Battle Princess Madelyn is a title I have followed since it first hit Kickstarter. I genuinely teared up as I watched that announcement video, detailing the story between father, Chris, and daughter, Madelyn. When Madelyn said she could not be a knight in a video game because girls can’t be knights, Chris responded with, “What color do you want your armor?” I had a lot of faith in this project simply because it came from such a loving place. In fact, I personally backed it. Disaster stories have come out of Kickstarter games before, and this game did not have the kind of financial backing and team support that some of those failed games had. In this case, however, the love I saw in the beginning has made its way into the final product.
Battle Princess Madelyn pays wonderful homages to family
The premise is quite simple: The kingdom is under attack by the undead, and Battle Princess Madelyn must save the realm. In this, you navigate five completely different zones, ranging from underwater to molten underground, as you attempt to fortify both yourself and the kingdom.
While this portion of the game is straightforward, what really keeps me going is this underlying theme of understanding death. The beginning of the game has a story being told by Madelyn’s grandpa to young Madelyn while she goes to bed in the real world. In the opening menus, it is mentioned that the family has lost their grandpa and their dog, and they will never be forgotten. This understanding and appreciation of death is subtle, which I appreciate. At the same time, the way the game presents death is profound. Madelyn has this story told to her by her grandfather.
She also has her dog, Fritzy, accompany and assist her throughout the game, helping her breathe underwater or casting abilities to help vanquish enemies. The allegory is not deep, but the idea that our loved ones come with us, either in what they said or what we learned from them, is nonetheless refreshing in a medium generally devoid of organic sentimentality.
Love and care went into presentation
Battle Princess Madelyn is clearly a new rendition of Ghosts & Goblins. In doing so, the game sets its own standards incredibly high. Luckily, the overall presentation is stupendous. Sprites and animations translate wonderfully in HD, allowing for the blocky retro style to shine on new televisions without watering down or purging the old look and feel. The music itself is also stellar, showcasing orchestral tracks filtered through 8-bit style. It all works so very well.
In terms of difficulty, Battle Princess Madelyn is still challenging, but it is much more forgiving than its old-school counterpart. Two hits still yield a death. However, her dog, Fritzy, collects orbs from fallen enemies that allow it to bring Madelyn back to life. A bar on the top right indicates how much extra energy, as I’m going to call it, you have collected. There are six bars, and you must have three in order to come back from the dead. If you do not have that many, you start back at where you entered the zone. This is a welcomed alternative, since two hits is a tall order to survive in a lot of cases. This leaves the challenge intact while still allowing for consistent exploration.
Open-world navigation can be cumbersome
This goes into my next point well, as exploration has two faults. The lesser one is tutorial. Sprinkled around the starting area are little hints that help with commands and playing the game. However, there is nothing included in how to handle items and inventory. Demand for this information is not entirely important, as I look back on my playthrough, but knowing what is and is not important could have made a difference as I played.
The other issue is, for me, much bigger than the previous. Battle Princess Madelyn is a Metroidvania game that lacks a map. Some games have made this worth with proper posting and indicators, but Madelyn lacks that kind of posting. The zones are large and multidirectional, meaning that the Story Mode requires a great deal of exploration to complete. Side quests are generally completed in the same area where the quests appear, but they still offer little directional help. Perhaps this can be patched in, but this is how it stands for now.
To indirectly counteract this, as the Kickstarter goal amount had been reached, an Arcade Mode is included in the final package. This offers more of a linear experience that Ghost & Goblin fans might look for. Collected coins and slain enemies accumulate into points that tally up at the end. Deaths and hits still work the same way, but a complete death means starting over at the beginning. This is a welcome mode, really making this $20 package a steal.
Battle Princess Madelyn beats the heart and soul of Ghosts & Goblins
Battle Princess Madelyn has flaws, but it is brimming with heart. Madelyn takes to the undead just like her retro counterparts, and she does it with the same beautiful style and efficiency. For $20, Battle Princess Madelyn is essential for anyone looking for that authentic retro fix we all long for at some point in our lives.
Review code provided by publisher.