History is very important to Jon Shafer and there is a lot of History in At The Gates, Jon’s newly released 4x strategy game.
When I agreed to do this review, I hadn’t heard anything about this indie release from Causal Bit Games. But, as a woman who has been playing games since before those pixelated side-scroller NES days, I loved the title immediately. Back in the ’90s, working in the industry at a time when game companies could not figure out what girls wanted (good games with strong heroines, full stop), I waded through plenty of princess-y games that didn’t quite satisfy my need for action. So this game, designed for a real-life young girl who wanted to be in the world of Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, comes a touch late for me. But it’s still a fun game, and maybe more suited for my old-school style than that of my more modern gamer son’s (he spent some time grousing about the need for a tutorial).
Battle Princess Madelyn is a side-scrolling platformer that follows a young heroine-in-training as she sets out to rescue her family from an evil wizard, with help from her ghost dog. The game is now available for PC and Xbox One; it’s being released today in North America for the Nintendo Switch and Playstation 4. It’ll be available in Europe and Australia for the Switch on January 7, 2019; A PS4 date for 2019 has yet to be announced.
If you like that retro NES-style vibe, you’re going to love the art of Battle Princess Madelyn. It really does feel like an old side-scrolling platformer, in terms of look and feel and evocative music. The controls are responsive and mostly easy to use. There’s a nice variety of places to go, adventures to tackle, and creatures to encounter. The 2D art is visually arresting and the environments are diverse and imaginative. Despite the undead, monsters, and other not truly scary obstacles, it’s got a family-friendly vibe. And the familiarity of the simple and straightforward gameplay, for us old-schoolers, is comforting. Two modes, Arcade and Story, allow for plenty of replayability.
On occasion I found it difficult to master talking to people. The game could use a bit more user-friendly direction-providing. I wasn’t always sure what my main quest was. I did a lot of aimless wandering (which, okay, to be honest, is not different from what I did back in the ’80s).
While part of me loves the formulaic qualities of those old platformers, I mean, they had their faults, too. I remember spending a lot of time back in the day trying to figure out what I was supposed to do, and also getting frustrated by knowing WHAT to do, without actually being able to pull it off. Battle Princess Madelyn, in this respect, may aim a bit too close to its 8-bit predecessors. I spent a lot of my Battle Princess Madelyn time stuck in various places, trying to figure out where to go next. If I weren’t writing a review, I probably would have quit – which would have been the wrong thing to do. The game gets better, and less frustrating, as you go on.
The Final Word
I’m fully behind the backstory of this game, as a former little girl wishing to be transported into the world of video games. And as someone who played many of these platformers back in the day, I can tell you this experience feels authentically like that, including all the parts where I threw down my controller and went to clear my head before trying again. But it’s worth getting through, because there’s enough of wonder and interest that you’ll be rewarded for continuing to play in Battle Princess Madelyn’s whimsically ghastly world. Just expect to die a lot, in many different ways.
Get more information on Battle Princess Madelyn here.