Can you give a game 5/5 based solely on its soundtrack? We suspect our editor would kick us in the shins. But the music in Princess.Loot.Pixel.Again is the absolute bomb. More than once, we’ve mistimed an attack because we’re headbanging to the dubstep-meets-metal tracks. Bangers, the lot of them.
Alas, there’s nothing else in Princess.Loot.Pixel.Again that even comes close in quality. Which means there’s no reason to buy it and experience that cracking soundtrack. Sad times.
What you’re getting here is a budget little action-platformer that’s been strapped to a roguelike template. Which is to say that this is one of the most common genres on the Xbox. It needs something to make it stand out, and it has absolutely nothing in its cupboard, so you can likely move along, nothing to see here, etc.
There’s a story, kind of. You can opt to watch a cutscene from the main menu which shows a king turning into/getting killed by/getting kidnapped by an evil mage. It’s not wholly clear as the cutscene’s clarity is botched, but promotional materials tell us that it was in fact a kidnapping. The Princess of the title watches and screams, but she doesn’t play much of a part in the narrative outside of that.
Then you’re choosing your avatar’s class, which is by far the most interesting non-soundtrack bit of Princess.Loot.Pixel.Again. You can be a vanilla warrior with their hardiness, extra strength and wimpy sword, but the real headliner is their ability to chuck a boomerang about the levels for the cost of some mana. It’s a doom-banana, and it’s amazing. And each class has a similar hook that makes them well worth trying and pushes them away from each other in terms of differentiation. A ‘berserk’ chews up their own health for extra damage; a rogue skulks in the shadows; and an archer has a bow and some serious Hawkeye-like alternative arrows. They all remix the game to large degrees.
Which is needed, as the levels don’t do much remixing of their own. You start by hopping into Level 1-1, where you quickly figure that something’s up. The enemies have gone on strike and aren’t putting in the effort. Some are barely even classified as enemies: they just sit there statically waiting for you to put them out of their misery. Others follow simple routes or patterns, and it’s hard to muster the enthusiasm to kill them. Only a couple of enemies pay attention to you and bother to stop you in your tracks.
Occasionally, you have to kill them, so you’re forced into combat. But it’s as limp as can be. Melee attacks tend to be minuscule, forcing you to get close to an enemy and it’s dodgy hitboxes and collision detection. Ranged attacks are much better, but – more often than not – they’re limited by your mana or consumable items like arrows. So you’re often conserving them and jumping into that dodgy melee. When so many enemies are bat-like, moving out of reach in the air, the lack of precision becomes even more painful. If and when you die, it won’t be because the enemies were challenging.
In some ways Princess.Loot.Pixel.Again is your textbook roguelike. You’re moving through procedurally generated levels that manage to still be repetitive (the same room setups appear multiple times), before finding the level’s exit. Then you’re onto the next level, unless it’s divisible by two and then you’re fighting a boss. These are absolutely all over the place in difficulty: the first boss is so trivial that we huff and sigh whenever we have to fight it; while the second boss is a punishing blighter with an attack that all but wipes you out. But mostly you’re moving through levels and seeing if you can get further than your previous run. Most of the time, death is on the menu.
But in other ways, this is an unconventional roguelike. And that’s because you keep absolutely zero progress from one run to the next. Now, we can kind of understand the approach: you’re learning and getting better, which is its own form of progression, we suppose. But when you’re churning through the same levels and boring bosses, you need some spice to keep it interesting. And that’s why progression systems in roguelikes are essential: it means the early levels don’t feel like a chore. So they feel like a chore here. And not a good chore, either: perhaps ironing.
To a degree we’re being unkind. There are artefacts to find in the dungeons, and they give you supreme abilities that genuinely enhance your chances of completing the game and viewing one of its several endings. Stack a few together and you’re a death machine. They’re welcome and add at least a little variety. But they’re too rare, and only serve to highlight what Princess.Loot.Pixel.Again might have been if it had bothered to make these the progression system. But they aren’t, they’re temporary, so they just rub our noses in it.
We’re trying to imagine playing Princess.Loot.Pixel.Again one more time. Would it be so bad to jump into its roguelike loop and give it another go? We can’t muster the energy. There’s no sparkle in its miserable combat, no reward or unlock to tempt us back in. There are just so many better things to be doing with our lives.
You can buy Princess.Loot.Pixel.Again from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S