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Battle Princess Madelyn

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, WiiU, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Developer: Causal Bit Games
Release Date: Dec. 6, 2018 (US), Jan. 7, 2019 (EU)


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Switch Review - 'Battle Princess Madelyn'

by Cody Medellin on Jan. 10, 2019 @ 2:00 a.m. PST

Battle Princess Madelyn is a game that follows Madelyn, a young knight in training, and her ghostly pet dog Fritzy, out on a journey to save her kingdom and her family from the clutches of an evil wizard.

Buy Battle Princess Madelyn

Ghosts 'n Goblins is a notorious series that is both loved and feared. Excluding the spin-offs, all four games in the series are big, sprawling adventures that take you to a host of medieval gothic locales. They're also tough games that bring out the best and worst in people since the difficulty can feel cheap. For a revered classic series, there aren't a ton of games that pay homage to it. The best of that small lot remains Maldita Castilla, which retains some of the difficulty, good boss fights, and even better level design. Battle Princess Madelyn is the latest game to try its hand at replicating the old series' formula but also tries to be more ambitious. Depending on which mode you play, it either barely succeeds or fails badly.

You play the role of Madelyn, the princess of a faraway kingdom who also happens to be training to be a knight. One day, a fearsome band of creatures comes to her kingdom, kidnap her family, and kill her loyal dog Fritz. Her period of mourning is brief, however, as the spirit of her dog returns and she sets off on a quest with her faithful companion to rescue her family.

Battle Princess Madelyn features two modes, and the first is arcade mode. It's here that you see the game's influences, as almost every element from the Ghosts 'n Goblins series is on full display. Madelyn sports some armor at the beginning, and while she can gain more a powered-up version of that armor to get stronger weapons, she can also lose all of her armor and go down to her nightgown if only one hit point remains. Her default weapon is a lance, but she has the ability to pick up other weapons, such as fast-moving daggers and an ax; some weapons work better with her double-jump. Coins are used for points, and the game places very high on the difficulty scale, as enemies tend to pop out of nowhere and shoot at you at inopportune times. Unfortunately, the knockback mechanic is present, so expect simple hits to become disastrous. Getting hit while jumping over a pit means more damage is taken, or it can even mean death when you're knocked into pits or spikes.

While there's no doubt about the difficulty level of Battle Princess Madelyn, there are a few concessions so the title is a little more forgiving. For starters, the game gives you unlimited continues, so you aren't forced into replaying the first stage over and over again unless you go to the main menu or shut off the game. The presence of Fritz gives you a few extra abilities, like a homing attack, but his most useful trick is granting you more a more refined resurrection. Killing enemies nets you mana, and so long as you have some mana in reserve, you'll be able to respawn close to your point of death. Once you're out of mana, your death means restarting at the beginning of the level.

Those are some nice changes to the formula, but their value is decreased due to some other design decisions. One such decision is to let the spoils gained from defeating an enemy spill all over the stage instead of remaining a short distance from where they're killed. It can be very frustrating to see money start to drift uphill or disappear into pits. It's also frustrating to see some of the coins and weapons get stuck in the terrain, where no one can reach them. Weapon consistency is another issue, as you can freely attack in the four cardinal directions, but it becomes a crapshoot to see if your weapon makes it beyond the terrain to hit an enemy. Thanks to the aggressive enemy AI, there's rarely a chance where you can get the drop on them when on an elevated platform, and the lack of consistency in terms of whether weapons will penetrate the ground means a good number of wasted shots before you're successful.

Perhaps the most frustrating design decision has to do with the camera constantly hides things below you. The camera focus is on Madelyn, and the zoom ensures you get a good look at the detailed sprites on her and the enemies. However, the camera has her off-center, and the zoom is just enough that you're always hiding anything below you. This is problematic because the game has quite a bit of verticality, and there are plenty of places where you'll need to jump on moving platforms or hope that there's some ground below. With no ability to even temporarily shift the camera to see some of your surroundings, you'll be too dependent on blind faith to break your falls, and the level of frustration increases when that faith constantly fails you.

The other mode is story, and while the gameplay is similar to arcade mode, it does things quite differently. For starters, the narrative is encapsulated in a tale similar to "The Princess Bride," as your grandfather visits you when he hears that you've become sick. The main story has more cut scenes to bookend your levels and provide more explanation on things, such as how Fritz came back to life.

While the game retains all of its Ghosts 'n Goblins-inspired mechanics, it pairs them up with a blueprint that transforms it into something like a Metroidvania title or the remake of Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap. Levels are much larger in scope, and while you're still guided on where to go, you have a little freedom on how you can approach each level and when you want to encounter bosses. Secrets are everywhere, as some walls can be destroyed, and kneeling in front of some statues and ghosts grants you weapons and collectibles, like gems and coins. Those two things are more important in this mode, as you can buy power-ups and upgrade your weapons and attacks.

Though the melding of two classic games and their respective mechanics sounds like a good idea on paper, the execution in Battle Princess Madelyn is flawed due to some odd decisions in addition to some other issues. For starters, the respawning that occurs when you can't resurrect anymore sends you all the way to the beginning of the stage, and in some cases, that means a ton of traveling through the same traps and enemies. That's made worse by the larger size of the levels and a lack of a map, so you can easily get lost since you have no idea where to go. The game also does a bad job of letting you know which doors can be accessed at any time, so even though there are arrows to let you know that a door is interactive, there's a good chance that trying to enter it does nothing, since it's actually closed.

About the only good part of this overall change comes from the boss fights. Given your lack of complete powers, your strategy against bosses is completely different from what you'd use in arcade mode. For example, you'll start walking under the first boss' legs and fire upward instead of double-jumping and hitting him at the jump's apex. It works well to make the fights more exciting, even if all of the other changes for the mode don't work as well.

At the very least, the presentation is almost flawless. On the audio side, the effects are fine, and the game has no voice acting to drive the story, so it's up to the score to do the heavy lifting. While the orchestral soundtrack is well done for the genre, the chiptune version of the same tracks feels more appropriate for the mostly retro-inspired game. Considering that this track is composed by Gryzor87, the same person responsible for the soundtrack to Maldita Castilla, its high quality should come as no surprise.

Visually, Battle Princess Madelyn looks and animates like a late-era SNES game, albeit one with a much darker color tone for most of the backgrounds. The animations look authentic for the era but are still impressive, and the sprite work will bring smiles to those who love retro games and those who were around when this was the predominant style. The only complaint is in how the color scheme can make it difficult for some projectiles to stand out, making the idea of cheap deaths even more prevalent.

As mentioned at the beginning of the review, the mode you choose to play will influence your impression of Battle Princess Madelyn. For arcade mode players, the game retains the spirit of Ghosts 'n Goblins, and while there are a few concessions to make the game seem a touch easier for newcomers, some of the design decisions suck away that enjoyment. For story mode players, those flaws are compounded by more design issues that make it a frustrating Metroidvania clone. In the end, the game's charm isn't enough to attract anyone but genre die-hards who are looking for a near-impossible challenge.

Score: 6.5/10

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