Battle Princess Madelyn is a charming throwback to a bygone era of gaming, even if it's sometimes more frustrating than it is actually fun. Video games are at a better place technologically than they ever have been, from breathtaking open world experiences like Red Dead Redemption 2 to gorgeous fast-paced first person shooters like the rebooted Doom game. Developers love to show off the graphical capabilities of their game engines and every so often, something comes along that truly pushes video games into what can only be described as the "next generation." With that in mind, there are plenty of gaming companies that also love to capture the spirit and graphics of games as they existed ten, even twenty years ago.
Battle Princess Madelyn employs the classic side-scrolling platformer technique that so many games of the era it pays homage to were using like, especially Ghouls 'n Ghosts. The game begins in a similar way to popular 1980s classic The Princess Bride, with a grandfather reading a story to his granddaughter, before the action shifts to the title character. This is a charming beginning to Battle Princess Madelyn and developer Casual Bit Games knows from the start exactly what kind of gamer audience it intends to bring to their crowd-funded game. The story-inside-the-story is quite simple: accompanied by her ghost dog Fritzy, Madelyn goes on an adventure to stop an evil wizard, save her family and kingdom and become a knight.
Along the way, Madelyn faces off against various bosses and tough to traverse landscapes. In theory, all of this sounds like ingredients that should add up to a rollicking good time, filled with nostalgia and fun. In practice, Battle Princes Madelyn is often so frustrating that it forgets the inherent purpose of video games: fun. This is especially true of the game's early missions, which are unforgiving and aimless, forcing players to die over and over again to learn exactly what Battle Princess Madelyn expects of them. In a gaming era where tutorials and easy-to-follow quest markers run rampant, this approach to gaming may ensure that casual players stay far away.
This isn't to say that overly difficult necessarily means bad, either. The Dark Souls games are well-known for being highly complicated gaming experiences, but those games have logic buried underneath difficulty and patience can ensure success. With Battle Princess Madelyn, logical thinking and patience does not always guarantee a win and sometimes it comes down to pure luck. Again, this is particularly true of the first third of the game's missions. It's almost as if developer Casual Bit Games figured out how to make a coherent game nearly halfway through and forgot to go back and make the beginning stages of the game more accessible.
Once Battle Princess Madelyn gets past its opening stages, it quickly becomes a mostly rewarding experience with uniquely designed levels and challenging, fun boss fights. Its themes of death and family, while not overly complex, add a layer of narrative coherence that its plotting doesn't always provide. This is most prevalent in Madelyn's relationship with the ghost of her trusty dog Fritzy, who accompanies the princess on her entire journey. Fritzy, of course, also has more practical abilities such as reviving Madelyn when she dies (though this can only happen a couple of times before the player is forced to start their current mission over again at the beginning of the stage).
The combat in Battle Princess Madelyn is fast pace, with Madelyn able to throw an unlimited amount of spears at enemies as they spawn. She can eventually find better weapons and armor as the player progresses. It's in the game's combat and child-like innocence that Battle Princess Madelyn most resembles Ghosts 'n Ghouls, and this is hardly surprising. One of the main developers of the game was inspired by his daughter's love of watching him play the 1988 classic, and the title character of Battle Princess Madelyn was reportedly inspired by her.
While the story mode certainly has a lot of fun and challenge to offer, Battle Princess Madelyn truly shines with its arcade mode. This foregoes a story line and has players trying to rack up as many points as they can by quickly going through the game's various stages. It's here that players will truly feel like they're powerful warriors more in line with the promise of the title. Armor and better weapons come easier and standard enemies are nothing but harmless ants compared to Madelyn's wrath. Arcade mode is a great place to unwind if the story mode proves too frustrating or challenging or even as something to approach afterward.
Battle Princess Madelyn is at times an unnecessarily frustrating game that pulls heavily from '80s games like Castlevania and Ghosts 'n Ghouls. Still, there's a certain old school charm to the game that makes it a rewarding experience, especially after the early stages of the game. It's hard not to appreciate the amount of love and time that developers at Casual Bit Games poured into the title and, while it never reaches the heights of being a great game, it's still a journey players will be glad they accompanied Madelyn and her ghostly canine companion Fritzy on.
Battle Princess Madelyn is available now on Xbox One and PC for $19.99. It will release on December 13th for PlayStation 4 and the Nintendo Switch. Screen Rant was provided an Xbox One copy for this review.