Indie fighting game development has become pretty substantial after successful launches of games like Skullgirls and Divekick. No longer do heavyweights like Capcom and Namco release the only worthy fighting games to play thanks to gems from independent studios popping up from time to time. Vanguard Princess is an indie fighting game for the PC designed by ex-Capcom developer Tomoaki Sugeno. The game is published by California-based manga comic publisher eigoMANGA and available on PC services such as Steam and indie bundle websites. A Director’s Cut was released recently that includes some content that was originally axed from the game. While Vanguard Princes is VERY rough around the edges, the game shows potential for Sugeno and his future titles. Is Vanguard Princess one of those diamond in the rough fighting titles? Eh… not so much.
Running on the Fighter Maker 2nd Edition engine, Vanguard Princess is a two dimensional 2-on-2 fighting game with a hardcore Japanese manga aesthetic and art design. The cast is comprised entirely of teenage girls in sexy outfits and the game takes every opportunity to flash some up-skirt panty shots every chance it gets. Odd sexual innuendo is sprinkled throughout the entire game as well, producing many raised eyebrows from me throughout my playthrough. Thankfully, Vanguard Princess has some very nice art design, animations and sprite work, even though the faces on each character look very similar. The backgrounds are pretty with a lot of animations occurring within each one. For a 2D fighting game, Vanguard Princess is a very good looking title even though it doesn’t quite hit the visual marks that games like Blazblue or Guilty Gear do. Given, those games are running on much higher budgets. Music consists of hard-rock guitar riffs and sound effects that are reminiscent of old-school arcade fighting games from the heyday of arcade fighters. Audio is pretty well done but nothing out of the ordinary for the genre.
The fighting mechanics rely on entirely way too many meters. Let’s see if I can recall all of them here. There’s a stun meter, an assist meter, a grab meter, and a guard meter. Now I’m not the biggest fighting game fan and I do not dig very deep into mechanics, but MAN is that a lot of meters to keep track of! The gameplay is very much combo-based and includes four button inputs, with primarily three of them being used for strong, weak and middle attacks. The fourth button allows you to utilize a support attack from your chosen support character once you fill THAT meter up. Overall the game controls fairly well and the combos and special moves are typical of a 2D fighter, including chaining special moves together with standing, jumping or crouching attacks and using quarter circle movements to pull off many of the specials.
Vanguard Princess includes 10 playable fighters with five different support characters to choose from. Unlike Marvel vs Capcom, your support characters are not able to be swapped in and out of battle while being fully controllable. Instead, the support characters sort of follow the player around until the support button is pressed and they’ll throw out some sort of attack depending on who you choose. Liberty Arts are the super combos that can be pulled off once, you guessed it, filled up a meter and unleash it upon your opponent. The support characters are often included in the liberty arts which make for some entertaining chaos on screen. Supports can even be cancelled out of battle for a limited time if the player is damaged while attempting to utilize their support partner. Overall, a well thought out fighting system that uses support characters fairly uniquely even though I feel like I’m eyeballing meters a bit too much for my liking.
Here’s where the game starts to fall apart. Vanguard Princess only has two modes of play — story mode for single player that acts as an 11 round arcade mode and VS mode for local multiplayer. That’s it. If you were expecting any sort of training, challenge, online multiplayer or time trials mode, you will be highly disappointed. For a modern fighting game to lack any sort of training mode is a pretty huge deal. There isn’t even an option mode to change game settings! The story mode includes a tale that I personally had no interest in and the AI can be easily baited and exploited with repeated moves, even at the higher end of the three included difficulties. After complaining about Street Fighter V’s lack of modes, I sort of feel guilty bashing it now that I’ve played this game. So unless you plan on playing locally with a buddy or constantly flying through the story mode, there isn’t much here content to make the player return to it.
The biggest burden Vanguard Princess carries is the flaws that come with the engine it was designed on, Fighter Maker 2nd. The game runs in a small window at a 4:3 aspect ratio and blowing the window up to a full screen view just stretches the pixels, making the game look ugly. There isn’t any sort of HD resolution and you’ll be spending all of your gameplay inside of this small window. The game’s options consist of changing a couple of stage variables and control settings in the window’s ribbon outside of the actual game. I felt as if I was going back and playing an old PC game on Windows 95, like Microsoft Golf. I believe most of the issues, including the lack of modes, are once again a casualty of the Fighter Maker system used to design the game. I can’t cut the developer slack either since consumers aren’t really told that this is a game created with those tools either.
Now for the game’s biggest offense — controller support. Vanguard Princess supports gamepads for two players… except gamepad support doesn’t work. I tried an Xbox 360 controller, an arcade stick, and even a Steam controller and nothing would allow me to play the game properly. I had to literally play the game on my keyboard, which makes the game ALMOST unplayable at any level besides button mashing to win. In order to play two players I had to set my keyboard up to where both players are playing on the same keyboard. After researching the control issues, I found that I’m not the only one who was affected by this and it seems that the developer never fixed it. I tried many workarounds and none of them allowed me to use any gamepad I owned.
Vanguard Princess is an interesting little fighting game that relies on a heavy manga aesthetic and includes some great artwork from a very talented art developer in the industry. The game is colorful, fast and includes some great character design and animations. However, the game’s limitations on resolution and display options are a huge bummer and the broken controller support makes the game almost unplayable. Having a fighting game rely on so many meters and things to keep track of distracts from the overall gameplay. The lack of modes hurts the replay value and any chance of gamers considering the game at any competitive level. Given, this is a title that costs a measly $4.99 and was obviously made on a budget, so I can’t fault the developer too much. I see talent in Sugeno and I hope that one day the man can be given a nice budget and a better engine to work with allowing him shine much brighter than he did here. Vanguard Princess is a fun little fighter for manga fans, but it isn’t one that I would recommend to anyone else.