Battle Princess Madelyn has an interesting backstory. According to the website of developer Casual Bit Games, the creative director’s daughter wanted to be in the classic Ghouls ‘n Ghosts game. He told her that although he couldn’t put her in that game, he could make her one of her own. That game is the one you see before you, a Ghouls ‘n Ghosts homage with a female protagonist that harks back to the classic gameplay and graphics. But does replacing Arthur with Madelyn make this a better game, or is it just political correctness gone mad?
The first thing that I have to mention is that I loved Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, and in fact I think it was one of my most played games back in my formative years on the Sega Megadrive. There’s something about the way the character looks, and the task in front of him that made me want to keep trying and trying until I finally beat it. Okay, the turbo fire function on my Sega Arcade Power Stick may have helped, but I still had to do the jumping!
Picking up with Madelyn, and we find the feel and timing of the controls almost exactly the same; I could feel the nostalgia building as I jumped and threw through the first level. With beautifully simple controls (one button to attack, another to jump) and real old skool difficulty in place, this game was feeling great, looking great and playing great.
Luckily, Battle Princess Madelyn fully builds on these promising beginnings. The first thing to mention is the graphics, as they have a gorgeous hand drawn style that fits in with my memories of the original game, but the animation has obviously moved on in the intervening years; it looks stunning in action. The way Madelyn runs, loses her armour when she gets hit and throws in all directions is absolutely spot on, but the big noticeable difference comes when the bosses appear. With the best will in the world, the animation on the old bosses was a bit stilted – a bit old fashioned if you will. Nowadays, that animation is smooth and amazing to watch. They all have attack patterns to learn and discern too, however once you have the hang of it they can be taken down fairly easily. I say fairly, as one slightly mistimed jump can ruin your entire day. And that then gets us on to the audio, and the throwing noises, the different weapons that can be picked up, and even the soundtrack are all absolutely authentic and add to the immersion.
There are two ways to play Battle Princess Madelyn. There is the classic arcade style, where you start at the left of a level and have to run through it, leaping, slaying and generally doing your best to stay alive. This is pure distilled Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, right down to the ‘three lives and you’re out’ gameplay. In Story mode, Madelyn starts out as a trainee knight, and as she progresses through the adventure, she gains new abilities like a double jump. Story mode is very much a case of go where you want, when you want, and as such it does suffer a little from a lack of direction. As an example, I was running all over the place, coming up against holes that I couldn’t get over with my standard jump. It was only after exploring literally everywhere that I stumbled across a boss that when defeated gave Madelyn a new pair of boots. Double jump achieved, and the game opened up.
The exploration is great fun, with very well thought out and challenging levels to navigate your way through, and some pad bitingly frustrating sections as well. The underwater sections fall into this category, as each time Madelyn is hit, she is thrown back a fair way (right off a cliff or into a hole if you are unlucky). In the underwater section, as her movement is slowed, quite often one hit will turn into death as she is thrown into enemies or hazards, with the brief invulnerability period having expired by the time the contact happens. However, none of these issues are insurmountable, and the euphoria when you clear a troublesome section or a hard boss is very, very real. Every life is a learning experience, and the next time you start the section, you have an idea where you went wrong and how to avoid the particular trouble that killed you. The zombies that tunnel up under your feet remain a massive pain in the ass all the way through, though!
Madelyn has a wide variety of weaponry, but for my money, the same as in Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, the best is the dagger. She starts with a lance, and can get axes and such, but the speed of the dagger throwing makes it stand out. To get it, you need to use a new gameplay element – that of showing respect. In certain places, you will find statues, or even the ghosts of young girls, and if Madelyn ducks near them, it is classed as showing respect, and the ghosts will give you a treasure chest, and the statues either keys or weapons. It is not unusual to find the door to the particular level’s boss before you find the key, so ducking near every statue you see can be a great way of making progress. Add into this walls that can be destroyed, opening up new routes through the game, and exploring becomes very engaging.
There are warp stones in certain areas as well, allowing you to fast travel to important areas without having to jog all the way there. The only thing that is needed is a map of the level to show where you are, as the reliance on memory makes it hard to retrace your steps with any degree of accuracy.
All in all though Battle Princess Madelyn has been a wonderful waltz down memory lane. I love the way the game plays, I can clearly see the affection that the inspiration is held in, and it is just the right side of too hard. The visuals are bang on, the music fits perfectly and the gameplay has been polished to within an inch of its life. With collectables to find and side missions to clear, there’s no shortage of things to do, and Battle Princess Madelyn is a great game to involve yourself in.