Our princess is in another castle.
The Battle Princess Madelyn Kickstarter campaign began on March 15, 2017 and reached its funding goal of $60,000 CDN in just three days. It plays like and draws clear inspiration from Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts and the success of the Kickstarter provided evidence that there was and is an appetite for this type of action platformer. Unfortunately, the elements of Madelyn that have been added to and taken away from Capcom’s classic arcade series detract from the overall enjoyment.
One positive aspect of the game is in how it controls—with a single exception. Movement, jumping, and attacking feel good. So the action parts, especially boss battles, really shine. Madelyn can pull off some really acrobatic jumps and eventually double jumps that are fun to perform. Unfortunately, the B button is used to make selections, rather than the A button, and the button layout cannot be changed in the Options menu.
The game has two main modes: Story and Arcade. Story Mode plays out much differently from Ghouls ‘N Ghosts in that it adds more narrative elements, animated cutscenes, NPCs, sidequests, and areas to explore. The story beats start out simple enough but become a little murky a few hours in. Tasks given to you by townsfolk aren’t recorded anywhere, and you can’t get them to repeat the details of their requests, so making progress generally means looking everywhere and returning with what you hope will satisfy them. In theory, expanding the 10 levels by adding hidden areas and doors needing keys should make for a challenging and worthwhile gameplay experience, but it ends up more a recipe for disaster.
The sprawling levels are tricky to navigate and are filled with cheap deaths and enemy placement. Because every door needs a key, you might end up searching and having to return to areas frequently to get anywhere. The result is a frustrating and unintuitive slog through environments you have seen far too many times. Story Mode also severely restricts your upgrades. Rather than scoring new weapons and armor from defeating enemies or hidden treasure chests, you have to complete a side mission for a blacksmith and collect and spend shards to improve your equipment. None of this is really explained in the game, and I only learned about it by reading updates on the Kickstarter page. The lack of hand-holding works to the detriment of Story Mode. Arcade Mode, on the other hand, removes the story elements and exploration and is essentially the same as Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts. Stages are shorter and more streamlined, and you can pick up a variety of weapons and armor sets that improve those weapons. That said, actually acquiring that new equipment seems to be a bit of a crapshoot. There is one type of enemy that drops money bags, weapons, or armor seemingly at random. I’ve spent five minutes just killing enemies and found no drops; other times I’ve picked up a handful of power-ups in under a minute.
A few other annoying factors detract from the overall experience. First, the player screen doesn’t indicate how many lives you have left and it appears that your number of lives resets back to three each time you enter a new area. Second, your high score doesn’t save after you finish Arcade Mode, so I’m not really sure why there is a score counter in the first place. Third, one section features an elevator that moves upward and I encountered a number of bugs in addition to massive slowdown during this sequence. Finally, and worst of all, you can’t scroll the screen down to see what lies below, and so you will constantly be taking leaps of faith into enemies and spike pits without any way of knowing they were there.
Battle Princess Madelyn features colorful, vibrant visuals that are a definite strong point. I found the music less memorable than any from Ghouls ‘N Ghosts in that it doesn’t build mood or atmosphere in the way that Capcom did. The bosses each have a unique design and a good level of challenge that make it enjoyable to replay those sections. Although the design of minor enemies wasn’t as impressive, I did appreciate that minions have slight visual alterations in every level.
In trying to revive a decades-old series, Causal Bit Games created a Frankenstein’s Monster of sorts. Adding adventure and exploration elements to the Ghouls ‘N Ghosts formula hasn’t improved the experience. Forcing the player to replay the entire game only to retrieve a special weapon that can truly defeat the final boss was a better design choice than the ones made in Battle Princess Madelyn’s Story Mode. The Arcade Mode saves it from mediocrity in that it allows players to enjoy the different environments, weapons, and bosses through a tough but beatable campaign. Regardless, questionable design choices and lack of gameplay explanations detract from the overall satisfaction. After spending time with Battle Princess Madelyn, I’m left with one lasting impression: I really want to replay Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts.