Genre: Girl fighting
Review Date: 8/17/17
"Vanguard Princess" started out as a freeware game and a censored version eventually got picked up by Amazon and Steam. In 2014, the uncensored "Director's Cut" came out, which restored all of the panty flashing that was included in the original game. As an anime-styled female fighting game, it's fairly typical of the genre and follows all of the standard conventions. What makes it different is that your support character is onscreen the entire time, which really makes it a 2-on-2 experience. Unfortunately, this tends to clutter up the screen considerably, as you have four characters to keep track of, in addition to distracting background characters. Things can get very confusing very quickly.
The game's greatest strength is the character design and costumes, which are attractive and playfully sexy. The animation is smooth and the character movement is appropriately aggressive and flashy. Not surprisingly, there's a fair amount of fan service in the form of bouncing breasts and panty shots, but it's subtle and never comes across as tacky and gratuitous. But maybe that's because the playing field is so small. The game is rendered in a 640 x 480 window (with overscan) which takes up only a fraction of the real estate that modern monitors have to offer. Scaling up the window or attempting to play in full screen makes it look worse and doesn't preserve the aspect ratio. Performance also drops considerably, as the animation drags and the music becomes choppy.
What's even worse than the screen resolution issue is the overall game presentation. A sparse set of options are available through a crude Windows menu bar, which only affect Versus Mode. The game supports the Xbox 360 controller as well as the Steam controller, but I've seen numerous complaints about that not working. Fortunately, I had no problems with my Xbox controller, although the button layout defied standard conventions.
There are only two play modes in the game: Story and Versus. The Director's Cut adds "Streak" and "Team" modes, but they're hardly worth mentioning. Story Mode takes your character through eleven stages in order to defeat the final boss. However, the difficulty is so high that I never managed to win a single round. The original game featured three difficulty levels, whereas the Director's Cut curiously provides no options. There's no dedicated Practice Mode, but the beginning of Story Mode forces you to practice against a stationary sparring partner for five bouts. This becomes exceedingly tedious, and having it be a mandatory part of the game is baffling. There's also no way to back out of the game to get to the main menu. The "quit" option requires pressing five buttons simultaneously, and only rarely works, so the best option is to shut down the game entirely and restart it. It's the lack of polish and the unfriendly UI that make the game so unpleasant to play, which is disappointing because it looks nice and the fighting mechanics are solid. The voice acting, music, and sound effects are decent and the game is modestly enjoyable once you're in it. If the difficulty had been a lot easier, I would have definitely spent more time learning the nuances of the game.
With all that said, I should point out again that this originated as a freeware game and is only $5.00 on Steam, so you get what you pay for. It was also developed entirely by one person, which is pretty damned impressive as far as I'm concerned. He created all of the art and animation, and utilized a popular fighting engine framework to build the game. The music is either licensed or public domain, and is generally pleasant to listen to. So, the author definitely has my admiration and respect. I just wish the final product were more refined and less rough around the edges.