Way back in 1988—which is like 100 years ago in video game years—there was a Capcom side-scrolling platformer called Ghouls‘n Ghosts. It was one of those grainy, 2D titles that featured an armored knight fighting levels of flying, slashing and long-necked beasties and demons. He hoped to eventually defeat a gigantic and foul Lucifer and save the day. And of course, rescue his pretty princess, too.
That old console favorite is said to be the inspiration for the new game Battle Princess Madelyn. But as the title suggests, you shouldn’t be expecting some 16-bit guy in armor to be doing all the damsel-saving here. Nope. There are loved ones to be rescued alright, but the princess herself does the demon-slaying this go ’round.
The game commences with a familiar Princess Bride-like vignette. A young girl named Maddi is home from school, kinda sick, but battle-ready enough to be playing a video game in bed on her iPad. Then Grampy shows up to keep his favorite grandchild company and read her a book.
Maddi isn’t too thrilled with the idea until she hears that the hero of the tale is a princess with the same name as her. (“Completely, a coincidence,” Grampy assures her.) The tablet and game are stashed away, the pillow is fluffed, and Maddi settles in for a fantasy tale.
An evil tide of vile demons and walking skeletons has swept across this fantastical land. So Princess Madelyn charges in with spear in hand to help, her loyal dog Fritzy by her side. But out of a pit rises a dark magician lobbing lightning-like power blasts, driving everyone back and zapping poor Fritzy.
While laying her faithful pup pal to rest in a royal doggy grave, Princess Madelyn is approached by a witchy hag who assures her that the day can still be saved—but only with the help of a magic scroll that is tucked away in a hidden family crypt. Then the woman magically brings forth the ghosty spirit of the fallen Fritzy to accompany and help brave Madelyn on her journey.
From there, it’s on to Battle Princess Madelyn’s many spear-chucking and pit-leaping battles. The game features, well, everything you might expect from an updated 2D platformer like this one, along with two different modes: Arcade and Story.
Arcade Mode is for those who just want to dive into monster mashing and driving back swarm after swarm of marauding skeletons and shuffling ghouls. Madelyn is already fully equipped here; and the old-school platform-leaping, rope-bridge-climbing challenge is a steep one.
Story Mode, in contrast, offers a more gradual path into this ghoulish milieu. Madelyn grows in strength and discovers new weapons to toss or swing as she goes—¬chucking knives, arrows and spears up, down, and to both sides. She explores caves and crypts, dungeons and swamps, graveyards and creepy mountaintops in her journeys. She also enjoys the company of now-glowing ‘n’ ghostly Fritzy, who uses his own special powers to revive her if she gets hit too many times by man-eating plants or other fearsome creatures. Even a ghost dog has his limits, though. If Madelyn falls too often, she must go back to the beginning of the level.
There’s also a town and a castle in Story Mode where the heroic princess can spend the bags of gold she finds on new weapons. And she can take simple task quests from local townspeople¬—an element that makes this game feel a bit more like an RPG at times.
Now, if all my talk of demons, ghouls and resurrected pets has given you pause, well, that’s the story here, and you can’t escape it. There’s no graphic carnage or mess, since the targets of a rapid knife throw simply poof out of their 2D existence when they’re digitally dispatched.
But those targets range from skeletons walking around in a casket, to hooded skeletal archers, to zombies and ghouls, to truly demonic-looking bosses such as a red-eyed, fire-breathing boar and a monstrous thingy with multiple eyes. Put simply: Madelyn often confronts devilish foes that can look like evil incarnate.
All of that said, the dark foes here are never truly explained, from a spiritual sense. The game simply presents an alternate world of dark and light that also houses ghostly ancestors and pets; but that’s as far as it goes. And visually, it’s all displayed in a cartoony, 16-bit graphics. The battling Princess Madelyn herself is as cartoonish and sweet looking as can be.
This E-rated Battle Princess Madelyn is without a doubt a good representation of old-school platformers for consoles like the Sega Genesis and Nintendo SNES. But whether or not Grampy’s warrior princess world is right for your family room is … another story.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.