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Battle Princess Madelyn (PC) artwork

Battle Princess Madelyn (PC) review

"Hard to play, or hard to keep playing?"

Itís obvious what game series Battle Princess Madelyn is an homage to -- the venerable Ghouls 'n Ghosts canon. Considering how many Castlevania clones there have been, how many Mega Man me-toos, at first glance it might seem curious that there arenít more Ghosts copycats in todays retro-crazed gaming zeitgeist. But if you've ever played any of the Ghost games, and you thought about it for more than a second, you'd realize why.

Those games are so difficult that only a small segment of the old-school gaming population could claim to have beaten them fairly and completely, and not many more people than those would have claimed to fully and honestly enjoy the journey. Certainly it helps that the tunes were fantastic, the cartoon animation brilliant, the environments inspired, the challenges unique -- if bordering on insane: two times 'round, really? -- and the bosses legendary.

Madelyn takes its best stab at achieving some slice of that greatness, and in many ways it hits the mark. Our eponymous heroine is a cute nod by the developer to his daughter, or so Iíve heard. She certainly has more spunk, and is more inspired than the mostly bland Sir Arthur (minus his awesome boxer shorts). It seems Madelyn's dog has been killed, and her parents kidnapped by the bad guy of the day. Better this than a damsel in distress, right? How many games present to us parentnapping as a premise? In any case, Maddy's (can I call you Maddy?) loyal pup it turns out, is loyal even beyond the grave. He manifests as a ghost dog, and he can help us by harrying enemies that you sic him on, or else he can bring you back to life on the spot thrice within a level. This effectively replaces the button-down magic of the Ghosts games, and you'll want to manage these canine skills carefully.

Maddy takes us through the expected environments: an ethereal graveyard, a haunted forest -- there is even a cleverly conceived (though not at all fun to play) underwater section through which you battle inside a Maddy-sized air bubble. There are two modes of play to select from: story and arcade. On the face of it, it would seem as if arcade mode would be preferable, since, if we're being as true as we can be to the source material, itís all about that hardcore action-platforming.

The trouble with arcade mode is, the levels are simultaneously dull and over-long, affording you every opportunity to die in the midst of what feels like a bit of a slog.

This may lead you to want to explore the story mode, which I assumed might present a gentler learning curve, and gradual RPG-style character progression. Right? Well, the trouble with story mode is, the levels are simultaneously dull and over-long, affording you every opportunity to die in the midst of what feels like a bit of a slog -- and now we are saddled with pointless interactions with NPCs, each asking that you perform some mind-numbing fetch quest on their behalf, so that yes, when you get back from liberating the graveyard, you may return to that one guy who wanted that one thing, and you will be able to give it to him and earn a prize.

You probably caught my derisive tone. And I'm almost apologetic about it. I wanted very much to like Madelyn, because I played and enjoyed all three of the original Ghosts games. I even managed to beat the two classic 16-bit iterations. I say all that, to say this: difficulty in general is not what keeps me from enjoying Madelyn as much as I should have. This is not a case of sour grapes.

This is a case of a game that is as likely to kill you with boredom as it is from off-screen enemies getting the drop on you. With the stages being drawn out affairs, there's ample opportunity for mistakes to be made, not because the proceedings are necessarily challenging, but often because it is challenging to stay alert and stay the course even as the game loses your attention. The boss encounters act as a microcosm of the game's general ills: the bosses are huge and gorgeous and jump off the screen, but the fights take forever, primarily because your foes absorb far too much damage.

In the old Ghost titles, the patterns of movement required for success weren't always tough to figure out, but they sure as hell were difficult to pull off. A finger-tangling level of dodging was required to successfully play at defense and maneuver your way to a spot that was both dangerous and also necessary to inhabit in order to go on offense and get off a few daggers in kind. But you knew that once you juked and jived and got your licks in, that they counted, and that bad boy was going down.

Not so with Madelyn. Patterns are both simple to identify and execute, but youíve got to be at it for so long, and at a certain point itís no longer fun, itís just tedious. Make a few mistakes, your pup revives you; make one too many, and itís back to the start of the level. You know, that long, long level you persevered through, beautiful sights and sounds notwithstanding, on the way to your long, long showdown with the boss you so recently lost to/lost focus beating on. Ultimately and regrettably, it's difficult to fully appreciate how high the production values are, how much passion was imbued in the inception of this beautifully obnoxious, stylishly pedestrian project. Battle Princess Madelyn is a lovingly crafted work of art that is at turns inspiring and frustrating, and it should have been great all the way through. It's still pretty to think that it is.


Masters's avatar
Staff review by Marc Golding (December 23, 2018)

There was a bio here once. It's gone now.

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honestgamer posted December 24, 2018:

Bosses that are damage sponges only work in boss rush games, and only then just barely. They don't work at the end of a lengthy and difficult stage, one you then have to repeat if you fail to win a tedious battle of energy meter endurance. That's an unfortunate miscalculation on the part of the developer, regardless of the game's inspiration, and I hope the matter is resolved with a patch. Thanks for the review!
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Masters posted December 24, 2018:

Thanks for reading, Jason. I've updated the review substantially since you last saw it, but the general sentiments are the same.

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