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Amazing Princess Sarah (Xbox 360) artwork

Amazing Princess Sarah (Xbox 360) review

"Amazing Princess Sarah reminds me of the titles I grew up with, but with some anti-frustration features built in that prevent me from losing interest after yet another blundering attempt at a particularly tough challenge."

I've seen a few people refer to Amazing Princess Sarah as a Metroidvania title, which just makes me wonder if they spent much time playing it. While there is a simplistic leveling-up system in place, this game is far more reminiscent of the Castlevania games released before the Metroidvania label even existed.

Much like older games that inspired it, this one is light on plot. You control Sarah, a princess who provides an amazing amount of fan service in her title screen portrait. When a she-demon and her horde of monsters takes over the princess' castle, seducing and kidnapping her father the king, it's up to Sarah to travel through five castles that definitely were not designed with the wellbeing of servants in mind. I mean, who'd want to work in such places, replete with icy platforms, spike-covered floors, bottomless pits and other hazards?

Amazing Princess Sarah (Xbox 360) image

Naturally, there is also the demon's army of monsters with which to contend. Sarah can defend herself in two ways: she can swing her sword (which has limited range and damage output but no cooling period) or she can throw things, from furniture and other background items to the bodies of fallen monsters. The larger the object (or carcass) the more damage it causes, but more cumbersome things can't be thrown as far as, say, a bat.

And, well, that's about it. This is a pretty simple game, which probably shouldn't come as a surprise since it's an indie title with a $5 price tag. You don't gain new abilities or the ability to backtrack through past areas, like you would in Metroidvania games. Instead, you progress through five large castles, enduring monsters and tough platforming sections while the challenge steadily increases. After beating the game, a number of "new game+" options are unlocked, allowing you to undergo the challenge again and again with certain alterations made to the experience.

The first castle offers a straightforward introduction to the basics. You follow a mostly linear path, with occasional detours leading to switches that open the way forward. At the end, you face a boss fight. These baddies don't tend to be especially interesting, but are large and well-detailed, occasionally providing neat challenges. In particular, the giant bug from the second level stands out. You're forced to quickly scale a vertical path, killing weaker monsters and throwing their bodies at the pursuing menace while it scuttles after you. If you take too long to dispatch it, you'll reach the top of the shaft and find the exit door barred, leading to a quick death and a trip back to the pre-fight checkpoint.

Amazing Princess Sarah (Xbox 360) image

That second stage is where Amazing Princess Sarah really starts to show its teeth. It essentially feels like the first stage, but with slick surfaces. Shortly before you reach the boss, you'll find yourself forced to traverse a seemingly never-ending series of platforms that spans a bottomless pit, Mega Man style. Platforms disappear shortly after you jump on them, forcing you to move constantly while bats fly across the screen and threaten to knock you from each precarious perch. After getting past that obstacle course, getting chased by a bloodthirsty bug actually seems almost relaxing…

Environmental hazards are common elsewhere, as well. When I started the third level, I realized that the water currents flowing over platforms were designed to sweep me into pits or monsters. Later on, I encountered one particularly diabolical room that vaguely reminds me of the stage in Wizards & Warriors where one scales the outside of Malkil's castle by jumping from block to block before mistiming a leap, falling all the way to the bottom and having to scale the whole thing again. The difference here is that the sequence plays out on a smaller scale, with fewer jumps and a new wrinkle: a ghostly enemy that essentially is a transplanted Boo from the Super Mario series (it only moves when your back is to it).

In making this game, Haruneko did a generally solid job of building a retro-themed (down to the SNES-style sprite graphics) platformer with a few modern aspects, but some ideas just seem ill-advised. I found myself a bit annoyed in the fourth castle, when I reached an area where you're expected to execute a few blind leaps of faith. First, if you're not pushing left on the control pad, you'll miss a ledge and find that your leap of faith has turned into a non-stop plummet into a bottomless pit. Then, if you survive that, you'll arrive in a brief "trial-and-error" section where if you don't follow a set path, you'll wind up trapped in a large chamber where suicide by monster and bottomless pits are your only options. Even with a checkpoint placed right before this area, it comes off as a bit cheap and out of line with the rest of the game's challenges.

Amazing Princess Sarah (Xbox 360) image

That sort of negativity was a rarity for me while playing Amazing Princess Sarah, though. It's hard to be too upset with a game when it does such a good job of blending old school "Nintendo Hard" stuff with a couple features designed to make things more player-friendly.

The ability to gain levels might not be a game changer, but over time, it helps make things easier. Each time Sarah levels up, she gains two hit points and an incremental boost to her attack power. Also, you keep experience points gained even when you die, despite the trip back to the last checkpoint. If tricky enemy placement is leading to one death after another, at least you can find hope in the fact that while you're gradually learning how to survive in that area, you're also growing more powerful. At least, that's what I told myself as I endured the dozen or more attempts it took me to topple the two giant statues that serve as the third castle's boss.

Amazing Princess Sarah (Xbox 360) image

I also have to give credit to this game's checkpoint system. Checkpoints are spaced far enough apart that reaching a new one feels like an accomplishment. However, things aren't as unforgiving as they were in the NES games that influenced this one, where you'd be lucky to find a single checkpoint at a brutal level's midway point. I found this game to be more fun than frustrating, even when I was dying a lot.

Amazing Princess Sarah reminds me of the titles I grew up with, but with some anti-frustration features built in that prevent me from losing interest after yet another blundering attempt at a particularly tough challenge. I've noticed that many indie designers seem to have a deep love for those 8- and 16-bit classics. While that love doesn't always translate into the ability to make a fun game, things worked out pretty well in this instance. The game's not perfect, but thanks to its low asking price, it's a great way to enjoy a flashback to the games you may have enjoyed during your childhood.


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (September 10, 2014)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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