Being a princess seems glamorous, but truth be told being a princess in a video game has to be one of the worst jobs in the world. Princesses are notorious for being kidnapped by some evil doer and used as bait to draw the hero to an early grave. There are exceptions, but in the video game world princesses tend to be disproportionately represented as helpless victims. A theory behind Battle Princess Madelyn is one of the developers was playing Super Ghouls n’ Ghosts and after seeing the introductory sequence for the zillionth time of the princess being abducted thought she once wore the goddess bracelet, why doesn’t she unleash her powers and go take on the demon army herself? And thus we have a game that pays homage to older action games but makes the princess the knight in shining armor.
Battle Princess Madelyn begins in a similar fashion of the greatest movies of all time, The Princess Bride. A young girl named Madelyn is sick in bed, passing the time with a video game when her grandfather comes in to read her a story. Madelyn isn’t thrilled about the idea at first but quickly changes her tune when she finds out the princess shares her name and becomes an unstoppable warrior, transporting the player into the fantasy world.
There are two different modes to experience Battle Princess Madelyn. The story mode is what would happen if Ghouls n’ Ghosts was injected with some metroidvania DNA, whereas the arcade is a straight forward linear progression that focuses solely on the action. Due to the linear nature, the arcade mode appeared to have the areas and progression slightly modified though the background art and bosses remained the same. The difficulty in the arcade mode is significantly increased from the story mode, but is a good choice for players who want to to just plow through the game in a traditional old school challenge.
The story mode is the main course. There is a town and castle where Madelyn can spend her money on new items and take on quests from the townspeople, which are usually rather simple tasks such as rescue this person or defeat a specific boss. The tomb of Madelyn’s dog Fritzy serves a waypoint to allow instantaneous travel to previously visited locations to cut down on backtracking to some degree. The ghost of Fritzy follows Madelyn around and has some useful powers, including reviving Madelyn from the dead but after a couple revives even the loyal ghost dog gets fed up with her failings. In the story mode lives potential for a great game but there are some design factors that hold this title back.
Looking at the positives first, Battle Princess Madelyn is heavily inspired by the Ghouls n’ Ghosts games and does a fantastic job paying homage to them. The levels are a mix of 2D platforming and swarms of interestingly designed monsters, with imposing and challenging bosses to defeat. A couple hits is all it takes to do Madelyn in and Fritzy will only revive her where she falls only a few times before she respawns at the beginning of the area. The bosses are difficult at first, but become easy once the player learns their pattern and and react to their attacks. This is the ideal challenge for this type of game, where the player will die several times but by learning the level’s layout and enemy behavior progression always feels possible.
You know those games that hold the player’s hand and practically spoon feed the game objectives? Battle Princess Madelyn has the opposite problem, where it goes too far in the other direction and leaves the player to figure things out for themselves. The objectives aren’t clear, there is no map feature and trying to navigate an area to the boss can sometimes end up being more frustrating than fun, especially when through trial and error the objective is figured out but an arrow hits Madelyn during a free fall and Fritzy decides now is the time to start the area over. There is a sense of satisfaction that comes with completing an area, but this is an area where the game design might be just a little too retro.
Battle Princess Madelyn is a beauty for fans of the 16-bit era. The graphics are in the same style of the Genesis and SNES games that influenced it, though what we see here requires more processing power than either of those systems could provide. The music is charming with a rather whimsical quality. The gameplay is classic 2D platforming action and if I didn’t know better I could be convinced I was playing a legit SNES title. As far as recreating the retro experience the developers have done their homework.
Battle Princess Madelyn is clearly an homage to Capcom titles about slaying ghouls, ghosts and goblins but presented in an endearing, story within a story fashion. There are plenty of times where the unclear objectives can cause feelings of frustration to overrule the feelings of fun, and deaths that feel cheap aren’t exactly a rarity, but Battle Princess Madelyn nails the retro feel, capturing everything we love about these games along with everything that makes us thankful for modern advancements. The challenge in story mode is tough but not unforgiving, where patience and studying enemy behavior can eventually overcome anything the game can throw at you. For those who have conquered the titles that inspired this, arcade mode has ramped up the difficulty for gamers who want to take on a real modern retro challenge. Battle Princess Madelyn is a must play for fans of classic action titles from the ’80s and ’90s, but may be a tough sell for those who started their gaming career later.