Battle Princess Madelyn is a game that was released on the 6th of December 2018. It is yet another Kickstarter funded game, following along the lines of games such as Mighty No. 9 and Yooka Laylee. It was first unleashed on Kickstarter on March the 15th 2017. The game’s creator mentions on their second Kickstarter update that;
I have never played Ghouls and Ghosts, but I have been informed of its infamous difficulty. I decided however that I had enough experience with difficult, old-school games to complete Battle Princess Madelyn
The background to this game is far more interesting and engaging than the story in the game. The creator mentions that the main character is based on their real-life daughter Madelyn. They put out a heartfelt message on the first day of the Kickstarter campaign mentioning how many people are out there asking how Madelyn’s doing; ‘fills our hearts with pure joy!’ This was what made me more interested in the game. The creator putting their heart into Battle Princess Madelyn, something that’s far too uncommon these days. I began to forget about my worries about it being too nostalgic and not focusing enough on being an enjoyable game.
I maintained this frame of mind as I began the story. The story is as basic as a game from the NES/SNES era of gaming. Madelyn is a princess and the greatest knight in the land. When her land is attacked by an evil wizard and kills her dog, she ventures out to kill him.
The animations are very reminiscent of Ghouls and Ghosts. Enemies can sprout out of the ground from one of the first areas you visit. The random spawning does include the spot you’re standing on and you can take a hit that you had no chance to avoid. It’s often hard to get out of the way of them when they arrive out of nowhere because both you and the enemies are very large. This is made more frustrating at the start of the game, considering how you start off with only being able to take two hits.
The aforementioned enemy-spawning issue was, unfortunately, not the only case of design that wasn’t given much thought. Battle Princess Madelyn obviously utilises pixel-art graphics to further connect to the era of games it’s making homage to. This decision means that the designers needed to spend time working on every sprite, to make them look clear and beautiful. The game struggles with this and while most of the designs are clear, they’re also bland and ugly. Madelyn and the enemies are too big/zoomed in too much, making it harder to avoid obstacles. The game would also often have these enemies on the platforms you’re jumping to and they’ll knock you off.
At many points in the game, I would be frequently performing leaps of faith that would 9 times out of 10, result in my death, In games like Super Metroid. Samus is big enough to get a scale of the world and the enemies, yet not so big that you can’t see where you’re going. I would not be reliant on the game to put a platform where I had no reason to believe there is one.
Battle Princess Madelyn lacks this and made me angry at the game instead of at myself for not being able to react quickly enough. This happened most frequently after the first boss, in the jungle area and in the caves. The jungles had many platforms that when you climbed up, it became impossible to see anything below. The game would seem to encourage you to climb as high as possible and jump straight into some water and die. In the caves, there are only thin platforms that you can climb up and they can be difficult to land on. For example, I’d be jumping along the platforms until an archer (that I had no chance to react to) would shoot me. This would knock me off the platform that I was standing on / climbing up. There is no chance for recovery.
Replicating the past?
The excuse for these issues is that it’s deliberately copying those aspects of the old-school games such as Ghouls and Ghosts. This is not a good excuse as back then the games were short and needed as many unfair tasks designed purely to slow down the player and make it harder for them to complete the game to make it seem longer. In the case of arcade games, they’d want you to die so they can take more of your money. This shouldn’t be the case in modern games, it’s not fun. If they wanted to make a longer game, they could’ve made a longer game. Placing enemies in unfair positions where they’re hard to kill doesn’t count.
The arcade game I’d pay more for.
Undoubtedly the greatest thing about Battle Princess Madelyn is the arcade mode. It’s fast, very fast. The game has many moments in which I felt like a genuine knight fending off monsters from the land. Death doesn’t even slow you down too much as you can respawn very shortly after dying. Whenever I’d get angry at the game for its faults I’d switch onto the arcade mode and feel significantly better. This explains to me why it as the first option on the menu screen. It still holds some of the errors that plagued the story mode, but it was a much better experience. If Battle Princess Madelyn was just this, it’d be a much better game.
Battle Princess Madelyn is an interesting concept. It held my interest until the first boss. It is not an incomplete game and it’s not completely impossible to enjoy. The music, though clichéd, is very nice to listen to. It looks very good for a pixel game and the arcade mode is, without a doubt, the best way to experience Battle Princess Madelyn. However, even though most of the game’s issues are minor, it adds up for a generally unenjoyable time. Especially the errors that were more excusable decades ago. It’s inexcusable to hold easily fixed mistakes and passing it off as ‘recreating the past’. We’re moving on from the past and we should look at our past mistakes and improve upon them.
The game is perfectly enjoyable for people who played the original Ghouls and Ghosts if they want a faithful adaption. However, if you’re looking for an updated and improved take on the concept, you’ll need to wait longer as Battle Princess Madelyn fails to land.