A new indie homage to Ghosts N Goblins attempts to cross the old platform classic with a modern style Metroidvania.
As far as were concerned Ghosts N Goblins is one of the most iconic franchises of the 80s and early 90s. But for someone whose gaming history doesnt go that far back we admit thats a hard thing to prove from a modern perspective. The original and Ghouls N Ghosts are definitely great games, and they are occasionally referenced in things like Marvel Vs. Capcom and the Classic Mini consoles, but those first two games are still the only high-profile hits theres ever been. There are barely even any homages, which makes this new indie game especially welcome… and particularly disappointing.
To be fair, there have been other entries over the years – Super Ghouls N Ghosts on the SNES is so different from the coin-op its considered a separate game, while Ultimate Ghosts N Goblins on the PSP is a full-blown modern(-ish) reboot. Theres also been spin-offs such as Gargoyles Quest and Maximo, plus some mobile games in Japan. But it all seems grossly insufficient for what was one of the definitive action platformers of the 8 and 16-bit era. Plus, it means the amazing soundtrack never gets the mileage it deserves.
Battle Princess Madelyn cant help with that but in most other respects it seems, at least at first, to be exactly what youd want from a modern day interpretation of the series. More than that it takes the original tone and concept and does something new with it, turning it into more of an action role-player. Which is another way of saying that this is yet another indie Metroidvania game. Although, actually, thats the least successful part of the whole experience.
As you can see, Battle Princess Madelyns approach is to closely mimic the 2D artwork of the original games, with the titular royal taking it upon herself to defend her kingdom from a plague of monsters and to rescue her family. As you can imagine, the story part of story mode is paper thin but the differences between it and arcade mode are profound. They both use the same mechanics, weapons, and items but arcade mode plays out like the old Ghosts N Goblins games, with linear progression and new equipment that you pick up from downed enemies.
Meanwhile, story mode not only has proper cut scenes and non-player characters but also features a more open-ended structure, where certain locations are out of bounds until you have the right item and all equipment has to be bought or acquired separately. In theory that seems a perfectly sensible way to expand the formula but, in addition to the general difficulty of the combat and platforming, story mode delights in making itself as inaccessible as possible.
Although the basics, including many of the weapons and the arm-flailing animation, are the same as Ghosts N Goblins the controls are modernised to a degree, with a much more flexible double jump and what amounts to rechargeable health. But if that makes it sound like the games abandoned the series infamously hard difficultly levels were afraid to say thats not the case.
Even though most other franchises from the same era have softened their approach in modern times, Ghosts N Goblins is always punishingly hard from the first instant and Battle Princess Madelyn is just the same. In arcade mode you have to restart a whole level if you die and in story mode the checkpoint can see you losing half an hour or more of progress if you fail at an inopportune moment.
Theres an almost complete lack of signposting in story mode (a skeletal hand does sometimes appear to point the way but its so vague its almost more hinderance than help), which is presumably on purpose to make the game as hard as possible. But since so much of each level looks so similar its very easy to get lost and lose track of what youre supposed to be doing, especially when it comes to the frequently obscure puzzles.
The game refuses to offer any real help, to the point where it wont even keep track of side quests for you. Excess backtracking is frequently a problem in Metroidvania games but its even worse in Battle Princess Madelyn because youre never confident you needed to come back that way in the first place. This leads to all sorts of confusion and frustration, until you begin to wish there was no story mode at all – but alas its the default mode and probably the only one many people will play.
With its wonderful chiptune soundtrack and giant bosses, the arcade mode of Battle Princess Madelyn is a very competent pastiche of Ghosts N Goblins. Its still extremely difficult – full of unfair enemy placements and leaps of faith – but at least thats the only frustration. By comparison, story mode is stacked full of additional irritations that seem to exist only to make your life a misery.
For some reason thats what everyone seems to think fans want from a new Ghosts N Goblins and if thats true for you then youre going to love Battle Princess Madelyn. But well just go back to hoping theres a proper sequel, or homage, that doesnt assume everyone playing it is a tenth level psychic with equally superhuman reaction speeds.
Battle Princess Madelyn
In Short: The games love for Ghosts N Goblins is obvious but its refusal to cater for anyone but hardcore fans results in a frustrating and tedious slog – especially in story mode.
Pros: Arcade mode is an entertaining, if extremely hard, Ghouls N Ghosts pastiche with fun retro visuals and sound. Solid action, with tight controls and some great bosses.
Cons: Story mode is a disaster, with the lack of in-game help only adding to the difficulty and the frustrating amount of backtracking. Both modes suffer from cheap deaths and unfair design.
Formats: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC
Publisher: Causal Bit Games
Developer: Causal Bit Games
Release Date: 7th January 2019
Age Rating: 3
Email firstname.lastname@example.org, leave a comment below, and follow us on Twitter