Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Review: Battle Princess Madelyn [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Taking on an attempt to harness the feel and style of classic arcade games can be a risky business. On the one hand, when you choose the right title to recapture the spirit of you’re pretty well guaranteed a base of people already interested in your title. On the other, figuring out how to honor the original without either outright copying it or deviating too far afield it can no doubt be tricky. In the case of Battle Princess Madelyn its obvious inspiration from the classic Ghouls ‘N Ghosts made it a pretty sure-fire success in its original Kickstarter campaign. When I played the early demo of it on PC there was no doubt the look and control feel of that original game was present but I worried, based on the content available, that it might be too similar to the original for its own good. Now, having played the final product, I’m actually sad to say that given the outcome for the Story and even the Arcade mode perhaps not enough was learned or understood of why the original was a success and should have stuck closer to that formula.


There’s no doubt that in terms of both the look and overall feel of the controls in the game Madelyn nails the classic feel of Ghouls ‘N Ghosts. Certainly it has its own environments, enemies, and flourishes that help it stand out but there’s no question of the core inspiration for the game’s visuals. Mechanically the controls and movement similarly feel pretty good, and though the jump is on the floaty side that’s consistent with the classic arcade experience so it’s understandable. Also consistent with the original there’s nothing terribly easy to it, enemies have a tendency to spawn as they will and sometimes at inconvenient or even annoying times. Between that and areas that get a bit vertical but then don’t let you look down to see what you may need to deal with coming up is a bit unfortunate. Overall, though, the look and base feel of the game are authentic and appreciated.


Where it starts to go off the rails a bit is with the confusing and somewhat tedious Story Mode. The idea isn’t a bad one, trying to provide more of a lengthened quest feel to the game, but in terms of its overall organization and clarity it has some serious problems. Where you’re supposed to go and what you’re supposed to do isn’t consistently clear, as everyone seems to have something they want you to do but most of the direction is either vague or even redundant, making the process of getting your rewards for completing certain tasks a bit more of an annoying chore than it should be. In addition, the level design is a bit all over the place and often has enemies placed in cheap spots that thwart your progress for dumb reasons. Overall, your growth and progression happen at a snail’s pace so it just isn’t terribly fun honestly, there’s not enough juice for the squeezing you need to do and what you get simply isn’t very tasty or satisfying when put up against the Metroidvanias already on the system it’s essentially trying to compete with.


Things in Arcade mode are a bit better as the focus is then just on action but this is where the failure to grasp what made the original so iconic becomes apparent. Being honest, power-ups are few and far between and show up far too randomly overall. So many of my memories of the original were of getting better and more varied weapons and some armor. In Madelyn far too much time is spent with same somewhat boring default spear and replenishing your armor is far too much of a rarity. This results in the feel being somewhat authentic but so much of the fun fails to really show up on a consistent basis so you don’t get as many of the ups and downs and excitement, it just becomes a bit of a monotone affair making you wish it were just more like the game that inspired it.


All said, much of the spirit of the original Ghouls ‘N Ghosts beats at the heart of Battle Princess Madelyn but unfortunately you only see flourishes of it at times with too many stretches that are sloppy or simply not much fun. The slow drip of power-ups makes a little more sense in Story Mode to help stretch things out but being inconsistent and a bit too stingy with them is disappointing. I understand the desire to make the game challenging but even with some enhancements things would remain tough enough and the player would get a shot at enjoying a higher proportion of carrot to stick. I’m hopeful it can be tuned or patched to include some more configuration options to help make it more accessible but as it stands now Madelyn is good but has some serious flaws that hold it back all the same.

Score: 6

Pros:
  • Has the visuals and most of the controls of the original Ghouls N’ Ghosts nailed
  • Some cool and challenging bosses
  • For the most part the monsters are pretty diverse and pose a challenge

Cons:
  • Story Mode is all over the place and lacking in direction overall
  • Far too much time is spent in both modes under-powered and feeling a bit dull
  • Just too many things that aren’t well explained or don’t make much sense