Badland’s chibi fuzzball of a protagonist is a prelude to a mystical presentation. With laughably tiny wings and pinprick eyes, you almost feel sorry for the the brave little bat as it traverses oil-spewing machinery in this mobile game’s steampunk-meets-sci-fi setting. Meanwhile, the silhouette art style and side-scrolling action merge of Limbo and Jetpack Joyride, respectively, as hallucinogenic backgrounds emulate Tim Burton's designs. Seriously, from former Redlynx developers (the minds behind Trials Evolution), did you expect something sane?
Still, players may not have time to appreciate the swampy watercolor landscapes occupied by motley mammals and birds, or the serene soundtrack rife with subtle melodies and nature's chirps. The game steadily surges forward – the basic mentality behind endless runners – whether players can keep up or not, though Badland hardly classifies as complex. Tapping the touchscreen flaps your furry nightmare’s puny appendages, while any impending deaths dilate its petite pupils. Indeed, the results prove humorous. The bat’s weight (which changes via power-ups) affects its responsiveness, and as I acclimated to Badland's physics, I watched the tubby protagonist ricochet off structures with dull thunks and thuds.
Power-ups gravitate towards you automatically.
The victory conditions could not be more simple, though, because Badland is only endless runner-like. The campaign divides its days (worlds) into 40 levels each, with every 10 symbolizing noon, night, dawn, or dusk. And once your critter reaches the vacuum tube at the end of a map, navigating perilous traps – thorns, boulders, saw blades – that threaten its existence along the way, you prevail. What seems an easily described task, however, becomes brutally uncompromising, with environments utilizing land mines, vices, and other diabolical machinations in concert.
It is fortunate that several power-ups multiply Badland’s pudgy varmint, producing vast armies of shadowy clones. (If one duplicate survives, consider that level completed.) Furthermore, Badland contains temporary upgrades that alter your furball’s physical traits. One stimulant shrinks the avian hero, ensuring players slip through gaps with ease, while later changes give the spiky denizen the properties of rubber or glue. It sounds fun, but the power-ups are not just for laughs. They remain crucial puzzle solutions, slowing time amid gamuts of blades and cave-ins.
Challenge aside, I congratulate Frogmind on their more wickedly clever trials. Years of playing Super Mario Bros. and other platformers have taught fans to collect upgrades whenever they appear, yet several Badland puzzles are founded on the idea of not acquiring buffs, or dodging levers, pressure plates, etc. Such riddles surprised me every time, and one level even asked that I flip my iPad upside down.
Like moths to a flame, beating their wings in unison.
My sole criticism lies with the controls. Most death traps can be avoided once players adapt to the game's floaty precision. Except, many of the more arduous puzzles require the luck and timing that a touchscreen cannot afford, where holding a finger in place for even a hundredth of a second might mean getting skewered, squashed, or exploded. Some stages fall into trial-and-error disputes that will rattle many impatient gamers, as they must be conquered without checkpoints. Otherwise, the saves are very generous. Dodge that falling pipe. Checkpoint. Tumble through Plinko-esque rock formations. Checkpoint.
Badland’s cost may also be a sticking point for some buyers, as $3.99 tops off towards the expensive end of iOS apps. For that price, the game currently contains 60 levels (40 available for the first day, 20 for the second), and yes, they fly by. I finished every map within several hours (though I have not three-starred every stage yet), but the developers have continued to update the campaign and multiplayer with new content, absolutely free. Who could complain?
Granted, if the solo grind does grow strenuous, four friends may fight for points locally. Each contestant receives a character and quadrant of the screen, and the dozen or so maps were able to hold our attention while we sabotaged each other repeatedly, triggering environmental hazards early or hogging the power-ups. Really, Badland exudes a mix of relaxing humor and heated challenge scarcely seen outside Trials Evolution. Frogmind’s developers do not recast side-scrollers, nor do they need to. Sometimes, charm sells just fine.
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