Posted on 15 Dec 2018 by Jay Shaw

Battle Princess Madelyn

The Defence

Developer: Battle Princess Madelyn
Publisher: Battle Princess Madelyn
Genre: Action, Adventure, Arcade, Indie, Platformer
Platform: Consoles, PC
Review copy: Yes
Release date: 06 Dec 2018

The Prosecution

Minimum
OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo 2.8 GHz
AMD equivalent
VGA: Nvidia GeForce 1GB VRAM
AMD equivalent
RAM: 4 GB
HDD: 1 GB
DirectX: 9
Controller: Full
Mod Support: No
VR: No
FOV Slider: No
FPS Lock: Unknown

The Case

Battle Princess Madelyn is the latest game from developer Causal Bit, creators of the excellent Insanity’s Blade. After a jaw dropping alpha demo and successful Kickstarter campaign that appealed to us by proclaiming to be a game designed by a father and daughter, we’re finally in possession of the final product. Does it live up to the hype, and its obvious inspiration, Ghouls N Ghosts, or does it crash and burn like a Red Devil at the tail end of a three week cocaine bender? Keep reading to find out.

The Trial

It’s unusual that we have to do this but we have a caveat for this review: we didn’t finish the game. We couldn’t. Normally we finish anything we review but this game has defeated me utterly. So please keep that in mind while reading.

As stated in the intro, Battle Princess Madelyn is heavily inspired by Ghouls ‘n Ghosts and its gameplay is almost identical to the earlier 2D entries in that series. You’ve got a basic two-hit health mechanic where getting hit the first time will break your armour off and a second time will result in death. This wouldn’t be a big deal if item drops to replenish your health ever appeared in story mode, I spent about 40 minutes deliberately trying to get them to appear and never got a single one. Arcade mode is another story, armour replenishment and upgrades drop pretty regularly.

The game’s split into two main modes: story and arcade. The first one is a kind of metroidvania style journey of seeking power-ups, weapons, items for side quests, and defeating the bosses throughout different themed areas. Arcade mode on the other hand is a linear level based romp that caps off each level with a boss encounter and swiftly moves on with little to no exposition. However, no matter which mode you choose, the tumultuous difficulty and several bad design decisions rend all enjoyment from the experience with haste.

Some hazards that appear bullshit on first encounter are swiftly overcome on a second attempt and you feel good for avoiding a barrage of skulls from above, or narrowly leaping over a giant worm. Other encounters are just a mess of stuff being thrown at you from all sides and with no way to defend yourself you’re left to get hit and either damage boost your way through, or take a second hit and go down. One particularly egregious example of this happens early on in the second story area, a swamp, where you’re led down to a platform and three frogs leap from the water beneath right when you’re in the middle of them. These frogs take several hits to kill and fire a projectile almost as soon as they land, an archer on a ledge above has your one recourse covered too – you could shoot him but then the frogs will get you, there’s a cliff at your back so jumping forwards is the only choice to dodge but it’ll land you amongst the frogs for a swift death, staying put will just get you hit too. You can duck under the frog’s shots but you’ll almost always get hit and this kind of thing pops up at least once a level; not common enough to be a constant problem but you know there’s fuckery in your future even when you’re on a great run.

Penis worm says "omnomnom!"

Story mode is riddled with its own unique issues too. Early in the game you unlock the ability to use runes to fast travel, but the first fast travel point is up on a high ledge so if you travel back to town (like I did, because a little girl promised a reward for killing a boss) before getting the double jump boots from the second level, you get stuck there and have to play all the way through the first level again to get back to where you were. The double jump boots are acquired by defeating a large spider boss in the swamp, I’ve faced her twice and both times she got stuck in a routine of just bobbing up and down in an ineffectual drop attack on the right side of the arena.

Not all the bosses are so lame though. The first, a giant skeleton warrior, has hilarious exaggerated animations and an easy pattern that makes you feel good when you perfect it and trounce him. It’s a lovely gentle intro to the huge bosses. The second arcade mode boss is a huge tree with arms that’s also fantastically designed with well telegraphed attacks and a pattern that keeps you constantly moving in and out of danger to land attacks. Unfortunately, there are bad bosses: a pair of witches encountered in the third stage of the story mode have no indication of whether their attacks are going to be high or low and it’s easy to get killed off and have to replay the whole level again before you can figure out the pattern, after one witch is defeated the fight becomes far more enjoyable as the witch resorts to more aerial attacks. If there was a checkpoint at the boss door this kind of thing would be more forgiveable but having to play through a gruelling level again is a really harsh punishment that easily rubs you the wrong way and has you reaching for the Alt+F4 combo.

Normal enemies suffer from issues too – skeleton archers are especially egregious because they’ll fire constantly and rapidly once you cross their line of sight. Your jumps are pretty much perfectly sized to hop over one of their arrows but when there’s a constant barrage it’s impossible to shoot back and take them down, add manoeuvring on platforms into the mix, or climbing up from a ladder, and you’ve got a recipe for genuine anger. I wouldn’t like to say whether this is an intentional design decision or a glitch with their responsiveness but the fact remains that it made it into the release and it’s absolutely infuriating.

This boss is a highlight of good boss design.

Platforming also has its share of problems. Madelyn is responsive enough and her double jump gives her a decent degree of air control but poor design decisions again sabotage something that should be a simple pleasure. Arrows that help guide you often do things like point towards areas that result in an easy death. Even when not being betrayed by signage, story mode has some pretty egregious offences too: at the end of level three you’re asked to backtrack through the cave – confident after conquering it once you’ll feel like this should be a fairly straightforward task but you’re quickly thwarted by snakes coiled around the ledges you have to climb. So just kill them, right? But you can’t shoot up while climbing and they’re often off-screen from the platform below so jump-shooting them isn’t an option. The snakes can shoot horizontally and downwards, often introducing themselves by knocking you into a watery death at the bottom of the level as soon as they’ve got a dozen pixels on screen.

Not that progression through the level in the first place is a cakewalk. One ledge near the end of the level sees you dropping off a ladder into the path of an archer and several pots (items that can be destroyed for money), as soon as you hit the skeleton’s sight line he’ll shoot at you and not stop. The pots stop your projectiles upon contact but not his. There’s a visual and tactile language to games that results in what’s often called “game feel” and at times Battle Princess Madelyn speaks it like a Saturday night drunkard in a kebab shop. On the other hand, when you get in the zone and are throwing weapons in every direction, slipping past enemy attacks by the skin of your teeth and always a pixel away from death it feels great, like you’re some kind of maverick joystick jockey having the best day of your life.

Other timing based platforming hazards that games have perfected since the 8-bit days are also botched. The first level sees you having to jump between platforms while ghosts fly towards you in a zig-zag pattern, ceiling mounted plants shoot diagonally over the gaps, and huge insta-death worms pounce from the water. Normally in a situation like this you’d have a small window in the timing of enemy attacks to jump through by the skin of your teeth and feel like a badass, but here you’re afforded no such consideration. You can shoot down the ghosts and plant and make your way across while the worm is down but it feels so unsatisfying to have to chip away at enemies that take just a few too many hits to go down in order to progress. It’s not like you’re Sonic speeding through Green Hill but the pacing is all over the place and just when you’ve gotten into the flow of flinging projectiles in every direction you’re brought to a screeching halt with all the impact of the meteorite that caused the K-T extinction.

One of the aforementioned snakes. Which can go choke on a bucket of soggy dicks.

Further marring the story mode experience is the need to hunt through levels for keys to unlock the boss doors. These are usually hidden in a statue you have to kneel at in order to receive them. These statues however are often off the beaten path and easily missed in the chaos. It’s not helped that the grey used for them blends into the dark backgrounds of the early levels well enough to make walking past one a few times a high probability. These statues can also bestow new weapons, the first of which is a dagger that fires a little faster but is weaker than the starting weapon, essentially making it useless unless you’re capable of mashing the attack button with the enthusiasm of a masturbating chimp. An auto-fire option would go a long way to ease the thumb strain.

Coins from destroyed pots and enemies scatter absolutely everywhere. It’s visually very satisfying to see a pot or skeleton burst into chunky gold and silver coins that tumble across the screen but gamers want to collect things and these coins can take off like a sugar glider with a firework up its arse, often flying into pits or off the side of the screen just as fast as your own projectiles. In our time with the game we didn’t find any use for the coins but the inventory does track them and it’s very unsatisfying to miss 50-76% of each loot drop. Coins and money bags frequently glitch into any and all scenery they collide with, ending up out of bounds or half lodged in a ceiling or wall.

Graphically the game is a mixed bag. The large sprites and pixel art are excellent, and bold animations add a sense of exaggerated swagger to proceedings. Unfortunately this is degraded somewhat by bad upscaling. I suspected a pixelation filter was being applied over the art to give it the look of an old arcade game and it looked so bad (distorted and barely legible fonts on the title menu, tearing on fire effects, etc.) that I actually emailed the developer to ask what was going on. Christopher Obritsch (father of the real Madelyn) shed some light on the situation:

The game window itself runs at 240p ( but widescreen) like a real retro game. The Unity engine upscales the image to 720p or higher for modern tvs and monitors. It’s nothing complicated on our end.”

The low resolution does wonders for making the game look like an authentic mid-90’s CPS board arcade game. Aside from the obvious Ghouls ‘n Ghosts influence, the art style is very reminiscent of legendary arcade game Dungeons & Dragons: Tower Of Doom. In short, it’s absolutely beautiful when Unity’s upscaling isn’t doing its best to simulate glaucoma. Non-existent graphical options leave no way to remedy this other than finding a nice balance between lower resolution for crisper visuals and a large enough window to see what’s going off. Naturally, mileage may vary dependant on monitor and other hardware but we found resolutions below 1280×720 produced the best look, but 1600×900 provided a decent balance. 1920×1080 almost produced pixel vomit for us.

One thing Causal Bit have done to absolute perfection is the two soundtracks; an arcade style and an orchestral style. Both sound superb with the orchestral providing smooth multi-layered instrumentation while the arcade style more closely apes Madelyn‘s inspiration. Neither soundtrack is likely to be something you’ll want on vinyl or play in the car but while exploding skeletons and playing chicken with death the ear candy is so sweet it should come with a bucket of insulin.

The Verdict

Overall, Battle Princess Madelyn isn’t bad, but it’s not perfect either. Like any game it has flaws and when it’s in a setting as punishing as Madelyn‘s hectic levels these little things feel far worse than they would in a more forgiving game, hence our talking about them for a half-dozen paragraphs. There’s a lot of fun to be had if you’re good at Ghosts ‘n Goblins and its ilk but less twitchy players will struggle and there’s no easy mode to help you along. That said, the game is also infuriating at times. I actually got so angry at one point I leaned back in my chair, closed my eyes, and had a little fantasy about punching a puppy for a solid minute or so. The game feel often lacks a middle-ground; the highs are stratospheric, the lows are abyssal, but there’s hardly ever a calming mid range.

Case Review

  • Adorable Ghost Dog: Fritzy is so cute!

  • Smooth Groove: The music is sublime and arguably the best part about the whole experience.

  • Dog House: Your resource for powerful Fritzy attacks is also spent to revive you after death, relegating the dog to warming the bench.

  • Upscaling Sucks: Seriously, it’s bad. Bad Unity, go think about what you’ve done.

  • Ghost Dog: A cute dog literally dies right at the start. At least you don’t have time to get attached.

3 Score: 3/5
When it gets it right, it gets it right. When it gets it wrong, have a pillow to scream into on standby.

Evidence

  • Options: Includes a toggle for scan lines and the two soundtracks. We've been assured that rebindable controls are on the way but right now the keyboard controls are a mess so have a gamepad handy.

Comments (1)


Posts: 335
L Coulsen
Posted 15 Dec 2018, 16:34
Mm, soggy dicks