Battle Princess Madelyn is an indie action platformer by Casual Bit Games that takes a lot of inspiration from Capcom’s difficult and legendary Ghost & Goblins series. While the gameplay and overall visual aesthetic is very similar, Battle Princess Madelyn has an open metroidvania-style to its side-scrolling gameplay that makes everything feel different. Jumping around and throwing endless amounts of swords and lances at creepy monsters can be satisfying in some moments, but also incredibly frustrating in others. But does the overall experience come together well for those that have an affinity for tough platformers with a twist? Often it does despite some very low points that make can the game a real chore to play through.
The story Battle Princess Madelyn follows a young girl who is a knight in training, but is forced to deal with hardship after her kingdom comes under attack, her family is taken away, and her pet is killed in the chaos. It’s a very interesting setup for the plot, with some parallels to the games that inspired it. However, outside of some cutscenes early on and scattered throughout the experience, the story of Battle Princess Madelyn can get lost pretty easily.
A lot of the dialogue through characters you meet in-game gives more story details while roaming around, but there’s nothing you can find that gives additional details on everyone you meet or the world around you, let alone review what has happened beforehand. There are some heartfelt moments that pop up every now and then, but their importance can be diminished by how spread out they are and how much of the gameplay overtakes the majority of the experience. It’s not a bad story by any means, but one that does take a far back seat to everything else and ends up being forgetful by the end.
The side-scrolling action is the main focus here. Battle Princess Madelyn controls similar to the Ghost & Goblins series from Capcom, which will be great for anyone already familiar with this style of game. Where the game differs, however, is how you can freely travel between stages and revisit places with new abilities and items you find. It should be noted that the buttons to confirm or back out in the menus for the Nintendo Switch (the B and A buttons) are reversed.
The start of the game can have you feeling bogged down and limited with your movements, especially when you need to play through a good portion to obtain abilities like a double jump. This makes some areas difficult to overcome and forces you to take your time when destroying enemies that block your path. If you’re not a fan of clever platforming challenges or tedious obstacles that can pop up suddenly, then you’re going to really dislike Battle Princess Madelyn’s later areas. Enemies can appear on the side off-screen and overtake you, especially if you aren’t paying attention or can predict where they’ll be.
An interesting aspect of Battle Princess Madelyn is how you gain new abilities with each new area. Defeating a boss within any of the doors you see littered throughout each stage will either get you a quest item to give to somebody you talk to or a new ability to unlock. While the Ghost & Goblins series was linear with its stages, Battle Princess Madelyn mixes this up by allowing you to return to stages later on and reach new places or discover new secrets. This is great for those that love finding things hidden in levels, especially they’ve played so much and return to previously traversed areas.
Unfortunately, this charm can be mauled by the terrible way Battle Princess Madelyn allows you to fast travel between areas. Going up to any teleportation stones at key areas of stages can allow you to transport between places you’ve already visited, but they’re far and few between. You can usually find them at the start or end of certain areas, but sometimes it might require you to run through a large section before you can even reach it, which can and will get frustrating very easily.
This is definitely made worse with the various side-quests you receive from characters in some stages, which almost always require you to visit places far out of the way from where they are. Side-quests like these aren’t inheritably bad, but between the terrible fast-travel and often lackluster rewards, completing the side-quests can be far more trouble than they’re worth. You might need to revisit a dangerous level to rescue a character from a horde of enemies located in a hard-to-reach spot, only to make the long journey back to the original NPC and receive very little for the time you spent going through the trouble. This happens often and hardly ever yields satisfying rewards that would impact either your abilities or any way to significantly change the game. While completionist will be fine with this regardless, others who hope for something more will no doubt be disappointed.
In addition to the main story, there is an Arcade Mode that you can select at the main menu. Unlike the main campaign, you don’t get any story details and are thrown right into the gameplay, with most abilities unlocked or obtainable from when you start. This feels like an entirely different game at times when you have more freedom to move around when you begin playing. Unfortunately, very little is explained when you begin, so if you didn’t play the through main story before diving into Arcade, you might be very lost and unaware of all your options now opened. Is it a great addition to the package however? As a supplemental mode it’s nice to have, but some better could’ve been added to tell players what they can do and how to do so, even if it’s just a small menu within the options.
A major problem that frequently occurs in Battle Princess Madelyn is a dip in the frame rate and screen freezes. At times when you’re transporting between areas or trying to select some options in the menus, the screen can lock up briefly for a few seconds before transitioning. After pressing a button to confirm an option, you won’t be able to move or cancel for a few seconds when the sound stops and you finally see the next screen. This happens a lot and will be noticeable to anyone, especially if you’re playing Battle Princess Madelyn for an extended period of time.
Within different stages, the frame rate of the game can take a real beating. Some patches released for the game online have fixed up the majority of these issues, but there are still sections where it’s still prevalent and noticeable. Thankfully these kinds of things don’t happen in every spot despite popping up unexpectedly (including during some of the boss fights). Does it ruin the whole experience? No, the game still plays good for the majority of the time without an issue.
Battle Princess Madelyn is a mixed bag of good and bad. If you love challenging side-scrolling action games or a wacky visual style, then you’ll enjoy playing through what the game has to offer. The issues with the frame rate and screen freezes will stick out for anyone with a keen eye, but it’s the other aspects of Battle Princess Madelyn gameplay that will cause some concern. The difficulty can be a harsh spike for some and the optional quests will be unsatisfying for many. But if you love the retro-inspired gameplay and art style, then you might find some fun playing through Battle Princess Madelyn.
This review was based on a digital review code for Battle Princess Madelyn for the Nintendo Switch, provided by Casual Bit Games.