Platformers have reinvigorated the gaming landscape, of late. Whilst the genre often has finite replayability, their addictive nature is often anchored by an imaginative and, at times, subtle story. It’s weird enough flying around as a dark, circular winged critter but, when you don’t know why you’re doing it, BADLAND becomes a tough slog.
It’s tough to continue playing a game when there’s no plot, no subtitles and no narration from any of the characters. Whilst similar games like Limbo have high-quality immersion and reveal a final cutscene for closure, BADLAND has a different approach. The frantic style of this side-scrolling puzzle game throws players into bite-sized levels, eventually incorporating more and more traps into the game’s already frustrating level design.
There are over 100 levels in BADLAND, each taking only a few minutes at a time to complete (a strong production choice from Frogmind Games). An uncomplicated control scheme both helps and hinders the game, as a straightforward platformer commands a special ability keep things interesting – a la Chariot. In this case however, continuously tapping one button to maintain your height is far from groundbreaking. Whilst the puzzles start off simple, dodging boulders and projectiles, they have a respectable difficulty curve and do provide a high degree of challenge.
The actual side-scrolling in BADLAND is frustrating to say the least. Despite the implementation of power ups that adjust your creature’s size, the movement speed, as well as applying status effects like spikes, the base speed of the game moves too quickly. Not only do players have to navigate perilous level-by-level puzzles, the camera speed is relentless and often pushes players out of the screen, resulting in a restart. It gets particularly tricky when you have to guide these creatures down three separate paths to activate switches where only one route allows you to progress, leaving a whole band of other creatures behind.
BADLAND is all about creating clones to progress through levels because, without clones, you’ll more than likely be swallowed up by the pace of the game. Each level has pre-set goals, such as saving a certain amount of clones or completing a level without dying. But we never learn why saving the clones are so important. Players are far too distracted by keeping so many clones alive throughout all the stages, especially when gauntlets of saws and lasers eliminate a large proportion of them anyway; the clones are fodder for level progression which impacts negatively on the game.
Thank goodness there are checkpoints here because it’s a guarantee that you’ll die. A lot. Gigantic rolling stones, persistent cannons, spiked bushes and hordes of angry saws will stop at nothing to tear you and your loveable band of somethings to shreds. Oh, there are so many saws. Did I mention there were saws?
It’s almost like Frogmind have tried to take a Rayman Legends approach here, tasking you with saving as many helpless companions as possible. Only, in this case, the player goes unrewarded afterwards.
Branching from its initial iOS roots, BADLAND is a nice looking little game. The tiny black bat-like things start in a wonderfully crafted forest backdrop. Through level progression, the game incorporates a variety of colour filters, from sunset orange to neon blue, to great effect. Of what little plot is relayed to the player, the frequency of machinery appears to play a role in some way. This is ultimately one of the main problems with BADLAND; there is an engaging story here, but Frogmind fails to feed the player characters, settings, and voice-over of any kind. As such, the plot is virtually non-existent.
As a console game, BADLAND reveals itself as a mobile game at heart. This is not the type of title you can play through for long sessions because the structure of it is more suited to shorter bursts of gameplay or something that you can stress over on public transport. Mobile gamers and console gamers are two different audiences and some forethought by Frogmind would have implemented a more revealing story, or even some online co-operative play. BADLAND ultimately feels out of place on console and runs out of steam due to its forgettable stages and limited gameplay elements.
Attack of the Clones.