One of the best moments in The Simpsons is Homer attempting to jump over the Springfield Gorge with Bart’s skateboard. It seemed like such a good idea at the time. Well, to Homer, at least. But he bit off way more than he could chew and then painfully fell down, hitting countless rocks on the way. After finally being placed in the back of an ambulance, the doors jerk open, sending Homer to repeat the nightmare he thought he had just escaped. This is definitely not a scene you want a video game to remind you of, but Tower Princess does all the same.
I take absolutely no joy in writing negative reviews, and I take even less in playing bad games. But Tower Princess was a miserable experience for me. It definitely looks decent for a 3D rogue-lite made by an indie dev, and the central conceit about rescuing specific princesses in order to utilize their special abilities is novel. But every aspect of this game is so poorly executed that I can’t understand how anyone could double down on them. Homer meet rock.
The basic premise is that you’re a knight and you need to escape from a tower, princess in tow. Not all of the princesses are actually princesses, though. For instance, one of them is some guy that turns into a sword. Each time you start a run, you pick from one of two knights — a swordsman or musketeer — before actually setting out. You then have to go into the main hall and go through two dialogue prompts to pick a princess before you can head out. As you explore the areas, you’ll find princesses in cages. When you do, they show up back at your hub and can be picked at the start of a tower run. Each princess has their own ability that can be improved by giving them gifts. On paper, this is all perfectly fine, but it doesn’t take long for the cracks to spread.
When it comes to picking your knight, they range from light to heavy. The different knights move at different speeds and have more or less health. Because of the way Tower Princess plays out, I always wanted a heavy knight, which is unfortunate, because you won’t always have the option to pick one. The swordsman has a basic sword combo by default, while the musketeer has five shots with their musket which refills after a few seconds. Knights can also dodge out of the way, and you can obtain new abilities by purchasing upgrades.
Combat in Tower Princess is mundane, limited, and dull. The three-hit sword combo doesn’t have much oomph to it, so the swordsman isn’t fun to use. The musket shots are weak, and they take too long to refill for my tastes, making the musketeer even more cumbersome. You just lock onto an enemy and shoot at it until it dies. The princess abilities can be handy at times, but many of them are so weak or situational that they can feel mostly useless. I was excited to play this game initially, since it’s advertised as a 3D platformer, but there’s very little platforming. What platforming there is is just as subpar as the combat.
Your goal is to guide your knight/princess combo through an area and fight a boss. Then you have to go to another area to fight a second boss before a door opens that allows you to progress. You switch areas by using a cannon in a specific room. Tower Princess doesn’t tell you this, so you have to notice that the cannon is something you interact with and not just set dressing like every other object you see. The boss battles are overly long and, again, boring.
One of the most appealing aspects about rogue-lites is how the random generation keeps you on your toes and makes runs feel fresh. Tower Princess throws this out the window. Areas are made up of specific rooms that are always the same. Sometimes you’ll see the same room twice in one run. Occasionally, you’ll see the same exact room twice in a row. Once, I exited a room, only to have to go through it again to find a different room. And these weren’t generic hallways, no. You have to navigate through traps before jumping on swinging platforms. This game has the absolute worst approach to level generation that I’ve ever seen.
Some rooms require you to defeat all enemies, others have you do a simple series of traps or require you to pull levers. Some you can just go straight to the exit doors. My second least favorite room in the game requires you to hit a blue timed switch, jump up to a platform, and hit the lever on the platform. Then the way to a red switch opens up. You then hit the red switch, jump down to hit the blue switch again, and then use the first platform to make it to a second platform to hit another lever that opens the way out.
The first time I saw the room, I thought it was surprisingly out of place. The sixth time I saw it, I prayed that it would all stop. There is a tiny pool of rooms, too. You’re likely to see all of them at least once per run. It makes playing the game feel like an endless series of déjà vu and makes every run feel identical. Every time I hit the continue button to start a new run, I dreaded it.
Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, there’s the way Tower Princess handles upgrades. The game seems to borrows some of its ideas and art style of Rogue Legacy, a game that has an excellent upgrade system. Tower Princess has its own unique upgrade system, though, which is, much like the level generation, the worst I’ve ever seen. As you play the game, you’ll level up certain aspects of your classes. Their main aspect is leveled up by killing enemies, which takes way too long. You can also level up cartography simply by visiting rooms and, strangely, vitality by using health potions unless you get unlucky and not enough drop, which will limit your ability to upgrade this.
You can’t actually get any upgrade points without finding tokens. You’ll find these when rescuing a new princess or randomly when opening chests. Finding them was incredibly rare for me, which meant that I rarely got to upgrade my classes. This is unfortunate because the second area is much rougher than the first one. This brings me to my least favorite room in Tower Princess. You have to kill several pumpkin enemies that randomly shoot projectiles in four directions. These projectiles leave pools of a liquid that hurt you. This enemy is a tedious pain to fight as the swordsman, as it explodes every couple of seconds.
But one of the pumpkins is in the middle of the area, protected by a bunch of tentacles. If you’re the musketeer, you can just slowly shoot it to death. If you’re the swordsman, you’re probably going to take a huge amount of damage from the tentacles. Oh, and it’s very annoying to lock onto the pumpkin because you’ll also lock onto the half dozen or so tentacles that surround it. It’s just astoundingly awful.
I could keep going on about the things that make Tower Princess such an awful experience (such as how you have to figure out which gift a princess likes by trial and error, as a gift is gone once you give it, or how you’re able to move during the black screen part of entering an area, which causes you to take damage before the image shows up). But I don’t want to ever think about this game again, so I’ll refrain. If you like rogue-lites, you probably shouldn’t play this game. I thought I’d get a cute 3D platformer rogue-lite, only to find a very poor attempt that fails to understand pretty much everything that makes the genre so great. Don’t walk. Run.
Tower Princess is a 3D rogue-lite inspired by some of the best in the genre, and teaches you how they can be done quite poorly.