Release Date: December/January 2018/2019 (Nintendo Switch, PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One)
Genre: Arcade, Action, Adventure, Platformer
Publisher: Hound Picked Games
Developer: Causal Bit Games
ESRB: Everyone (Mild Fantasy Violence)
I have to say, 2018 had me feeling really nostalgic, especially with Nintendo releasing so many classic NES games through their Nintendo Switch Online service. On December 20th, 2018, Hound Picked Games released Battle Princess Madelyn on the Nintendo Switch. Developed by Causal Bit Games, Battle Princess Madelyn is a side-scrolling platformer in the style of Ghosts ‘n Goblins and its subsequent sequels. I have personally been craving a new Ghouls ‘n Ghosts-type game and I finally got my fill. The question is: Was this game enough to fulfill my needs? Read on to find out more.
In Battle Princess Madelyn you control…well… Princess Madelyn. In addition to her duties as the princess of her country, she is, as I am sure you have already guessed, a fully armored warrior. At the beginning of the game, Madelyn’s castle is attacked by a powerful sorcerer who abducts her family and kills her dog, Fritz. Madelyn vows to rescue her family and get vengeance for Fritz. As she sets out on her journey, she is accompanied by the ghost of Fritz and in Story Mode, by her grandfather – who is now an old knight of the kingdom. Madelyn’s grandfather protects her by randomly attacking enemies on his own and stays with her until the end of the first stage, which helps you get acclimated to the game’s combat system. Once he leaves, it is just Madelyn and Fritz for the rest of the game, although most of the game’s ten levels have villages in them with people to give you quests, many of which can be quite rewarding. While Arcade Mode does not offer any assistance from villagers’ side-quests, the overall story is still the same. I won’t spoil the ending, but needless to say, there is plenty to do in this game.
The gameplay of Battle Princess Madelyn is very similar to other games of the genre from the early 90’s. Most levels move from left to right, with platforms scattered throughout that are used to either ascend or descend into the level. While some enemies are stationary and have a fixed position, many of the baddies in this game can spawn randomly from the ground or from objects in the background. Madelyn’s initial weapon is a spear that can be thrown in any of the four cardinal directions. While I did not find all of the weapons in this game, most of the ones I managed to acquire were also projectiles, with the exception of the sword, which was strictly melee until I was able to upgrade it (and then it shot a fireball when swung). Since there is no ammo limit on the weapons, the game promotes button mashing when enemies are around, which I think is especially helpful for novice players, as there is no changeable difficulty setting. Madelyn’s health is represented by an HP bar that starts with two hits. Once she is down to her last hit, her armor is knocked off and she continues in her pajamas. Taking another hit causes her to die and if she has enough mana (around half of the whole mana bar), she will be revived on the last stable platform she stood on with full health. Dying without any mana causes her to start back at the beginning of the stage, but killing enemies refills the mana bar, so I think the game is quite balanced in that regard. Fritz also gains abilities such as projectiles that will shoot from him whenever Madelyn attacks, but each use consumes a small amount of mana, so it is up to the player to decide how to budget their “lives” versus the utility Fritz provides.
There are two gameplay modes accessible from the main menu: “Story” and “Arcade.” Story Mode features many NPCs who offer advice and quests in the vein of the early Castlevania games and there is often a lot of backtracking and exploring in order to complete optional objectives. In the main castle, there is a doll room that is partially filled with dolls representing various characters and enemies from the game, leaving the player to collect the missing fifty. Some are awarded for completing quests, while others are found by exploring every nook and cranny of the game’s levels. Even though I found over half the dolls, I decided not to find out what happens when you collect all of them, although there is a door in the doll room that won’t open until they are collected, making this every completionist’s fantasy. Other quest rewards, which also happen to be rare drops from enemies, are purple and red gems that are used to upgrade Madelyn’s weapons and armor. Each starts at Level 1 and can be upgraded all the way to Level 3. While Madelyn can initially only take two hits before dying, Level 3 armor allows her to take five hits and is much more majestic in appearance. Level 3 weapons are also typically stronger and have better range, as well as having a much cooler-looking appearance. While I loved having goals to work toward in regard to the weapons and armor, I was able to max them both out about halfway through the game, which deterred me from exploring as much during the second half. There is also a menu that will show you how many dolls and gems you have collected, as well as quest items and upgrades.
In Arcade Mode, the game is much more similar to the Ghosts ‘n Goblins games that inspired it. The levels are much more linear and there are no NPCs or quest items to interact with. There are no collectables or permanent upgrades either. Instead, Madelyn starts with only two hits and the Level 1 spear and after each death, continues with only two hits and the same spear. Weapons and armor are only upgraded through rare drops from enemies, which are both immediately lost upon death and any new weapon that she picks up is also lost. Because of the unforgiving nature of taking damage in this game mode, I consider Arcade Mode to be the harder difficulty, making it much more reminiscent of the earlier games in this genre. There is even a score displayed at the top of screen, like older games had. One final note for fans of the “good ol’ days:” the options menu has a “scan lines” feature, causing the screen to resemble older TV’s for that retro feel. Features like this definitely help newer games cater to a much wider audience.
One of the highlights of Battle Princess Madelyn is the level design. Each level has its own unique landscape that will have Madelyn traversing a graveyard, a mushroom forest, snow-covered mountains, and even the bottom of the sea. Every locale is different and several of them even have an “interior” stage, like a tomb or a cavern. The ever-changing landscapes have several background layers that add depth to the visual design of each stage and the closest background layers are riddled with objects such as coffins, pillars, and hay bales for enemies to pop out of, despite the fact that Madelyn cannot interact with said objects. In Story Mode, there are usually several paths to get to an objective, while there are also other paths that cannot be reached without a certain key or ability. Exploration in this mode is often rewarded in the form of side-quest objectives or hidden optional bosses that give Madelyn new weapons. Since there are so many ways to get from Point A to Point B, the levels tend to feel a bit long. Luckily, the game has a teleportation feature at the very beginning of the game that can take Madelyn to the entrance of any level you have previously visited, making travel much easier. In Arcade Mode, the levels feature the same landscapes, but the design is much more linear and typically flows from left to right. Because of the linear nature of this mode, the game is more straightforward, with little need for backtracking. Despite that, the level design was well thought-out and keeps the game visually pleasing.
Another thing I would like to highlight is the music of Battle Princess Madelyn. Just like with the landscape design, each level has its own unique music score and I have to say, they nailed it. As with any video game, music really sets the tone for the entire experience and I would even go so far as to say it could make or break a game. Now I am not saying you are going to find yourself humming the soundtrack to Battle Princess Madelyn in the shower next week, but some of the game’s levels were definitely made better by the soundtrack. The snow level is my particular favorite, as it is supposed to represent Russia and the music composition definitely reflects the artistic sounds of that region. They even got a choir to sing parts of the music in that level! And like the visual graphics, the options menu also features a selection for the audio where you can have a fully orchestral soundtrack or an arcade-style soundtrack. Again, this feature allows for a much broader audience, especially considering people who want to fully immerse themselves in the retro feel of this side-scrolling platformer.
It is not all fun and games, though. During my playthrough, I encountered several bugs to the point of massive frustration. First, the audio is way too loud in handheld mode and way too soft when docked and there is no good middle ground. It is a minor annoyance, but one worth taking note of when switching between games. Next, there is nothing to indicate when Madelyn transitions between different stages. Basically, the game just freezes for about two seconds and then she is in the next area. At first, I thought my system was actually freezing until I realized that the game is just designed like that, but it definitely made me scratch my head a couple of times. The same goes for making selections in the main menu and the teleportation room. I found myself mashing the button several times because it did not look like the game was doing anything until the screen finally changed. Another issue I ran into was around a third of the way into Story Mode, I suddenly had a new weapon in my inventory menu. The thing is, I never actually picked that weapon up, nor could I even equip it. It was just “there.” (I never ended up finding the weapon, so I cannot tell you if the whip was actually fun to use.) There were also several quest-givers who congratulated me and said they were rewarding me with a new weapon, only no new weapon ever appeared in my inventory from those interactions. While we are on the subject of quests, a quality-of-life improvement would be a way to track quests. As it stands, when Madelyn speaks to a quest-giver, you just have to remember who asked you for what item or what boss they want you to kill and then make your way back to that NPC. With almost ten different quest hubs, this gets frustrating really fast since there is no system in place to track them. With regard to the collectable dolls, I was not made aware of what they were for until we reached out to the developers for clarification. There is nothing in the doll room to indicate what they are for and I did not even think about it until I saw a doll in my inventory after completing a quest. The game offers several hints at the beginning of the game to explain the basics and there is no reason to exclude a hint about the doll collection. One final note about bugs: before writing this review, I decided to turn the game on and play it for a few minutes, as I always do when writing a new review. My story mode progress is GONE! The game began as if I had never played story mode to begin with. Over 10 hours of gameplay just vanished overnight. Needless to say, I am pretty miffed. I do not know if this is an isolated incident or if others are having the same issue, but be forewarned. I also want to mention that when we reached out to the developers, they informed us of the Day One patch content for the release and I have omitted any issue I had that got corrected.
Despite the bugs and quality-of-life issues that should be easily fixable for a game of this nature, Battle Princess Madelyn is actually an incredibly fun game. While I always want to give enough time to a game when writing a review on it, I found myself genuinely wanting to explore the different levels and finish the story. The gameplay moves quickly and there is enough to do in the story mode to keep seasoned veterans of the genre occupied for hours. The level design and soundtrack are quite stimulating and the character design is simply adorable. Arcade Mode is perfect for friends who want to challenge each other for high scores and is an excellent throwback to the progenitors of this genre. My main gripe is how buggy the game can be at times. Does this game justify the $19.99 (USD) price tag? If the bugs get squashed, absolutely. If not, catch it on sale. Either way, Battle Princess Madelyn will have you feeling nostalgic as soon as the game starts and definitely deserves your fighting prowess. (Justin Singh, Gaming Staff Writer)
5/10 (with bugs) or 7/10 (without bugs)