I know we’ve been away for a while, but we’re back. And today we’ve got an awesome game to review: Battle Princess Madelyn by Casual Bit Games. What is a “Battle Princess” you ask? She’s a princess who doesn’t wait around for some hero to save her – she goes on the quest to save her kingdom herself! Honestly, Battle Princess should become an official D&D class. But here’s a game that has the look of an old 16-bit game, the feel of a classic arcade action/platformer, and is a true successor to the Ghouls & Ghosts/Ghosts & Goblins series. At $19.99 on Steam, this is a must-have for gamers with a nostalgic love for the challenge of Ghosts & Goblins, for those of us longing for more games with a female protagonist, and for games that are engaging and fun.
Full disclosure: I backed this game on Kickstarter, so I’m super excited about it. To watch me play through the game, head over to my Twitch channel and follow the Princess Power series (warning: I swear a lot).
From the Steam Page:
While training with her father “The Warrior King” for the royal games held at her families castle, the young knight in training, Princess Madelyn is forced back to her village when a storm of fire erupts from the sky. Upon entering the throne room, the guards and her family are struck down by an evil being known as “The Horned Wizard”. In a valiant attempt to save his family, Madelyn’s puppy, Fritzy is mortally wounded by a blast of magic from the wizards skeletal palm. Her family is whisked away before her eyes. She will have to set about rescuing them alone…or will she!
Yes, Trigger Warning: The puppy dies. That said, Fritzy comes back as a ghost dog who helps Madelyn on her quest. There’s a neat power-up attack where Fritzy gets to do different attacks to help Madelyn during combat, and, even though I’m not a fan of dogs dying, having a ghost dog is kind of cool.
It’s a simple story, but I like that it feels authentic. It’s not simply an inversion of the masculine Heroic Quest to Save the Damsel. And let’s face it, that would have been an easy route to take when building a game with a female lead in the Ghosts & Goblins vein. If the Horned Wizard killed one of my cats, you can rest assured I’d remove them and all in their employ from existence. It feels like the story was designed around Madelyn, and, if you look into the history of the game’s genesis, you know how much the creator’s daughter, Madelyn, was involved. It’s super cute and heartwarming. Go look it up! I won’t spoil that.
Once the game starts, you guide Madelyn through the various lands, exploring them, slaying enemies, finding hidden areas, uncovering treasures, solving puzzles, and defeating the bosses. Standard stuff – if this were only a simple game.
Two Modes of Play (For Now)
There are two ways to play the game: Story Mode and Arcade Mode. Story Mode has a more in-depth narrative, allows you to converse with various NPCs, and offers various side quests. And I’ll be honest, I think the maps are different between the two modes. Story Mode also feels like it has more save points than Arcade Mode and feels less punishing as well. The only caveat to this is that when climbing, there feels like a delay between hitting the button and throwing the weapon. Minor, but it’s noticeable.
Also, the Story Mode starts with an adorable framing device: a young girl named Madelyn is sick in bed playing her video games when her Grandpa comes to read her a story (Oh, you know this device? Well, as you wish). She doesn’t want to hear it, but he convinces her to give it a shot, as he’ll “get to the good stuff – the adventure!” This adds both another wave of nostalgia for my generation and a moment to go “awwwwwww”.
Arcade Mode is a lot like Super Ghouls & Ghosts on the SNES. You just go from stage to stage, finding new weapons and armor upgrades that increase defense and power, fighting a TON of enemies who are relentless in their respawn rate, and defeat the bosses to reach and defeat the Horned Wizard.
These are the play modes available, but a Boss Rush and a Speed Run mode are in the works thanks to the stretch goals reached on the Kickstarter.
Okay, the gameplay is what you would expect from a retro-inspired action/platformer. I won’t belabor most of the mechanics, but I’ll say a few things about the gameplay. The controls are pretty solid and tight. That’s a necessity on both platformers and on games that are as difficult and challenging as this game is.
Beyond that, the Story Mode and the Arcade Mode have a few different mechanics. First, the Story Mode mechanics have to be earned through finding the hidden items. Trust me, obtaining the double jump boots are a lifesaver! Second, the ability to collect and scroll through weapons is pretty useful – this isn’t available in the Arcade Mode. I like this because it adds to the strategy factor in the game and means collecting certain weapons isn’t as problematic as in the Arcade Mode (or in Ghosts & Goblins when say…you grabbed the torch on accident)
Graphics and Sound
Overall, the graphics are what you should expect from a retro-inspired game. Look, I know a lot of retro-inspired games have pixel art that’s blurry, but that’s not how the games were back then. I lived through the era, and I still play these games. Sprites were bright and colorful (except for Simon Belmont at times who was yellow and brown). The sprites in Madelyn are clear and distinct, and the backgrounds are super detailed. There’s movement, there’s shadow, there are reflections in water!!!! This is how a retro-inspired game should look. Fair warning though, the font chosen for the text is kind of hard to read and almost looks blurry at times. It’s not a game breaker, but it is annoying.
The sound is really nice. There are two different soundtracks: Orchestral and Arcade. Both are really well executed and pair nicely with the levels. The Orchestral score really does sound like a big budget movie score on par with Lord of the Rings or Star Wars. The Arcade Soundtrack is more of a throwback to the consoles of the late 80s and early 90s. It’s the type of soundtrack the game would have had back then, and it’s still a good soundtrack.
Yes, this game is hard. Yes, this game is Ghosts & Goblins hard. Given the series to which it is an homage, no one should be surprised by that. But make no mistake – this game is punishing. This game will challenge you. This game can feel like an endurance test in how difficult it can be. I say that as a warning, because I know there are people who won’t believe the “legends” told by us ancient gamers about how hard the games were back in the day. Believe me, this game is as hard as its spiritual ancestors. But let’s go back to my discussion on the controls for a moment; the game is hard, but it’s fair. If you die, 99/100 times, the mistake was your fault. It’s a game where getting to the next checkpoint or beating a single boss feels like a major accomplishment. It’s a challenge, but the game is fun and the gameplay engaging, so I don’t mind the challenge. And I don’t think you guys will either. That said, I wouldn’t mind a difficulty selection option, but that’s just for those times when I just want to play through a game quickly.
Battle Princess Madelyn is a true successor to one of the greatest action/platformer series of my generation. It’s a difficult game that offers great gameplay, amazing retro-inspired graphics, an adorable and authentic narrative, and great sound. It’s not a perfect game, but it’s an exceptional game.
Rating: 4.8/5 pixel art bats.