Girls 'n Ghosts
Title: Battle Princess Madelyn
Genre: Action/Adventure, Retro
Developer: Casual Bit Games
Publisher: Casual bit Games
Platform(s): PC, Xbox, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch (Reviewed)
Release: December 6, 2018
During a December GamerHeads Podcast episode, we talked about video game-related Christmas memories. Mine in particular involved receiving my first NES system with a copy of Ghosts 'n Goblins. From there, I had a love/hate relationship with the game, and I'm sure many of you agree with me. I think don't think I ever made it past the third level, but I still kept coming back to it. Fast-forward 25 years, and my five-year-old son is introduced to video games via Ghouls 'n Ghosts for the Sega Genesis. Don't worry, we used cheat codes for invincibility so the game was a breeze. Needless to say, this franchise has always had a memorable place in my life as a gamer.
Which brings us to Battle Princess Madelyn – a video game that shares appreciation for the Capcom classic title with many gamers such as myself. The story behind this game's development is also to be respected: the game was a collaborative venture between one man and his daughter. She designed the characters and the story, and he incorporated it into the game. The project ran a very successful Kickstarter campaign, and is now available on PC and all major consoles. But how does the game hold up? Does it provide a nostalgic trip to yesteryear, or does it turn into a pile of bones after two hits?
The Tip and the Top
The story behind Battle Princess Madelyn is wholly original: Madelyn is a knight in her family's kingdom. One day, evil monsters rise up and attack her family's castle. They kidnap her family, and her dog Fritzi is killed trying to help. But fear not, the ghost of Madelyn's canine companion returns and accompanies her as she tries to rescue her family and destroy the evil that has menaced the land. This story is told through well-animated cut-scenes, and succeed in bringing you straight into the action.
From here, you can choose between two modes. The first, Story, presents Battle Princess Madelyn almost as a metroidvania style of game, where you explore the world, accept missions, fight enemies and bosses, and obtain new power-ups. The other mode, Arcade, plays just like you would imagine a classic Ghouls 'n Ghosts game would play. Travel each stage from left to right, fighting bad guys and completing stages. I love this idea; as it gives you options so that one mode doesn't become too repetitive. If you start to get your fill on one mode, you can just switch to the other. It's a great setup, and I really wish more of these retro-styled indie games would include this as an option.
The game looks and sounds just like a Sega Genesis game would (and should). In fact, it's so pixel-perfect that one could easily mistake it for a retro game. It's almost as if Battle Princess Madelyn was a direct sequel to Ghouls 'n Ghosts, as opposed to a spiritual successor. Even Madeyln's running animation looks just like Arthur's. It really brings a smile to t his old-school gamer's face to see these homages. The sound effects and music also feel ripped directly from the classic system. Everything is crisp and clear, and has that recognizable Sega “effect.”
Finally, and most importantly, the game's controls are perfect. I've always felt that a game can be the most gorgeous and technologically-advanced title out there, but if the controls are garbage, the game is terrible. Luckily, Battle Princess Madelyn does not fall into that category. The controls are tight, from every jump to attack. This is extremely important, because with a game like this that requires a lot of skill, lag-free controls are a must.
The Flip and the Flop
Battle Princess Madelyn is a good game, but unfortunately there are a few issues that keep it from being a great game. First, there are some issues with the sound synching up with the action. Normally, every time you hit an enemy it makes a sound confirming they were hit, and an explosion sound when they die. Sometimes this does not trigger, and this is tough – especially if the enemy is off-screen and you need that confirmation before making the next jump.
The other issues I had with the game are, unsurprisingly, the same issues that I've had with a lot of retro games. The game can be pretty difficult, with archers that fire arrows too fast for you to successfully land a jump and counter, to enemies that require way too many hits before going down. To make matters worse, Madelyn gets knocked back when hit. I know that this is done to stay true to that retro feel, but when you get hit by an enemy, then fall into a bottomless pit and die, it just doesn't seem “fair.” Some of these classic tropes just need to stay in the 80's.
Which brings me to another gripe. The levels in Battle Princess Madelyn are not straight-forward. That is, they can scroll up and down as well as left-to-right. The issue with this is that there were many times where I had no idea where I had to go next. My only option then, was to literally make a leap of faith, in hopes that I would land on solid ground. And many times, unfortunately, I did not. This was especially frustrating during the story mode where I would literally fall for about five seconds from the top of a cliff, seeing several landing spots pass me by as I feel into oblivion. There also was not much direction in the game. I had no idea where to go or what to do at some points, and felt that I found where I needed to go by sheer luck. Again, this is probably due to the retro nature of the game, but in this day and age, it does not translate all that well.
Final Grade: B-
Battle Princess Madelyn is a love letter to the games of old, and at the same time acts as a history less on both what did and did not work. However, for those of us who grew up on these classic titles, it definitely scratches that retro itch. The difficulty and lack of direction in the story mode may be a turn-off to younger gamers, but if you have fond memories of only making it to the end of the first level in Ghosts 'n Goblins, you too will find this an enjoyable trip down memory lane.