We’ve entered an era where “nostalgia projects” have myriad goals. Some of them are tributes with modern conveniences, like Yooka-Laylee. Others are more direct in their approach, almost too direct, in the sense that they adhere strictly to old school game design and scare people off. But I think the developers of Battle Princess Madelyn really struck a good balance even with a very early build, and they can only go up from there.
There are a lot of strong elements from the Genesis generation with this action platformer, from the visual direction to the distinct soundtrack—which can be flipped to a less nostalgic orchestral version, by the way. I mean, the sounds are just so spot on that if you were to play it, someone in the room next to you would probably identify it as a Genesis game. That’s not something that a lot of games can claim, as most projects, even retro-tinted ones, have a modern twist.
The gameplay, however, is more akin to Ghouls N’ Ghosts. The titular Princess Madelyn can double jump, use projectiles, and cast the occasional spot of magic. Madelyn can throw out an amount of three lances at once, and just like Mega Man‘s buster bullets, there’s a strategic element to it. You might want to quickly toss two while going over a gap so you have another to use against a surprise-incoming enemy, for example. I also appreciate that you can chuck projectiles directly up or down.
Then there’s the resurrection mechanic, which is linked to your MP meter. It’s a genius way to allow for some mistakes and reward veterans for using magic—and thus not needing resurrection—at the same time. A full story mode has been teased along with a “fast” arcade run where you jump from level to level, and I can sort of see the inner workings of that system with the basic world map.
Having an AI companion follow you around and actually be effective for once is also a nice touch. So is the collective of Madelyn’s dialogue, who taunts enemies left and right. There are little bits of fresh material thrown into the game that constantly reminds you that you’re not playing something that’s limited by old hardware or stuffy sensibilities. It also strikes a good balance in terms of difficulty, as the enemies can mostly be slain with one hit, and don’t randomly zoom out of hidden areas at blinding speeds to take you out. Yet, nuanced animations help telegraph where foes will appear, and there are enough patterns to learn to the point where you can figure out which ones have priority over the others.
That said the game is a little rigid at times. You can’t latch onto a ladder while in the air, for instance, a relic of the past that can probably stand to be altered—and was present in select games in the 90s. I also wish the levels were a little more labyrinthine and vertical just so there was more to explore, but there are some semblance of secrets on display, and plenty more stages to flesh out that concept. So far it’s insanely polished as my run-in with any glitches has been almost non-existent—the only one I found was an enemy who got stuck in a wall once that had no impact on my run.
I see flashes of Volgarr the Viking in Battle Princess Madelyn, and that’s a great thing. While a lot of studios use the retro aesthetic as a selling point, it’s built into this one from the ground up, and there’s a firm action platformer base here to build on. Casual Bit Games’ Kickstarter goal has been smashed with over double the requested amount, so as long as they keep this pace up I expect only good things to come for Battle Princess Madelyn.