That Amazing Princess Sarah is quite entertaining, is proof positive that you can't judge a book by its cover. The key art featuring the painfully-proportioned Sarah gazing out of the screen suggests that the game will be nothing but a teenage boy's fantasy presented in videogame form. In fact, some will pass over it altogether simply based on the fact that the artwork is indeed so preposterous. If you're of that mindset, then there's a chance that you'll be passing up something that you may enjoy.
Whether the top-heavy characters – Sarah is not the only one – in the game are a ham-fisted attempt at parody or just a spectacular misjudgment of the current climate, we're not sure. The fact that the first boss is a giant body-less head with legs that wears nothing but a pair of PVC boots, and that there's an achievement for getting Sarah to level 69 (hur, hur…sigh) suggests that parody wasn't the goal. The attempts at comedy aren't necessarily all that well finessed, to say the least. Neither are they all that numerous. We've literally mentioned all of the stabs that Haruneko have taken at creating a more "adult" flavoured game already. If you're going to do it, chaps, at least do it properly and with gusto.
If you can get past the odd eye-roll-inducing piece of adolescent tomfoolery, Amazing Princess Sarah makes a good attempt at recapturing the beauty of games of old. Controlling the titular princess, you roam through five castles in an attempt to save the King. A 2D side-scroller, the game is straightforward platform fun, with the main twist to the standard leaping and hacking gameplay being that you can pick up objects and downed foes in order to use as weapons. You have a sword to hand of course, but the enemies that you kill each have their own properties when hurled across the screen. A skeleton just acts like a rock, for example, but a thrown archer will hit an opponent and explode into a rain of arrows, which could take out other nearby opponents. The airborne female enemies emit a sound upon being thrown that acts something like a smart bomb, destroying multiple foes. It means that underneath the relatively simple exterior, there's a decent amount of tactical depth to be found here. Sure, you could just go blindly into the next section with nothing but your sword, but you could also take that deceased fire-demon and light the next wave of enemies up.
The five castles each feature a different theme, although with the exception of the snowbound second location which introduces slippery platforms, they all feel pretty much the same to play. The first takes a few minutes to beat and that time increases until you reach the final one and end up struggling for an hour. A lot of the struggle comes from some horrendously cheap ploys that Amazing Princess Sarah uses in order to kill you that, from time to time, feel genuinely impossible to get past. As an example, an overly-long romp across a series of disappearing platforms is punctuated by bats flying in from either side of the screen which you absolutely can't avoid. If you hit them, you'll slow down too much to be able to jump off the disappearing platform and if you try to clear them, you'll have nowhere to go if you get the angle wrong as the platform you jumped from now doesn't exist. Difficulty is not a bad thing of course, but the way in which certain tiny sections are suddenly super-tough when compared to the entire rest of the level just feels cheap. Not only that, but on your first run through the game, there are a couple of sections where you have to leap into the absolute unknown and you have no indication if the jump will kill you. Next time, you'll remember, but you'll likely have to suffer a death and head back to a checkpoint as part of your schooling.
Fortunately, those sections don't occur so often that you'll give up. Plus, if you complete the five castles, you'll be granted access to a new game mode, which changes things up. The first time you complete the game, you'll unlock a mode where the ghost of Sarah floats around behind you like one of Nintendo's Boos, halting when you turn to face her. If she touches you, you lose health, but you'll find that second run through to be a lot simpler due to the fact that your character remains at the level they were when you completed the game first time around. This goes on until you've completed the game six times, with each completion awarding a new achievement and unlocking another new version of the game with a new parameter or new alterations to your abilities. These new unlockable modes are a nice addition to a game that otherwise would most definitely leave you feeling short-changed.
What these additional modes mean is that Amazing Princess Sarah almost becomes an enforced speedrun challenge. You'll want to play through the new mode as quickly as possible to get to the next one, and the paths through the castles naturally become embedded in your brain. So on your first run, you'll take 20 minutes to beat the first level, but cut that in half on your second, then in half again on your third. Before you know it, you're making notes on how long each run takes and trying to beat your best.
Amazing Princess Sarah is a good retro platformer, of that there is no doubt. There's also plenty to do, although the nature of the implementation means that some will feel that it crosses the line into repetitiveness. It would have taken longer in development of course, but if the game had 30 levels in play as opposed to five levels repeated six times with slightly different character parameters, the developers would have been onto a surefire winner. As it stands though, Amazing Princess Sarah still has the ability to hook you and is enjoyable enough for the price.