Saving Princess

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by BRAINOS for PC, Android, and iOS, originally released in 2016.
Saving Princess is a nonlinear action platformer starring Portia Crane, an Asset Recovery Specialist. All the player knows about her mission is in the text that appears in the pre-title sequence, which states: IF THEY GET PRINCESS, THE WAR IS LOST. IT'S UP TO YOU. There are apparently a few nefarious bounty hunters who have received a similar objective – including a space ninja – and Portia must face off against them on her quest, along with a number of mechanical beasties.


Portia comes equipped with a 3x variable jump and an arm cannon (and she’s a lefty). While it’s not mentioned in the list of controls, holding the CTRL key allows her to sprint, which is particularly useful against fast-moving bosses. She is able to shoot to the left or right, and pressing the JUMP button in midair – or manually shooting downward – grants her a bit of extra lift, acting as a low double jump, or triple jump, or quadruple jump…


Portia’s weapon operates very differently from that of other action heroes in that it has a limited ammo capacity and the player has to wait for the weapon to recharge before it can be fired again… which also means waiting before initiating another double jump. At the start of the game, the weapon can only fire three projectiles, but its capacity can be upgraded by finding treasure chests, as can its recharge rate, and Portia’s health meter.


While the game offers a traditional metroidvania map, Portia does not spend the game earning new movement abilities; rather, all of the upgrades are made to her weapon. By earning more powerful blasts, she can shoot through certain types of walls, and by increasing her ammo capacity, she can shoot-jump her way across wider gaps.


In fact, the game has more in common with the Mega Man series than Metroid, as defeating bosses grants Portia new weapon upgrades. She eventually earns several elemental upgrades that she may switch between at will, along with a corresponding color change to her suit, and some bosses are weaker against certain types of attacks.


When the game begins, Portia’s ship lands on a space station, and the only open path leads directly to the station’s central computer. Upon logging in, she is shown four highlighted areas on her map and informed that the station is divided into four biomes: cave, volcanic, arctic, and swamp. Predictably, her mission is to travel through each of these themed areas, defeat the bosses – and a few minibosses – and reach the highlighted rooms, each of which offers weapon upgrades.


From here, Portia is able to make her way into the cave section, while the rest of the station remains inaccessible. This is a somewhat easier area than the others and meant to offer some early direction to the player and allow him to become accustomed to the controls. There are no overt tutorials, but there are a number of places where shoot-jumping is emphasized as a means of environmental traversal. Mastering this mechanic is of vital importance in the later areas, as players are required to make long series of precision shoot-jumps to cross gaps, sometimes over pits of spikes or lava.


Eventually the player reaches a place that is impassible, featuring a ball on a platform. When the player shoots the ball, it rolls backward, and the player is meant to shoot it off the ledge in order to pass, but the ball rolls back into place when the player stops firing. With only three bullets and a lengthy reload time, it is not possible to deliver enough firepower to push the ball back.


By travelling down another path, the player encounters a mechanical monstrosity that causes huge explosions and sprays the room with machine gun fire. The battle is tough – especially for one so early in the game – but beating the boss leads you to a treasure chest with an ammo capacity upgrade, allowing you to shoot your way past the ball and continue on your journey.


Boss battles, and even some regular enemy encounters, can be pretty tough as Portia has a short invincibility period, and some obstacles - like as pools of lava - drain her health without granting any invincibility. Bosses have invincibility periods as well, and both Portia and her foes flash during this time, which can occasionally make combat confusing as the player character and boss flash in and out of existence while projectiles fly around the screen.


Most of the game’s boss encounters are very tough, but there is always a health-restoring save point nearby, allowing players to hop back into the action when they are inevitably killed.


One interesting design comes in the form of Portia’s low health alarm. Taking its inspiration from the Metroid series, an alarm sounds when the player nears death, but the system has a unique twist…

Instead of sounding the alarm when the player is on his last unit of health, the alarm doesn’t sound until the meter reaches zero. At that point, one more hit spells death, but if the player is able to hold on for a bit longer, a single unit of health will be restored to the meter. The wait time is too long to be of much use during boss fights, but it’s a big help during general exploration, allowing the player to take a pause before pushing forward and potentially preventing the need to reload a save.


It’s vitally important that players locate as many ammo, reload, and health upgrades as possible, some of which are very well hidden, and others require players to survive a tough gauntlet of enemies and obstacles in order to retrieve them.


Portia’s reward for fighting her way through the cave area is an upgraded shot that is three times more powerful than her default weapon, although this only applies to the first bullet fired. This more powerful shot allows her to get a higher boost when double-jumping, and allows her to blast through previously impenetrable doors.


From here, the player is free to move to the swamp, volcanic, and arctic areas. These may be completed in any order, but there are advantages to selecting one area over another, particularly when it comes to the volcanic and arctic locations.


Completing the volcanic area grants the player a flamethrower that allows him to cause burn damage to enemies (but only for the first two shots), and it can damage multiple enemies simultaneously. More importantly, it allows players to melt through heavy snow drifts (which slow Portia’s movement) and destroy obstacles like ice spikes. It even lets Portia burn her way through certain doors that are frozen shut, allowing for more direct routes through the environment.


Conversely, getting the ice weapon from the arctic area allows players to freeze enemies, taking out even the toughest foes in a single hit. Additionally, the weapon freezes lava columns, allowing players to run freely across them without taking damage, eliminating some of the area’s more dangerous obstacles. Both the flamethrower and ice weapon offer a shorter double jump boost, however.


There are a number of surprises in store for the player, including the numerous hidden items and several boss encounters that toy with the player’s expectations. Each themed area introduces new enemies as well, so the player must stay on his toes to learn new enemy behaviors, and he’s likely to be surprised by a hopping robot coming out from behind a wall or a big purple egg that hatches (unless it is destroyed in time) and fills the area with fast-moving enemies.


Clearing out each of the four areas opens up another section of the space station with some tough encounters, so it’s best to seek out as many upgrades as you can before the final stretch. The game is bite-sized by metroidvania standards, but the player is never left unsure of his objectives. The pace never slows and there is a good deal of variety throughout the adventure.



2D CRED
Saving Princess was developed by Jacob Pavone under his BRAINOS label, based in Tucson, Arizona. Music for the game was created by T8HI using PxTone, a program developed by Daisuke "Pixel" Amaya, developer of Cave Story and Kero Blaster.


The game got its start as a Ludum Dare 20 entry entitled Singlehandedly, a nonlinear action platformer starring a fellow with a laser pistol who must blast away at enemies and bosses. Many of the enemies in this game eventually made their way into Saving Princess, and the weapon system is very similar… Ammo recharges slowly time, but the player is able to increase the speed of his reload – as well as increase his ammo and health capacity – by finding treasure chests hidden around the environment. Finding a weapon upgrade allows the player to fire a single special shot, with the rest of his shots coming as the pea shooter variety.

               

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