Battle Princess Madelyn is an unabashed love letter to games of long ago. Drawing heavy influences from titles like Ghosts 'n Goblins and Castlevania, it does a good job of recreating a retro experience but how does this old-school style hold up in 2018?
Unsurprisingly, you play as the titular hero Princess Madelyn whose family was slaughtered by an evil sorcerer. Joined by her ghost dog Fritzy, Madelyn sets out on a quest to stop the sorcerer and revive her family. Battle Princess Madelyn utilizes an authentic retro pixel art style that excels at making the environments pop but results in Madelyn and human NPCs looking a little goofy. Meanwhile, the combat is very basic, consisting of throwing weapons at enemies while avoiding them and their projectiles. Baddies regularly pop up from behind bushes and walls and you'll rarely spend more than a couple seconds walking without having to fling your spears or daggers at nearby enemies. In typical retro gaming fashion, enemies are regularly placed at inconvenient locations, giving them a significant advantage.
That's Battle Princess Madelyn in a nut shell; almost everything about it is either delightfully retro or infuriatingly old-school. I'm talking about things like enemies knocking you backwards and ruining your progress, an inventory system that doesn't give you any actual details about what items are used for, enemies that respawn once you get too far away from them, and massive levels sprinkled with just a few arrow signposts that try and keep you on the right path. There are no waypoints, no map system, and no journal of quests to help keep your adventure organized and remind you what to do next.
The retro influences can especially be experienced in a massive cavern area near the end of the second world. This cavern is filled with narrow platforms, fire-breathing snakes, and arrow-shooting skeletons. You're tasked with finding and pressing 3 buttons in a specific order to open up a gate behind a waterfall. The actual platforming isn't challenging but keeping track of where you've explored and where to go next makes it a lot more difficult. To make matters even more frustrating, there's incessant knockback every time you take damage which sends you flying towards the ground if you're not lucky enough to land on a lower platform.
I'd anticipate those who aren't gluttons for classic gaming punishment will probably call it quits at some point in the aforementioned hulking cavern. I say that because I contemplated quitting as well although with time, I was able to find my way through. This cavern is a solid metaphor for the entire game: it really only needs to be explored by those willing to give up many of the luxuries of modern games. Battle Princess Madelyn gets easier as you level up Madelyn's armor and weapons later on but it's still a purely retro experience.
I will say that one aspect of Battle Princess Madelyn that's surprisingly forgiving is its health system. You start with only 3 health bars which can be upgraded after collecting enough coins and armor crystals. After losing your three health bars, you can be revived by your ghost dog Fritzy as long as he has enough MP to do so. As you kill enemies, you are awarded MP which allows you to refill Fritzy's gauge. This means that as long as you can kill enough enemies between deaths, you won't actually have to restart at the beginning of the levels. It's a refreshing and fair system that pairs well with the far less forgiving aspects.
The bulk of Battle Princess Madelyn's campaign consists of story mode, a full adventure with a storyline, inventory system, side-quests, and more. However, there's also an arcade mode in Battle Princess Madelyn that plays significantly differently. The levels in arcade mode look artistically similar to the ones in story mode but they are uniquely crafted. Gone are permanent upgrades, collectible currency, and much more. In other words, arcade mode plays much more like, well, an arcade version of the game. There's no saving your progress and if you die (which you probably will a lot), you'll have to restart the level over from the beginning. Fortunately, there are infinite continues so as long as you have the time, you can make it to the end without being a retro gaming master.
Arcade mode also gets rid of the oversized levels and sense of exploration since there isn't much to collect or search for. This is a good thing as it makes the overall experience more streamlined and less bloated. That being said, there's also no sense of satisfaction when you're finally able to find that hidden quest item or upgrade Madelyn's weapons. I ended up enjoying story mode more because it's in line with the type of games I usually play but arcade mode is probably the more well-rounded version of the game.
For better and worse, Battle Princess Madelyn is an authentic retro experience. Its combat is simple yet unexciting and the lack of many features commonplace in modern games make it only appeal to those who long for the grueling games of long ago.
- + Authentic retro feel
- + Appealing pixel art environments
- + Fair and forgiving health system
- - Lack of modern game features make gameplay difficult to get accustomed to
- - Oversized levels are tricky to explore
- - Basic old-school combat is unexciting