How Metroidvania is it? Medium Fit. Saving Princess uses a spoke and hub system rather than a fully interconnected world, but there's good reason to backtrack to its various levels
Primary Challenge: Ranged Combat
Time to beat: ~3 hours
Review Info: Saving Princess was played on Windows PC using the Itch.io version
Buy Saving Princess if you like…
- Mega Man Style Boss Fights
- Recoil Jump Boosting
- Unique Ammo Systems
- Exploitable Boss Patterns
- Shorter Games
▼ Review continues below ▼
My immediate reaction to seeing screenshots and the trailer for Saving Princess was that the game looked a lot like Mega Man, and I like Mega Man. However, there is a major change to the run-to-the-right-and-jump-and-shoot formula here. In Mega Man your basic weapon has infinite ammo and you can fire it as rapidly as your hands can bear the pain, as long as there are never more than three shots on the screen. In Saving Princess you’ve got an automatically reloading clip of ammo, which when depleted you have to wait patiently until it gives you your ammo back. All of the game’s challenges are centered around managing that ammo meter, which adds an extra layer to the telegraphing and positioning-based gameplay that the reminiscent visuals might make you expect to find. With those differences outlined, Saving Princess still fundamentally feels like a similar thing to Mega Man, and those changes represent a great direction that a “Mega Man-but-Metroidvania” game could take. If its bosses were just a bit better it could easily have stood next to the venerable series as one of the greats, but nevertheless – especially given the price point – Saving Princess is an enjoyable game.
In that old school style, the only plot you’re given is that there’s a princess needs to be rescued, you’re the only one who can save the princess, so you embark on a mission where in most timelines you die to something stupid like running straight into a boss’ bullet. Besides being able to shoot horizontally, you can also shoot downward, which gives you a vertical boost from the recoil. This functions as your double jump in this game, and being able to fly around by shooting down is the main thing that your ammo limit truly regulates. The first “ability gate” you’ll encounter requires you to find more ammo so you can make your way up a cliff that you couldn’t reach up before. From there the game guides you down a specific path where you’ll fight a boss and you will find your first weapon. With that weapon most of the rest of the game is made available to you. You have three paths that you can choose from in any order, with each usually offering something that makes the other paths easier. It’s really not unlike picking a robot master level in a certain other game, although every pathway is connected to a central hallway that feeds into all of them rather than the game kicking you out to a level select screen.
That first weapon that you acquire kicks off the game’s other ammo-based gimmick. If you wait until your ammo meter is completely full, the highest ammo slot becomes a special ammo, which triggers your weapon’s unique effect. That first weapon’s special lets you shoot explosive shots which deal substantially more damage than your regular shots. Importantly the explosives will also take out weak walls or machinery blocking the doors to the other areas. Later on you’ll find a flamethrower that leaves a lingering flame on the floor or walls that you hit, which is an effect in addition to rapidly dealing damage during the initial stream. You’ll also find an ice shotgun that freezes enemies, but surprisingly it isn’t used for turning those enemies into platforms that I’ve found, but that may be just because I had enough ammo to make the jumps by just shooting down by the time I found areas I might have needed it. Once you get past the initial tutorial area, there aren’t really any Metroidvania ability gates for the rest of the game, but backtracking to any of the areas you’ve been, you’ll find that the new weapons and additional ammo will let you reach helpful upgrades you couldn’t have reached on your first time through.
The most important upgrade you can find is the one that makes you replenish ammo faster. At the higher reload levels, this can even alleviate the need to find so many ammo quantity upgrades since the gun will still reload while you are firing it. As the enemies get harder the regular shots become less important, so waiting for that special shot on every shot becomes the main strategy – having faster reloading gets you there that much faster. This is why double jumping is pretty much the only reason you need to raise your max ammo. There are bosses where jump boosting to dodge their various attacks is helpful, although by dodging in this way there’s still some strategic decision making to be had since depleting your ammo makes it take that much longer for your gun to recharge to the shots that actually matter. When you’re relatively safe though, just waiting after each shot for the special shot to come back rather than wasting your time with the piddly pea shooter shots is possibly the best way to play the game.
Bosses in general feel more like an AI puzzle rather than an action challenge in this game. Unlike a lot of modern Indie games their patterns don’t change much over the course of battle, and unfortunately not only can almost every boss’ AI be manipulated into repeating patterns, in some cases it’s almost required to get through the battle unscathed. Figuring out what the boss’ reactions are can be pretty frustrating at first, but once you do, combat becomes just a matter of looping the same strategy over and over until the boss is dead. Adding to the normal frustrations of learning to get good, three of the game’s bosses also stun you for a decent amount of time when you make a mistake, giving a feeling of helplessness that makes the game feel unfair. While every AI can be manipulated, some boss AI goes completely haywire when you make the wrong move which creates some jaw dropping patterns that without a high amount of patient observation makes the game seem almost broken. One boss in particular really wants you to have the flamethrower to prevent it from just being a total slog – and of course this is the boss I ended up going to first. The slog boss spends most of its time off-screen, and when it does come on screen its weak point is likely going to be out of your reach – something that the flamethrower cares less about since it lingers in the air. There are some good bosses, but given that the game is designed so you can choose where you can go, it might have made for a less janky experience if the bosses were more designed around using the basic shots, or maybe the bosses could have been upgraded based on where you’ve already been.
The game’s physics also make jumping around feel sometimes unresponsive, at least with the setup I was using. This could totally have been just a technical issue, but I had to be especially deliberate when I pushed my fire button or else the shot might not go off. This is less of an issue when fighting enemies and more dire when I was trying to fly across a pit of spikes. There’s thankfully no instant death in this game, but some collectables are locked behind some pretty tricky maneuvering to get to them and back out again without losing all of your health. Dying in this game loses everything since the last checkpoint, so while checkpoints are mercifully frequent, there’s no suicide running to grab the goodies you’ve found without also having to backtrack out. Your character is very weighty so precise shot control is necessary, and it just feels bad when you think the shot should have worked, but it doesn’t. Again, this is playing the game using an app from Itch.io that doesn’t necessarily play well with my hardware or my Joy to Key controller shenanigans, so this criticism could be completely unique to my experience.
Exploration is otherwise quite clever, with the game’s hardest platforming challenges being optional, and they are where you could potentially find those ever important ammo refill speed upgrades. Besides the usual checking the map for doors you haven’t opened yet, the game world also contains subtle hints of places where you can bomb walls, simply pass through them, or use the features of one of your weapons in unique ways. Saving Princess’ world isn’t very big, so checking every room isn’t a total chore, and in spite of my efforts to be thorough I was surprised that I had finished the game with only 76% of the items found. There’s some good depth to Saving Princess’ exploration indeed. I really like the idea of ammo regulating how many times you can double jump, and using that as a core gating feature for an entire game is a great idea.
Where Saving Princess falls short with its bosses maybe slightly janky physics it makes up for it with being just a great idea. Regulating ammo and making your gun an integral part of your movement options is a fantastic design approach. There’s plenty to explore, and you’re rewarded handsomely for your efforts, so I think that for a mere $2.50 price tag and a relatively low time commitment, Metroidvania x Mega Man fans will likely find a decent time here. It’s also worth mentioning that Saving Princess is also available for Android, and on that platform there might be a bit less competition. In regards to my own feelings about the game, I kind of wish that more was done with the concept. Bosses could use a bit more polish, and the game’s world could certainly be more robust; it could have been a much larger playground to play with the game’s ever expanding double jump feature. In spite of those feelings though, Saving Princess was in every way a fun time, and I look forward to a potential Saving Princess 2 if Brainos decides to do something like it in the future.
There are places where it shines and places where the AI is pretty janky, evening out to simply ''good'' experience given the number of bosses available
The weight of the main character can feel awkward and sometimes unresponsive - or at least it did on my hardware
Saving Princess cleverly uses its ammo limit double jump system to tuck away meaningful upgrades in all sorts of places. In a more non-linear map it could have been even greater
There really aren't any puzzles in this gasme
It's the barebone basic excuse for killing some bosses, which is fine
The 8-bit aesthetic is often appealing and works well for Saving Princess
The music is catchy and ambient but is also not very memorable
You can challenge yourself by taking different paths through the game just like if you were playing Mega Man, but the game becomes linear again after that choice section