Game App Review: BADLAND

Alex says this iOS game is lots of fun and surprisingly deep.

(If you don't succeed, die and die again.)

It might feel like you’ve played Badland before, but you haven’t, not really. The lovechild of Limbo, World of Goo and Super Meat Boy, it’s a sidescrolling adventure game of the sort that mobile devices were made for, with great graphics, simple controls, and a surprising amount of depth.

But what is this main character, a blobby, barely aerodynamic creature whose tiny wings struggle to raise its bulk? Who knows- you can barely even see the damn thing. There’s no story of any kind, you’re just trying to get this creature safely to the end of each level where a life-saving vacuum lies in wait to suck you up into a pipe and transport you to the next level.

The art style is what will grab you first, the dark silhouette art reminiscent of Limbo. An ecosystem of rocks and plants exist seemingly only to hinder your progress, as do the various metal contraptions will inevitably crush you and slice you up. Badland certainly has the constant threat of death as Limbo as well, though with not nearly the same kind of crippling, quiet intensity of that classic. Badland is much faster-paced and action oriented, much less oppressive, although the sound design ensures that you’re never sure just what you’re going to face next- you just know that it won’t be good. Colorful backgrounds provide a nice contrast to the dark forefront.

Badland is easily controlled with one finger. Touch the screen and your character will fly up, release and it will fall. The screen scrolls from left to right automatically and you will have to fly avoid obstacles and pick up power-ups on the way, sometimes squeezing through incredibly claustrophobic tunnels. The controls are precise to the point where you’ll curse yourself for getting killed, not the game. Many times though the levels will throw things at you that you just won’t how to avoid at first. Along the way you’ll find all kinds of power-ups to help you, some that change your little blob into larger and smaller forms, some that make it roll across the ground like a wheel, some that turn it into a crush-proof cube.

The clones are the most fun, though. Hit a certain power-up and your little blob will split into two identical blobs, or even a whole mess of them. You only need one to get to the end to win and it doesn’t matter which one, so forget about saving them all. There’s simply no way to get through each level without losing a few clones, and since the entire pack moves as one you’ll have to try and maneuver them in a way that minimizes losses. Each level offers up completely different experiences- like the best games Badland consistently amps up the difficulty by building upon things you’ve learned in past levels and there's just so much to learn here, so many different challenges. Generous checkpoints allow you to learn by trial and error (i.e. death... lots of death) without it getting frustrating, and you’ll soon learn advanced tricks, like how to send two clones along two different paths or safely explode mines. It’s almost a puzzle game in some respects, with some sections require a little bit of thinking to advance, although most require acts of dexterity. It’s insanely satisfying to get to the end of each level.

Badland also features local multiplayer, up to four players at a time. Each player gets a quarter of your device on which to tap and control their own little guy, and you’ll race against each other trying to survive the longest. Bumping and smashing your friends into pits and circular saws is not only allowed, it’s encouraged. As you might expect, it works fine on a phone but forget about cramming four players and their fat fingers on it. The screen’s just too small so save your multiplayer sessions for an iPad. Online multiplayer would have been great but it’s nice to see this mode included, especially with 12 different levels and more on the way.

Dearth of content is not something you’ll have to worry about here. The 40 main levels will take you hours to complete, and once you’re done with a level you can attempt it again to beat challenges. This isn’t as simple as just getting a high score to attain three stars either- each level has its own unique goals, from simply completing it without dying or bringing a certain number of clones to the end with you. Badland developer Frogmind has pledged support in the form of free levels as well. The two-man studio is comprised of ex-Red Lynx developers who worked on Trials Evolution, including one of the level designers, which is likely why the design here is so impeccable.

Badland may look like a lot of other games but it's truly its own beast, a satisfying, challenging trip through a nightmarish landscape.

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Badland is now available as a universal iOS app for $3.99. It has iCloud support and no in-app purchases. It’s iOS-only at the moment but is so damn good that you can bet it’ll eventually be ported to Android, Steam, and the rest.

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