I have a love-hate relationship with Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts on the Super NES. This Capcom game is hard-as-nails and I remember fighting tooth and nail to beat the game only to find out I had to go through the entire game a second time to unlock the true ending. Still, being a fan of horror movies and platformers, the game really stuck with me and I appreciated some of the level designs. The fact that it was nearly a launch SNES game means that it really stuck with me, even if the series really didn’t continue on in any significant manner. That’s why when Battle Princess Madelyn was announced I was intrigued. It promised to be an homage to the series and it had the visuals and the gameplay to back up that claim. After waiting several years the game has finally materialized and it’s a bit of a mixed bag.
The game features two modes of play: adventure and arcade. The adventure mode takes a stab at the Metroidvania genre, where you’ll actually start off in a town and get missions from the townsfolk. You’ll then go out into the world and eventually acquire new powers (like a double jump) to reach new areas. The very design of the world requires you to backtrack and revisit spots you previously fought through. Being a huge fan of this style of gaming I figured this would be the mode I’d most enjoy. Boy, was I wrong! I’ll get more into why in just a moment, but first I want to shed light on the arcade mode.
Fans of the Ghouls ‘N Ghosts series should immediately select the arcade mode and never look back. Here you begin the game with your dog dying and coming back to life as a ghost. You play as Madelyn who must rid the world of evil. The game begins rather quickly with you progressing through levels, like you’d expect in a game of this nature. You have a double jump and can also use your ghost pup to attack enemies (as long as there’s energy in the meter). Your basic weapon is a lance that you throw across the screen at various enemies. Speaking of, there’s all sorts of horrors, including skeletons, bats, zombies, man-eating plants, and more. Many of them drop coins and moneybags, which you can collect to add to your high score. At the end of the stage is a boss, usually massive in size, that you must learn the patterns to in order to vanquish them. The game plays very much like the games that inspired it, and fans will no doubt enjoy their time here. Although the levels are fairly straightforward, there is some verticality to them with slight branches allowing you to sometimes tackle the level in different ways. For the most part the game succeeds in delivering a semi-difficult experience like one would expect.
The adventure mode is where the game completely falls apart and that’s a shame. As I mentioned earlier, the game begins in the town and you can talk to various people, many of whom will give you quests. The problem is, once you’ve spoken to them once they never repeat the quest objective! This is a major problem because there is no quest log to look through that gives you detailed information on what to do. As a result you’ll just come across something in the world and you’ll know it needs to be taken back to town, but you have no idea who requested it. On top of that, for an interconnected world with various areas, it’s easy to get lost and forget which way you came from. There’s no detailed map like most games of this type and to make matters worse if you lose all of your lives you start back in a different spot than you died and it can be downright confusing as to where you need to go next. It’s as if the developers created the basic levels for the arcade mode and then decided to connect them all in a haphazard way, resulting in a non-cohesive world that makes zero sense. The game has been patched with some hints and other slight improvements, but overall it does little to mitigate the issues that persist throughout.
On top of the already confusing world design come the never-ending enemy respawns and the poorly designed platforming. Many times I found myself jumping down from a platform with no real way to tell what was below. This could have been solved by allowing the player to hold down and having the screen scroll to show what lurked below. I lost count how many lives I lost simply because I had no way of knowing there was water below me or that an enemy lurked just off the screen. This is beyond frustrating and just plain bad stage design that isn’t easily forgivable in today’s day and age.
Graphically the game is rather striking. It has a 16-bit look to it, but with more colors and effects than was possible back in the early ‘90s. While the animations and backgrounds are especially detailed, this comes at a cost of losing enemy awareness. Too many times the enemies blended in with the environments to the point where I was constantly just walking into something I didn’t even know was there. In a game where you basically have two hits before you die, this became rather bothersome in a hurry. Instead of having fun running and jumping through the stages I often had to creep around worried that an enemy would put an end to me at any given step. To make matters worse, there’s the horrible hit-back that early 8 and 16-bit games used to have, so if you manage to touch an enemy you’ll fly backwards, often into some other hazard, ending your life. Talk about sucking all of the fun out of a game!
In the end I’m torn over Battle Princess Madelyn. It looks and sounds great, but the gameplay issues really make it a game that’s hard to fully recommend. Other than the difficulty in seeing the enemies, the graphics are definitely something special and the artists should be commended. The same goes for the fantastic soundtrack, which I really did enjoy. But there’s more to a game than pretty graphics and good music. When level design leads to unnecessary deaths and gameplay gets in the way of having fun, there are some serious issues with a game. Fans of the Ghouls ‘N Ghosts series should find enjoyment in the arcade mode. I like the concept, but the implementation leaves much to be desired.
Battle Princess Madelyn Review
Final Thoughts: WORTH CONSIDERING
I had such high hopes for Battle Princess Madelyn. The core concept works and if you’re just looking for another Ghouls ‘N Ghosts action game, play the arcade mode. The adventure mode is a mess with poor stage design and little to no direction on where or what to do next. Without a walkthrough most will never see the end.