Title: Battle Princess Madelyn
Developer: Casual Bit Games Inc.
Publisher: Casual Bit Games Inc.
Genre: Action Adventure, 2D Platformer
Audience: PEGI 7
Release Date: 18/10/19
Price: £13.99 – Rapid Reviews UK was very kindly provided with a review code for this title.
There’s nothing quite like going in blind. Having not heard a peep about this joint from Casual Bit Games, I was pleased to see an intro sequence to the arcade mode that had distinct Ghouls N’ Ghosts vibes, thinking myself clever for the quick-thinking comparison.
Then Madelyn threw her first spear at the oncoming zombie and I felt pretty daft. This game is a straight-up homage to Capcom’s classic.
Par for the Corpse
The aim of the arcade mode is to simply run through and defeat enemies as you go. Anyone familiar with Ghouls N’ Ghosts will intuitively know what to do; memorise the layout, the enemy placements, take out hordes and learn how to time a double jump to perfection. Madelyn throws projectile weapons, beginning with the iconic spear, at countless numbers of monstrous foes, ducking and jumping her way through levels. And you will die a lot. It’s brutal, unforgiving and not a good place to start if you’re not already a genre veteran.
Quickly leaving arcade mode to have a deeper dive into the settings and modes, I made the smarter choice to jump into the story mode. Here I’m welcomed in much more gently, with a nice bedside story from an old fella that looks a bit like Pokémon’s Professor Oak but with lower blood pressure.
There’s a heart-warming development tale behind the game as the project started because lead developer, Christopher Obritsch’s daughter Madelyn loved to watch him play through the opening level of Ghouls N’ Ghosts, this lead him to place her in the lead role in his team’s take on genre. How’s that for cool? Best of all, I can relate, as my daughter and I have spent many hours playing Super Ghouls N’ Ghosts together so it also holds a special place in my heart.
Act of Dog
The plot has been written by a children’s author and it shows. The writing is fun and kind of wholesome in a family monster movie kind of way, but it’s very one-note good vs evil, even if the author’s not afraid to kill off some of your companions or to present your long-dead relatives to you as ghosts; complete with nobbly skeleton knees. Indeed, in the opening scene, Madelyn’s dog, Fritzy, loses his life to a monster. Tough start. Worry not, as he’s quickly summoned back as a ghost to continue to accompany Madelyn, now with added ectoplasmic perks. Fritzy gains powers that can be unleashed to provide a bit more bite to your spectral arsenal.
So, the arcade mode sets out to lock on to its inspiration and does so near-flawlessly. The problem here is how that mimicry refuses improvement. The best modern-day takes on classics come with modern-day conveniences. The 2-hit death and lives system feel at odds with any current design philosophy. Now to be fair, BPM doesn’t chuck your coat at you and splash a ‘Game Over’ screen in your face, but it does take you back to the start of the section. For shorter parts, this is fine but when the levels are littered with awkward enemy appearances and similar layouts, stretched out only for the sake of avoiding brevity, it becomes a real down-point.
These issues are tolerable to a point but not for a full campaign. The story mode’s exploration is a chore, with limited signposting and platforms frequently lost to background art, turning the action into a slow-paced slog. There are means of fast travelling across the map and that saves on some of the dismal long-distance running that can often feel like going around in circles, but there doesn’t seem to be an appreciation for how a level should naturally flow. Perhaps the intent to throw you into deep murky waters without so much as a pair of Speedos is by design, but the way you’re blindly hurled into traps and obstacles feels like a trapping better left for games of yesteryear, ones designed with memory limitations in mind and with spurious goals of chewing through your pocket money.
The most noticeable issue is the camera. A wider perspective could have eased this problem and certainly a panning camera for dropping downwards would have mitigated the ‘leap of faith death’ issue. Plunging to your doom due to not understanding the platform layout may well be par for course when you’re looking to emulate 90’s era arcades but memorising placements becomes difficult when each pattern is entirely forgettable. It’s not that deaths are always cheap or caused by overly difficult enemy or platform positions, it’s just, in terms of design choices, at times it feels like a middle-of-the-road user made Super Mario Maker level; where the person making the level has used muscle memory or what feels natural for them to overcome a series of jumps or obstacles. Like there’s only one rigid solution and no room to breathe. While this works for an arcade mode, it’s not the best look for a story-based exploration platformer.
Variance in enemy type is fine but the fodder is shackled by the persistent need to slow the action down. Like a door-to-door salesperson, they can be extremely irritating, putting on a little show while making you wait for them to finish. Boss battles aren’t much better in this regard. There’s some helpful feedback in that they change a deeper shade of red as you close on robbing them of their undead… life, but there’s nothing by way of progression during fights, with battles dragged out by stale and obvious manoeuvres. The bosses are plentiful with some fun designs (massive robotic bunny, anyone?) and can be challenging but once visible charm dries up, I found myself just wishing they would leave.
Ghostess with the Mostest
Game design grievances aside, BPM has lovely exaggerated character and enemy animations such as Fritzy’s waggling of his phantom paws looking like he’s kneading the air and there are extra little details like when first striking a breakable wall to reveal a secret path, a light shaft emerges. It’s a well realised visual package and slots into the 16-bit genre of game art with style.
One of my favourite features was the novelty of choice between orchestral or arcade scores, both work beautifully to the point I found myself frequently switching between the two. John McCarthy and Gryzor87 have spared no efforts with a score that rocks in both forms.
Unfortunately, despite the responsive arcade style controls and physics, the inventive take on the Ghouls N’ Ghosts aesthetic (and, to a lesser extent, formula), the quality music, and the glorious animated cutscenes, there are several undeniable flaws which undermine the game’s attempts by stubbornly failing to satisfy the must-haves of an exploration-based platformer.
Battle Princess Madelyn has the moving parts to satisfy anyone itching to play a decent, hard-as-nails 2D arcade action game, but those same parts are shoved awkwardly into the shell of an exploration platformer. The intention was good-natured, but the end product doesn’t quite reach the ambition, especially where level design is concerned. There are bags of charm in the overall presentation, but those bags have frail seams.
Rapid Reviews UK Rating
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