Disclosure: The author of this article was given a code for the game through Frogmind for the purpose of this review
Platform: Xbox One, PS3, PS4, Vita, Wii U
More than likely, no less than a title and introductory sentence in and you’re already curling your nose at that dreaded sub-title, right? The strawberries to ‘Remastered’s cream as far as the industry’s new favourite delicacies are concerned. But Badland, surprisingly, deserves the recognition it so unashamedly dresses itself in. Originally released in 2013 on both Android & iOS devices, the premise was simple but adjust: here are some levels, beat them, get on with it. Indie games often fall back on this linear concept in game structure – be it for better or worse – but Badland, even with the monetary offer of additional content, on the surface looked to be a relatively simple but confidently simple piece of fun to spend a few minutes, or hours, locked into.
Now making that bold, brave leap into the wider market – both on consoles and personal computer alike – Badland: Game Of The Year Edition aims to entice further players into its bright, vibrant (but far from downtempo) material, hoping above all what made its mobile-friendly efforts work so well, translates both effectively and efficiently to wider formats, wider screens and wider expectations more importantly. To say Badlands plays like a mobile game – that it is essentially a collection of levels, bound and tied together by a natural evolution in challenge and accompanying design – would be, firstly, unfair and enchanting a kind of illusory drawback already. There’s no doubting developer Frogmind’s lush tropical-esque environments look and feel unstammeringly consistent and as such, barely break from stride throughout. Be it, for example, the game’s means of grouping levels – taking the names of different parts of the day – Frogmind make sure there’s enough idle mutters of activity going on in the background as there is active danger and wary obstructiveness in the foreground.
It’s in the foreground – during play as the game’s side-scrolling come endless runner-style execution takes you on a merrily hurried chase to the end goal – that these obstacles lay in wait. Playing as a peculiarly fuzz-balled creature with wings, your objective, initially feels relatively simple: avoid slipping completely off screen and reach the level’s end chutes to progress on. In early proceedings the obstacles are rather acute and understandable in context (if still a little precarious in how they’ll affect-turn-hinder your efforts), but come the half-way mark and things really start to heat up. And I’m not talking the many traps and deceitful trickery the game seethes in; the only thing likely to boil over is the player’s accumulated stress and annoyance at having guessed incorrectly when to use the game’s main mechanic of gravity-based movement. There are plenty of user-responsible mistakes to be made here; trial-and-error more often than not insufficient in providing a way around.
Whether or not it’s a puzzle that requires you going two or maybe three different routes – as a result, sacrificing a potential assortment of clones you’ve managed to build up – to nonetheless advance or simply one of careful precision, there’s no denying Badlands is a game that never quite let’s itself be known to the player. There’s reminiscing to be had over the classic 2D Sonic titles definitely; that giddy-yet-anxious moment of whizzing through a level unaware of the pitfalls ahead or the many routes you can take. Badlands’ variety never pushes that far but that unpredictability transmits across surprisingly well. Especially when certain levels do indeed go full Sonic mode and you find yourself rocketing across – making sure you survive, but ensuring above all else, you won’t trip up…again. Side-scrollers are nothing new and there’s an argument to be had [noting personal experience] the sky and ice levels in Super Mario Bros 3 provided a better form of that oxymoron-like satisfying frustration. But Badlands’ smart, dabbling mix of thinking on one’s feet amidst all this mayhem does prevent, in some parts, the experience from becoming too stale.
I use the word too, because while the need to avoid getting swallowed up off-screen does remain something of a tentative and ever-present threat, a large portion of levels later on don’t offer nowhere near enough the same level of hectic fun. While the obstacles do appear more lethal and the encompassing silhouetted visuals and engrossing sound effects do prod at the senses, the overall package doesn’t offer as much excitement or real sense of achievement as previous efforts. The fact there’s no dialogue or driving narrative to the game is superficial to the main complaint regarding a feeling of personal progression I admit, but without it and the play-time – be it for minutes or indeed hours – starts to feel more a packaged content of broken-off moments rather than a complete experience. Similar to my grudge with Affordable Space Adventures in parts, Badlands – as gorgeous and smooth a performance and frame-rate it sustains – has only the same aspect to blame for its flaw as much as its selling point: its portability and mobile-friendly simplicity. The fact the level select screens look and act like stores or entryway into the game doesn’t do it any favours.
As far as additional modes go, aside from optional co-op and local multiplayer with up to three other players, the game’s challenge mode allows you to replay levels in order to complete tasks under certain conditions: survive with only x number of tries, get a certain number of clones, get all the items (that come in the form of power-up’s/power-down’s) in the level. Easy to play, hard to master might come to mind straight away, but it’s Badlands’ inescapable moreish nature that adds a lot of breadth and replay factor to its vast collection of levels. Even after completing one level – or meeting all three of said stage’s challenge requirements – there’s always that benefactor of it being there, staring right at you, that pulls you in for more.
Such is Badlands’ instant charm; its gratifying a challenge met, the illustrious artistic design, the sheer lack of knowing what’s to follow. Just seeing your character’s expression change as it succumbs to the effect of certain power-up’s or begins to panic wide-eyed as you start to slip from view on the left side, most of the game’s range of subtle and direct detail definitely adds up. Had a degree of literal connectivity and purpose to the game’s mix of natural and mechanical aesthetics been explained or at least elaborated on, Badlands: Game Of The Year Edition may have been just had for a second time. Instead, if a little troubled by these criticisms, Frogmind have more than succeeded in carrying over their past success and translating a mobile environment onto the big[ger] screen. It’s a competitive and often cruel industry but it’s fortunate, even for a game so level-orientated – as opposed to World-orientated – as this, there’s still plentiful amounts of joy and exhilaration having beaten a level. Moments are short, sometimes passive, but when you’re racing left-to-right with only the need to survive breathing down your neck, that’s often not that bad a deal.