Battle Princess Madelyn clearly draws its inspiration from Capcom’s classic Super Ghouls and Ghosts of 1991. Sadly, the tweaks and changes implemented in this love letter to the 90s make the game more frustrating than enjoyable.
The Battle Princess Madelyn Kickstarter campaign that began back in March of 2017 reached its goal of 60,000 (Canadian) dollars in just three days. It was clear that there was an appetite for this throwback action platformer. While it wears it’s Ghouls and Ghosts influence proudly on its sleeve, what we get is a confusing homage that ends up being overly convoluted by some poorly executed mechanics and gameplay decisions.
The game comes with two different modes, the classic arcade mode and a story mode which adds NPC’s, cutscenes, etc. into the mix. It’s in the story mode that you’ll encounter a majority of the perplexing issues the game has. NPC’s, for example, give out side-quests which are a nice addition to an otherwise linear story. However, these side-quests are only given to you once and there is no menu option that lets you check what they are or where you need to go as a reminder.
The only way to keep track of what you need to collect or who you need to find is by literally writing them down on a scrap of paper. Within the first couple hours, you’re given a handful of these and it quickly becomes a matter of stumbling over them as you progress through the game. By then, however, you won’t remember who gave you said quest or where they can be found since the game provides no map for reference either.
While this should have expanded on the game and made your time with it longer, randomly finding an item after scouring every corner of the map and not knowing who it belongs to gets old quick, and I found myself leaving those tasks behind me in favor of completing the main story. Unfortunately, with the lack of any kind of map or hint of which direction to go, progressing through the game’s 10 areas can become frustrating. On top of that, poor enemy placement and certain world-building designs lead to some increasingly irritating cheap deaths.
Story mode in Battle Princess Madelyn also limits progression by a lack of explanation on how to make it from point A to point B. It isn’t a cut and dry “beat a boss to get double jump” kind of experience. Instead, you have to complete out of the way quests for the blacksmith who can then upgrade your gear, assuming you can find him the right item. I’m all for a lack of hand holding. Games like the Souls-borne series make a name for themselves through this concept. However, they still find ways to subtly guide you through them to avoid frustration, and Battle Princess Madelyn doesn’t implement these subtle techniques.
All of that being said, there is a fluidity to the game that you wouldn’t see in the more traditional action platformers. Madelyn feels great to control and her attacks and movement lend themselves to some extremely smooth gameplay. This makes the boss fights when you eventually get to them, as well as regular combat pretty enjoyable.
To get the most out of Battle Princess Madelyn, I’d recommend starting in the Arcade Mode. It’s simple design and shorter levels make it way more accessible for the casual gamer. Enemies drop weapons and armor upgrades that make traversal easier, and it ends up being an enjoyable experience for the most part. Arcade mode has a few of its own issues as well though. The drop rates from enemies aren’t consistent. There will be times that all you’ll collect is money, and others where you’ll get 3-5 upgrades in the span of a couple minutes. It seems like only certain enemies drop certain items or gear, but regardless of how much I tried, I couldn’t find any real consistent results.
The number of lives you have for Arcade mode isn’t displayed anywhere either, so keeping track of that is impossible. I believe they reset to 3 every time you enter a new zone but again, it isn’t stated anywhere that this in fact does happen. A more comedic issue is the score counter in the top middle of the screen. While it does what it’s intended to do, your score isn’t saved anywhere after a run through arcade mode, leaving me to wonder why it was even there in the first place. The biggest issue in Battle Princess Madelyn though is the inability to pan the camera in any direction. More often than not your blind leaps of faith into the unknown end in an unnecessary death that could’ve easily been avoided had I been able to move the camera down a little to see what I was jumping onto.
Aesthetically, Battle Princess Madelyn looks great. It truly feels like something ripped from an early 90s game. The bosses are unique and offer a fair challenge that makes them something I looked forward to every time I went into Arcade Mode. Even enemies receive a little variation in their design when entering a new area. The maps are beautifully crafted, and vibrant as well. The soundtrack won’t leave any tunes stuck in your head, but it fits right at home with the genre.
Honestly, Arcade mode saves Battle Princess Madelyn from being a disaster. It allows players to experience most of the game through a tough, but doable shorter campaign that still lets you experience all the boss fights and areas. A lack of any sort of explanation and confusing game design makes some of Battle Princess Madelyn a hard pill to swallow. If you’re going to give this game a shot, start with Arcade mode and go from there. With the state of story mode as it stands now, that section of the game is hard to recommend.