Battle Princess Madelyn / Battle Princess Madelyn Royal Edition

A game by Causal Bit Games for PC, Xbox One, PS4, Vita, Switch, and Wii U, originally released in 2018, with the Royal Edition released in 2020.
Battle Princess Madelyn is an open world action-adventure that takes its inspirations from Capcom’s Ghosts ‘n Goblins / Ghouls ‘n Ghosts series, placing the player in the role of an armored knight – with an exaggerated running animation – who has access to a variety of infinite-ammo projectiles, faces off against undead creatures and other such monstrosities in dark and spooky locales, and gets stripped of armor after taking damage and is reduced to fighting in just underwear. However, unlike the famous GnG series, this game stars a female protagonist, and instead of chasing after a damsel in distress, the brave knight is on a mission to avenge the death of her pet dog, Fritzy, who accompanies her in ghost form, while also saving the world from mortal peril.

Development of the game arose out of a conversation between the game’s creative director and his daughter, Madelyn. Christopher Obritsch was playing Ghouls ‘n Ghosts when his daughter asked if he could put her in the game so she could fight the famous “Green Head” boss at the end of the first level. Chris and his daughter are apparently big fans of the series, as Chris previously developed the GnG-inspired Insanity’s Blade and lists Ghouls ‘n Ghosts as his daughter’s favorite game to watch him play. Since Chris couldn’t insert her into that game, he offered to make her a game of her own where she could be a knight, to which she responded that only boys could be knights. In response, he asked what color the knight’s armor should be. His daughter requested pink armor… and so Battle Princess Madelyn was born.

The game’s introductory cutscene begins in a little girl’s room where she stares intently at her tablet. In the background are references to yellow Minions characters, along with a video game console, and a poster advertising Insanity’s Blade. Her grandfather enters the room carrying a storybook, interrupting her game of “Buildykraft” to tell her the tale of a brave princess named Madelyn, which immediately captures the little girl’s attention, as that is her name as well.

From here, the game transitions from still scenes to a fully-animated introduction featuring the battle princess and her dog fighting skeleton monsters and saving villagers. She makes her way to the castle where an evil wizard casts a powerful spell. Fritzy jumps into the fray and is killed. The elders tell Madelyn of a magical scroll, and Fritzy is brought back in ghost form to accompany her on her adventure (and eventually to help out). At least, that’s how things play out in the game’s story mode. A less narrative-intense arcade mode is also available, which truncates the story down to an in-game scene – styled after similar scenes in 16-bit actioners – showing the wizard killing Fritzy, and Madelyn immediately springing to action. The arcade mode is a more straightforward action game, rather than the open world action-adventure offered in the story mode.

Madelyn has a nonvariable 1.5x jump, but unlike her Arthurian counterpart, she has a good deal of midair direction control. She is able to toss wooden spears to the left or right when standing, ducking, or jumping. She can also toss them straight upward while standing or jumping, and downward while jumping. The spears go all the way across the screen and slightly off the edge, and only three can be onscreen at a time. Madelyn earns new weapon types as the game progresses, such as spinning daggers that do equal damage but can be thrown more quickly, and a sword for dealing up-close damage. The player is able to cycle through all collected weapons with a button press.

In the game’s story mode, heading left from the opening area leads Madelyn to a village and castle where she can read signs and interact with NPC’s to get gameplay tips and learn about side quests that generally involve rescuing a child or finding some lost item. Sidequest rewards aren’t terribly valuable, but you’re likely to stumble across lost items or endangered children during the normal course of your adventure, so these quests are often completed simply by making your way through the environment. When finding children, the player is locked into a small arena and forced to fight a certain number of spawning enemies, but these challenges are quite easy, as the player can simply mash the ATTACK button and mow down any creature that appears.

The player is often given directions by NPC’s to search out particular areas, but these areas are merely described to the player; there is no corresponding map or further direction as to where these areas are in geographic relation to the player. As such, the player is often left to stumble about, frequently encountering doors that cannot yet be opened – due to not having met the proper NPC or found a key-dispensing statue – or wandering into entirely new regions with no clear notion as to what is meant to be accomplished. Even important systems like the blacksmith’s equipment upgrades are closed to the player until he finds an item hidden somewhere in the environment.

The result is a game that gives players quite a bit of freedom to venture off wherever the winds of adventure take them, but very little direction to suggest whether they are headed toward their goal or possibly bypassing large chunks of the world with no indication that they have done so. Most of these issues arise from the fact that the game offers no map.

It’s one thing to avoid leading the player around with the presence of a flashing indicator on a map, but given the scale of the sprawling world and the need to extensively explore and frequently backtrack, the player needs some sense of how areas are connected. More importantly, the player needs to know which areas remain to be explored and how to get back to them. The game does offer a fast travel system in the form of teleportation stones, which allow the player to return to different regions, but these regions are generally quite large and feature branching paths and doorways that lead to enclosed dungeon areas.

Those with an aptitude toward exploration will find the world packed with things to uncover, from the aforementioned lost children and items, to spirits and statues that give the player money and keys by bowing down in front of them (only certain statues give anything; most statues are just part of the background design). Some of these things are located on side paths or hard-to-reach areas, but many are behind destructible walls, which are prevalent in most areas. You would do well to toss your weapon into any suspicious looking wall to see if something special lies beyond.

Killed monsters drop spinning coins that burst forth from meaty explosions, often travelling quite far from where the monster was killed (sometimes even sliding up stairs!). Monsters also drop moneybags on occasion, but these disappear much more quickly, as well as red or purple shards… and these are dropped from broken vases as well. The player accumulates large amounts of money and shards with no immediately apparent purpose for them, but these can be used to upgrade equipment with the blacksmith.

Sidequests are completed by revisiting the quest giver, but without a map, quest log, or NPC names, there is no indication of which NPC gave the quest or where they are located, so completing requests involves talking to every interactible NPC in town until you stumble across the right one. One sidequest involves filling a room of stuffed animals, and you find new ones along the way, but most of the shelves are full at the start of the game, acting as a sort of bestiary that is accessible even before you face your first enemy.

The game is somewhat more forgiving than the GnG series. In addition to being able to sustain two hits of damage, Madelyn has a mana meter that allows her to repawn on the spot (or in the closest safe area) as long as a couple of units remain in the meter. By default, this gives her the equivalent of three lives. When defeating enemies, some of them drop pink orbs, which are automatically drawn toward Madelyn’s ghost dog, and collecting these orbs refills the meter, essentially offering extra lives on a gradual basis.

However, should you lose all of your lives, you must return to the most recent screen transition (collected items remain collected), and given the large environments, this can mean repeating quite a lot of gameplay. Narratively, Fritzy is the one who is actually bringing Madelyn back to life, so the meter represents his available energy, and he keeps reviving her as long as he has the energy to do so. Later in the game when he gains the ability to attack, his moves drain this meter.

Boss battles always have screen transitions immediately preceding them, so the penalty for failure is low. Bosses are difficult to defeat on a first attempt given the fact that they take a ton of damage to destroy, and it can take a few attempts before the player recognizes their movement patterns. However, once the player memorizes the patterns, bosses become quite easy as they cycle through the same attacks over and over, so it’s just a matter of avoiding damage throughout the lengthy encounters.

An early powerup grants the player the ability to double jump, allowing him to reach higher areas, cross large gaps, and even take advantage of some shortcuts. It’s also helpful in navigating areas that have blind or semi-blind jumps. Because the player is not able to see very far below his character, downward movement is troublesome, so sometimes the player has to walk off a ledge and then quickly double jump back up to safety to avoid being killed.

This is very apparent in underwater sequences – where Fritzy acts as Madelyn’s diving helmet – since the player falls through the water slowly and must contend with schools of fish and fire-breathing turtles. As expected, underwater movement is slower, which can make these sequences more frustrating, and getting knocked back when taking damage can mean falling quite far, possibly being knocked into additional dangers such as fish, deadly kelp, spikes, or bottomless pits.

The game features gruesome enemies that would be right at home in a GnG game, particularly the undead creatures that rise up from the ground or pop up from behind objects in the background, forcing the player to stay on his toes while also being mindful of spike traps and swinging scythes.

In addition, there are flying enemies, worm-like creatures that rise up from pits, flopping mermaids, skeleton pirates, demonic hopping sheep (yep), and numerous detailed bosses. There are also a few enemies that are mismatched against the player’s skillset, such as fast-firing archers that are sometimes positioned in ways that make it nearly impossible to line up attacks while avoiding damage. There are also some flying lava creatures that take numerous hits to destroy, but they move erratically and can pass through solid objects, whereas your projectiles cannot.

Aesthetically, the game is presented in a style along the lines of 16-bit arcade games, along with an optional scanline mode. It features a large variety of locales with different design elements, lighting, and color schemes to offer strong differentiation between areas. Unfortunately, all of the text is quite garish and appears to be improperly scaled when compared to the rest of the graphics. The game features musical compositions that sound as though they could have come from directly the GnG series, and players are able to select between an arcade synth or orchestral soundtrack.

Despite having a name that sounds like a simple update or remaster of the original game, Battle Princess Madelyn Royal Edition is actually an entirely new product. It seems that the original vision for the game got derailed somewhat by various Kickstarter commitments and promises, resulting in the game's story mode being lengthened into what the developer described as a "fetch quest". The Royal Edition is meant to bring the game more in line with the developer's original intent, cutting out the story mode entirely in favor of a refined arcade mode based on the game's original design documents and prototype.

The developer revisited the arcade-style levels and redesigned them from scratch to focus on a fully arcade-centric experience that did not need to accommodate any story elements (although the opening and ending cinematics were retained). In this version, Madelyn's dog becomes her sword, allowing her to slash through enemies, and players are able to equip two throwable weapons at a time, allowing players to swap between them as the situation demands.

The game also offers a more difficult King Daddy mode for veteran players, which stars Madelyn's father as a playable character (also added to the original version of the game). In this mode, the player has no throwable weapons and instead wields the Insanity's Blade. He also has no armor (just pants) and is able to sustain less damage than Maddi. On the flipside, he has a pogo ability that makes it easier for players to traverse the environment. Also, per GnG standards, King Daddy mode must be completed twice in order to reach the true ending.

The Royal Edition features new music tracks and sound effects, some new enemies, redesigned standard levels, plus three additional levels with entirely new boss encounters. Furthermore, the game is presented in 4:3 instead of the original widescreen mode in order to present a more authentic arcade experience. The game is intended to be a more straight-ahead actioner with a shorter overall length, further aided by tweaks to the controls to make them more responsive and forgiving, allowing for a single-session run through the game from beginning to end.

Battle Princess Madelyn was developed by Causal Bit Games, which previously released Insanity’s Blade, a dark and brutal actioner inspired by classic 80’s arcade games like Black Tiger and Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. Christopher Obritsch acted as the creator, director, and lead artist, and he also credits his daughter, Madelyn, with design input. Daven Bigelow was the game’s lead programmer. Music for the game was composed by Gryzor87, who previously provided compositions and sound design for Maldita Castilla, The Curse of Issyos, and Hydorah. The game was written by children’s author Tina Gagliardi (Carly’s Dragon Days series).

The game was published by Hound Picked Games, publisher of Nairi: Tower of Shirin, Dystoria, and HyperParasite.