For years now, the 2D Castlevanias (and, of course, all the Castlevania-likes) have been struggling with a pretty significant part of their gameplay— how to make the constant overworld battles with whatever evil dungeon / cave / castle’s numerous foot soldiers interesting1, and keep players engaged between boss fights and story events. Lucky for us all, Haruneko‘s Amazing Princess Sarah ($4.99) might have just solved that problem, and it might’ve become one of my favorite action / platformers in the process.
The game shares some similarities with one of the developer’s earlier releases, Akane the Kunoichi, but whereas that was a more traditional platformer with traditional mechanics, Amazing Princess Sarah is a deliberate crawl, a slugfest for every inch of ground, from one end of the stage to the other. You don’t play the game as much as you just survive, as it cleverly reinvents the in-between stuff and makes the end bosses almost a secondary concern.
Don’t let the generous cleavage fool you; Sarah is one tough chick. After her father— also the King— is kidnapped by a demonic party, led by a horned boss known as Lilith, she sets out to tramp through a series of increasingly-difficult (and increasingly-longer) castles to retrieve him. These fortresses follow the platformer mold… in theory; plenty of enemies, some challenging jumps onto narrow (and sometimes disappearing) ledges, all concluding with the requisite boss encounter. In action, it plays completely different.
While Sarah has a normal blade attack that does adequate harm, her real skill lies in her unnatural strength; strength that allows her to hoist up the bodies of her slain enemies, and chuck them into oncoming threats for massive damage.2 Nice parlor trick, that. It’s also key to dealing with the unending parade of baddies, wiping out the more dangerous foes and / or trying to combo the rest to fall like dominoes. It’s hard to explain in words, but trust me, when it’s done right, it’s awesome, and really satisfying.
Choosing the right corpse for the job is important3, as most of them will have their own weight, properties, and effects. A bird can be tossed farther, but does less damage, while a bomber’s body will naturally explode upon contact. Ditto for other enemies and effects, like archers (split into arrows) and firebrands (waves of traveling flames). Depending on how you line up your ‘corpse attacks’, you can score several kills at once, helping you to level up and increase your overall health. This too, is vitally-important, as you’ll need the extra hitpoints to advance from checkpoint to checkpoint, the space between clogged with more and more enemies and hazards.
In fact, despite their epic size and decent challenge, the bosses do become secondary. Being chased by a giant spider or fighting a demon with sexy legs (… don’t ask) somehow provokes less tension than simply getting through a tiny stretch of one castle. This can either be a very good thing, or a very frustrating thing, depending on your view. While the controls are generally excellent, and the difficulty never felt unfair or too over-the-top, be forewarned— there are some tricky sequences (a vertical corridor near the end, comprised entirely of disappearing platforms and lined with archers that cause knockback, proved especially maddening).
You’ll certainly get your money’s worth, though, as you have to play through the game several times to actually ‘beat’ it, a process that will doubtlessly run you several dozen hours in length. Considering one playthrough will take you about five hours, finishing all seven(!) game modes4 to fight the true final boss will require serious dedication. But time and difficulty be damned, I say! With its clever re-imagining of basic stage design— and the inventive use of corpses— Amazing Princess Sarah is a challenging (and absolute) must-play.5
- Part of that blandness with the combat is offset by ‘exploration’, and the old Metroidvania trick: slowly giving you access to new items and weapons to keep you motivated and moving forward. ↩
- I’ve seen this compared to the idea behind Mischief Makers, Treasure‘s platformer on the N64. ↩
- Something very wrong about seeing that line written out. ↩
- With some neat variables to up the challenge, like your own ghost following you around the level, causing damage on contact, or ‘Drunk Princess’, a mode that messes with the camera. ↩
- This review is also featured at Indiepitome. ↩