Battle Princess Madelyn Review: Retro Chic
Kalvin Martinez / Feb 8th, 2019 No Comments
“Back in my day, video games used to be better…”
Whether it is your drunk uncle sobbingly saying this at Thanksgiving or mouth breathers furiously typing it on the internet, there is a strong sentiment among many older gamers that their generation of games was simply better.
“They didn’t hold your hand like games do nowadays…”
Gamers are a nostalgic group, constantly chasing the feelings they had when they were younger. By extension, many developers also have a penchant for sepia tone.
Battle Princess Madelyn draws heavily from the look, design and feel of old school games, but also tries to deliver a modern experience. This dual approach is novel, but the results aren’t always great.
A Girl and Her Ghost Dog
Before going to bed, Madelyn’s grandfather comes in to read her a story to help her fall asleep. The story is about a brave princess who happens to be named Madelyn.
In the story, Madelyn’s parents have been taken by a maleficent force. During the kidnapping, her beloved dog, Fritz, is killed, and then he becomes her faithful spectral companion. It is up to Madelyn and Fritz to brave the dangers outside the kingdom to stop this great evil and rescue her parents.
Battle Princess Madelyn’s narrative and setup are easy to follow. It is a story within a story where a young princess must fight a baddie to save her parents. If it focused on building the tension and progression around rescuing Madelyn’s parents, it would be totally fine. However, the narrative complicates itself halfway through by adding additional macguffins and a dimensional portal.
Throwing in this complication is nothing too crazy for a game designed to invoke classic video game vibes, but the narrative progression is muddied by the level layout. The result of this wrinkle is a story that is messy and confusing. In many ways, the story itself is emblematic of the issues with the story mode.
Conceived as an homage to the classic gameplay of the early era of video games, Battle Princess Madelyn’s gameplay will be immediately familiar to older players. It combines easy-to-pick-up combat with a steep difficulty that harkens back to the design ethos of early generations of gaming. While the old school vibe is central to the gameplay, that doesn’t mean there aren’t modern twists. Battle Princess Madelyn features a duality that lets players enjoy an old school approach with more emphasis on gameplay or a modern approach that prioritizes story and exploration.
For those looking to hop directly into combat, the arcade mode strips away the story and progression and replaces it with a level-based approach with random power-ups. Much of the challenge comes from having to start over if you die. Luckily, like in story mode, Madelyn can revive a few times at the cost of her MP. Arcade mode puts your reflexes and skills to the test as you start out with a low amount of health. Staying alive is a combination of practice, skill and finding the right power-ups.
Arcade mode also favors level progression. You’ll be moving from one level to another as you defeat bosses. There is a purity to the combat in arcade mode. Regardless of what power-up you may come across, you need to master the basic skills.
Getting down spear throwing, double jumping and nimbly navigating around enemies are things you must get the hang of quickly. Otherwise, you’ll die and have to start over — and there is nothing more agonizing than reaching the boss then having to retry the entire level.
In terms of a modern approach, Battle Princess Madelyn features a story mode where progression is linked to the narrative. The gameplay is the same between both modes, but there is more of an arc in story mode. As opposed to the arcade mode, you gain upgrades at specific points in the story and there is a lot more backtracking.
In many ways, the story mode can be more difficult for a number of reasons. Due to the parsed out upgrades, you are weak for a good while longer than in arcade mode. This means that you really have to be on your game in order to gain ground. Even though you can revive a few times before dying and there is better checkpointing, Madelyn starts out with low health and only her spear to deal with enemies. It is kind of like hardcore mode due to the constraints.
Reviewing Battle Princess Madelyn was a little difficult because a patch released shortly before its release. This addressed some major flaws in the story mode. The patch gives NPCs more use besides asking you to do side quests. NPCs actually give you decent hints on how best to proceed. There are also general hints given at the start of the story mode, which make it so much more clear how to interact with the various elements in the game. It also adds better markers to help keep players from getting lost, which was an issue before.
While these fixes help make the story mode generally more enjoyable, it is still the weaker of the two modes. The story mode is still kind of a slog to get through much of the time. The thrill and joy that comes from proving your skills in arcade mode is almost immediately sucked out when you’re trying to progress through the story. The story bits just aren’t nearly compelling enough to act as a reward for clearing different levels or defeating bosses.
Honestly, the story mode’s sometimes nebulous nature (even with the improvements) is where the game feels the most like an NES or Genesis game. It captures the old school vibe, but not necessarily for the right reason. If you want to get the best of Battle Princess Madelyn, play the arcade mode.
Battle Princess Madelyn’s novel approach to appeal to both old school and modern gaming fans can be a bit of a mixed bag. While the arcade mode nails the old school vibe for the right reasons, the story mode doesn’t strike the right balance between modern design and throwback feel.
Ultimately, the triumph of the game is its satisfying and challenging gameplay coupled with its charming retro graphics.
Battle Princess Madelyn was reviewed on Nintendo Switch with a code provided by the publisher
tags: Battle Princess Madelyn , Battle Princess Madelyn Review , Causal Bit Games , Hound Picked Games , review