Some people have described Amazing Princess Sarah as Metroidvania in style, but really there is almost not Metroid – just plenty of ‘vania’.
In terms of the style both visually and how the game plays, this is one of the better Castlevania-inspired titles I have had a chance to play. Remembering that it is a small indie game that sets you back a buck, it is a worthwhile play indeed.
The story to Amazing Princess Sarah is pretty minimal, but it is nice to see the princess as the hero for a change. So many of these platforming-action games from my youth were all about saving the princess. Here, she is the star of the show and it is on Sarah to save the day.
Level design is actually quite interesting, with multiple traps to navigate through that complicate Sarah’s life. Additionally there are switches to be found along the way that open up the path to continuing through the level, but these quite often bring their own complications to the table. One specific example from the very first level is that hitting the switch destroys the overhead ceiling. This is necessary as Sarah must jump up the left side of the screen (set up like a narrow staircase really) and can only continue through the level once the offending ceiling has been removed. However, when it is destroyed a slew of creatures are dropped down onto Sarah’s level that she either has to deal with or run from first. Considering two of them fell right on Sarah upon striking the switch, it was safe to say I was caught by surprise.
Sarah’s basic attack is just a sword swing that is not terribly strong nor have good range, but it is thankfully quick so that multiple strikes can be doled out in short order. Sarah’s primary attack however, is her ability to lift and lob heavy objects. These can include environmental items (like chairs, clocks and tables) or the bodies of fallen foes. The bigger the item, the less effectively Sarah can jump and the shorter her throw range, but the more damage the object does on impact. The jumping is also more fluid than traditional Castlevania titles, with more of a feeling of control over Sarah’s jump in the air. That being said, jumping is still a precarious activity. Were you by chance one of those people who hated flying, swerving Medusa heads in the old Castlevania games? If so, the bats in Amazing Princess Sarah are easier to hit, but still bring back those old feelings of annoyance as they weave through the air toward Sarah at the most annoying of times.
Boss battles are effective but never particularly difficult. Save points generally occur right before them, and while there is no running out of lives that leads to a game over, Sarah does only have one life at a time. Die and she returns to the prior checkpoint. Bosses are large, strange and entertaining to fight with but lack the difficulty of the levels themselves, which is disappointing.
Enemies do serve a purpose beyond trying to kill Sarah. There is a very basic experience and level system at play here. Kill enough creatures and eventually Sarah gains a level, and with it more life. Because there is no in-game timer that has to be beaten, there is nothing to keep Sarah from grinding for some levels, though the gains are small so it does feel like wasted time.
Visually Amazing Princess Sarah goes the pixelated route to help cement that retro feel, and it gets the job done pleasantly enough. The sound effects are good while the music is truly a highlight. It’s catchy and fits in with the theme of the game, and that’s just as well, since the game itself certainly lasts longer than most retro platformers at about a half dozen hour’s length.
At the end of the day, Amazing Princess Sarah does a better job of emulating the Castlevania formula than a lot of bigger publishers in the past when they’ve tried to. The combat could really use more variety – things do get a bit repetitive from that standpoint, but the level system and well-designed levels do provide additional hooks to keep the player interested.
– Nick H.