Battle Princess Madelyn was clearly a labour of love. There are so many details crammed into its pixel art, so many little flourishes that lend depth and character to its creepy catacombs and zombie infested marshlands. It’s a love letter to arcade games long past, and proud of its roots. Building on such solid foundations does come with the risk of retreading the safety of old territory, and that’s the largest challenge the titular Madelyn and her faithful ghost pooch Fritzy face as they battle across a kingdom plagued by the undead.
The game is presented in both story and arcade modes, and the latter is where it really shines. Hurling axes, spears, boomerangs in an endless torrent at the shambling undead, collecting coins and armour power-ups, taking in the artwork. The story mode offers a vaguely open world with lots of dialogue and background to the characters and why they’re plundering the dungeons, and while some people may get a kick out of it, it’s generally twee and shallow, to the extent it drags down the quickfire arcade gameplay. It’s when the action is boiled down to the core elements, when you’re constantly on the move and hurling weapons out in every possible direction that Battle Princess Madelyn is at its most compelling. The levels are beautiful – it’s obvious a lot of time was lavished on the environments and animations. Every level has its own unique vibe and the enemies are delightfully old-school. Screenshots don’t do it justice, there’s layers of careful detail that make the levels a joy to traverse. The undead hordes are equally awesome, which is good, because you’re going to be seeing a lot of them.
Playing in story mode does not present the best of the game immediately. It’s just padded out with clunky dialogue and story beats that have played out millions of times. Sure, there might not be much room for new tales in this particular genre, but the amount of visual flair on show just serves as a stark contrast to the cookie cutter story and brings the game’s blander moments to light. All the pieces are here for something above average, they just don’t come together in the right way. Strangely enough, we’ve come full circle on the argument of graphics alone making the game. Visually, it’s fantastic. It’s not bad in terms of gameplay, it’s just nothing to write home about. There’s still fun to be had, but it’s fun you’ve had a bunch of times already. Look at Shovel Knight, for one example, capturing the vital essence of those classic titles but digging a brave new trail as a game of its own. Battle Princess Madelyn scratches a very specific itch that a lot of people just don’t have.
Unfortunately it’s hard to recommend Battle Princess Madelyn unless you’re an absolutely diehard side-scroller fan or pixel art enthusiast. While it has a lot of merit, especially in regards to the wonderful pixel art that defines it, it’s largely unremarkable in so many other areas, and especially on Switch faces fierce competition in its particular bracket. The retro-cool inspiration isn’t as vital on a console that provides several classic retro games as part of its online service, where you can enjoy classic Mario and Metroid titles with ease. It’s charming and entertaining in short bursts but struggles to deliver the long-form experience the story mode aims for. The arcade mode, whilst excellent, simply isn’t substantial or unique enough to justify the purchase when significantly more expanded and individual experiences are available. Put together, you have something that delivers on the nostalgia we all feel for simpler times but falls just short of achieving much beyond the excellent visuals. As a developer, Causal Bit Games have the potential to create something remarkable, and this particular title is hopefully a stepping stone on the way to that.
- Beautiful graphics and classic, simple gameplay fuel an entertaining challenge that keeps you on the move.
- Offers story and arcade modes enabling you to experience Battle Princess Madelyn with heaps of detail and an almost open world or a streamlined Ghosts ‘n Goblins style side-scroller.
- Retreads old ground – this is a game you’ve played many times before, although it is really quite nice to look at.
For more reviews from myself and the rest of the FULLSYNC team, click HERE.