*Author’s Note* Badland is currently an iOS exclusive game costing $3.99. The game was played on an iPad mini for the purpose of this review.
We’ve seen a large number of endless runner style platformers in the past couple years, most of which are obviously confined to the phone/tablet based market due to the limited control these systems provide. Such titles as Rayman Jungle Run have popularised the genre making it into one of the powerhouse genres on the Apple App Store, but now a small indie development team named Frogmind Games have delivered perhaps the ultimate take on this genre with their new release Badland.
In Badland you take the role of a little clone that looks something akin to a flying hedgehog that pathetically flaps its little wings as the screen plays catch up. You’re given little to no story to go on, but you do see strange sights in the background such as a dead rabbit hanging upside down, and some egg-like aliens in the background. That’s it, the story is negligible because the experience hinges totally upon the gameplay, and this is where the bulk of the value of this game rests.
Your little clone will roll and bounce his way from the pipe he emerges from to a warp pipe at the end of each level, to do so, you must navigate a wide assortment of traps, hazards and contraptions set in your path to destroy your little fluffball. The benefit for you is that you have a wide range of skills and power ups in your arsenal to get you through the day (literally). The clone can expand or shrink in size, stick to different surfaces, slow or speed up time, split into dozens of other clones and change its shape completely in order to tread through the environment safely. Combining numbers of these different power ups makes the navigation of each level significantly easier, but fail to utilise these skills and it will most likely result in you restarting the level. Each tap of the screen causes the clone to begin flying, with good timing resulting in consistent flight, whereas those who cannot coordinate themselves will find themselves awkwardly bouncing along the surface, and inevitably caught up to by the edge of the level, resulting in failure. As previously mentioned a huge range of dangers lay ahead of you, from spinning blades waiting to shred you into strips and stomping machine parts none of which are easy to navigate with many a close shave ahead of you. You will die – frequently, as this is a brutally tough game to master, but the game also is quite lenient with generous checkpoints meaning that when you finally become stuck at a certain location you won’t be penalised too heavily for your failure.The game spans 40 levels with more being added through updates regularly. Those original 40 levels last what the game refers to as a day, and these days are broken up into four segments, Dawn, Noon, Dusk and Night, with each of these time zones presenting its own unique visual style. Speaking of which, the artistry of the game is frankly incredible, channelling similar use of black as seen in indie gem Limbo but also some incredibly detailed and colourful backgrounds the game is truly a marvel to gaze upon, showing that sometimes clever artwork can do just as much as a powerful game engine. The audio effects are great also and the music is extremely effective in channelling major levels of creepiness.
Back to the game though because when you finish the 40 levels you have been provided (in only a few short sittings depending on how much you struggle) there is always reason to go back because each level has its own set of challenges, from the saving of X number of clones to making it throughout the levels entirety without a checkpoint restart. Also, quite notably is a split screen multiplayer mode, now let me first preface this by saying, that the only way this multiplayer mode should be played is on a tablet device because a phone version is simply too difficult to control. The players control their own puffy clone and it is essentially survival of the fittest with each player trying to outdo the others to be the last clone standing. Each player takes a portion of the screen to tap onto the control their clone, and whilst this can be a bit chaotic for any game involving more than two players it is certainly a fun distraction from the dreariness of the engaging main game.
The only thing that keeps Badland down is the duration of the game, but all in all this is one of the finest packages available in phone or tablet based gaming today. With an interesting, challenging and at times frustratingly difficult single player, to the craziness of the multiplayer and incredible art design, Badland commands your time and is well worth the miniscule initial investment. We cannot wait to see what Frogmind does next.