The era of retro-inspired games is brimming with new titles at every turn. Enthusiasts of the classics are likely experiencing exactly what comic book fans felt when superhero films became mainstream. Game designers are pouring their passion and longstanding dedication to the medium in these titles. Battle Princess Madelyn from Casual Bit Games is one such title that I was absolutely ecstatic for simply due to its inspiration.
I am probably the biggest fan of Capcom’s Ghosts ‘n Goblins and Ghouls ‘n Ghosts that I know. These NES and SNES games were a major part of my gaming experience as a child. Naturally, my fandom of Capcom’s classic titles dictates that I offer frequent comparisons to Battle Princess Madelyn’s spiritual predecessors. So, prepare yourself for that.
Madelyn – a princess, a warrior, and a glutton for punishment
The protagonist is, of course, Madelyn, a young girl who happens to be a princess and a warrior. Sadly, her dog, Fritzy bit the dust. Happily, his ethereal spirit rises from the grave and rejoins his companionship with Madelyn to aid in her fight against the forces of evil. As the two quest together, they must navigate a world populated by monsters akin to the likes of Arthur’s opposition in Ghouls ‘n Ghosts.
The 2D adventure/platformer presents itself visually as a refined and more artful vision of the Ghouls ‘n Ghosts landscape. The pixelated characters and monsters mimic – to a degree – the design and movements of Arthur and his enemies but with enough twists to distinguish themselves from their original inspiration. The control scheme even plays similarly and is mostly intuitive. More apparent instruction might be useful, however. I didn’t realize that I could kneel in front of statues to obtain keys essential for progression until I talked to a random villager. The lack of instruction also left me not realizing until a third of the way through the game that I could alternate weapons with L.
Are all aspects of retro games worth revitalizing?
Now, a game with classic roots such as this raises the question: should the antiquated mechanics of past gaming eras be apart of this retro renaissance? If you have played Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, I’m positive that you can vividly remember its most frustrating aspects. Every time Arthur is struck by an enemy, his character jumps back with a wide arc while he loses his armor only to endure hordes of undead in his skivvies. Madelyn’s approach is the same. She takes a hit and falls back a good distance. The peril here is what lies just a few steps behind you. If it’s an abyss or a spiked floor bed, you’ll take a hit and fall to your death. This mechanic could probably use some refinement – or deletion altogether.
The difficulty level is rather high. This may be a young princess warrior, but the denizens of the land aren’t playing with kiddie gloves on. Many deaths will be the result of “got ya!” moments that you would have no way of anticipating, and it becomes rather exhausting. These are just a few examples of classically rigid mechanics that could use some retooling.
A trail of breadcrumbs would be nice
While the monsters and overall setting feel similar to the world of Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, the structure of the game is much different. Here, linearity is a concept from a bygone era – and unfortunately so. The worlds are vast, beautiful, and multi-layered. The main quest line, as well as side gigs, will see to it that you must backtrack. With little instruction, it’s easy to get lost and not understand where the next objective is.
The contrived fetch quests given by random villagers along the way didn’t help things. Many times, the side ventures didn’t have to do with anything of real consequence. Fetch a spoon or return a bucket and get paid for your trouble – a payment that you probably won’t think twice about. The navigational confusion was so harsh, in fact, that I worked with another writer who reviewed the title for PC in order to find my way out of an endless saunter level by level. He, in turn, contacted the developer directly when we were stuck. So, I will note that the developer has shared that Battle Princess Madelyn will receive patches to assist here, possibly causing Fritzy to offer hints. But, that is not my experience with this review.
The soundtrack to Battle Princess Madelyn is easily one of my favorite aspects of this game. The tunes accompanied the settings perfectly while also managing to be incredibly catchy. And, it’s hard to say much else other than the music was just downright awesome. It swelled during Madelyn’s most heroic moments and sunk low during intense dungeon-esque crawls.
Battle Princess Madelyn is certainly a time capsule from a few decades ago for better and worse. Where the game succeeds, it does so well and with style. But, the multitude of minor pitfalls that inhibits gameplay progression and causes frustration held Madelyn back from being a true indie gem. Sure, the classics were great for their time, and they can still be honored. I loved my adventure with Fritzy and felt a deep, thrilling sense of nostalgia during much of my playthrough in this beautifully-crafted world. But despite our nostalgia, some aspects of a more archaic era in gaming must evolve alongside our expectations that have been established by modern gaming.
Release Date: Dec. 20, 2018
No. of Players: 1 player
Publisher: Casual Bit Games, Hound Picked Games
Developer: Casual Bit Games
A review code was provided by the publisher.
Accountant by day, video games enthusiast by night. Somewhere in between all of that, I’m a husband, dad, and generally a giant man-child, too. If a game is all about action, there’s a safe bet I’m playing it. I started laying waste to virtual worlds as a youngin’ on the ol’ Atari and haven’t stopped since.