegro's arsenal includes AC/DC rock kicks and an electric guitar, while scimitar-wielding Ali mixes short-range swordplay with sprinkles of area-attacking twinkling white runes.

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GRAVEYARD SMASH

The fighting system is a dependable mix of light and heavy attacks. Unfortunately the lack of side-scrolling progression proves limiting, and although the backgrounds are as gorgeous as the cast - cobbled castle courtyards host furious scraps, a graveyard haunts under low-hanging mist, chandeliers swing in an orange-hued tavern - there's no dynamism. Street Fighter's gawping onlookers and busy backgrounds add a certain amount of depth to the scrapping as well as the picture, but here there are no moving parts and nothing to jump on, or fight over, or dodge.

It's presumably a concession to balance and purity, designed to let the combat breathe - but levels varied only in look and not feel make for a weaker, flatter brawler. Unlike close rival Super Smash Bros, which has you dodging random hazards and breathlessly bounding between platforms for a dose of fighting verticality, this keeps both feet planted firmly on terra firma.

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