Initially, what intrigued me most about Badland, Frogmind Games' debut title for iOS devices, was its impressive art style. As a fan of the unique and odd-looking, I immediately fell in love with Badland's shadowy foreground and colorful forest backdrop. What I anticipated when I played Badland for the first time was, at the very least, an aesthetically pleasing title. What I did not anticipate, however, was one of the most memorable and magical games to grace the iOS platform.
In Badland, the goal is to navigate a bite-sized ball of fuzz through a gauntlet of grinding gears, buzz-saws, falling stalactites, exploding mines, and many other pitfalls all the while the screen advances towards the precious little creature. Controlling the mysterious critter is as basic as its premise: tapping on the touch-screen allows your bright-eyed protagonist flaps its tiny appendages to take flight.
It sounds simple enough, and it very well would be…if it wasn't for Badland's physics-altering power-ups – special abilities that cause your silhouetted character to grow, shrink, speed-up, slow-down, roll forwards or backwards, split into one or many clones of itself, or a myriad of many of…mutations. Such power-ups, as it turns out, is the keystone to survival in Badland.
Presentation-wise, Badland does an expert job of easing you into each of your abilities by cleverly placing them throughout each level. Much like an old-school NES-era game, before a time of tutorials, Badland teaches you about its mechanics through its gameplay, and grants you enough time to tinker with each new ability before it actually comes into practice. It's nice to see a title that doesn't bog down the experience with a bunch of unnecessary prompts detailing exactly what the glowing orb you just picked up does; Badland instead gives you the option to read-up on its fun mechanics in the Pause Menu. There are times where you'll have to grab onto to the right set of abilities just to make it out in one piece (adding a nifty puzzle element to the gameplay), but you won't ever feel too overwhelmed by what Badland's designers toss your way. Power-ups are very carefully laid out and aren't overused, creating a perfect gameplay balance.
Two noteworthy abilities are Bigger and Superclone. Bigger, as its name implies, allows you to become big and use your new-found weight-gain to change the landscape around you, i.e. by barreling through boulders or forcing your way through otherwise immovable barriers. It's also wonderfully hilarious to watch something the size of pebble bloat into the size of stone and comically flap around. Superclone, on the other hand (you got to love how straightforward the abilities' name are), causes your solitary self to explode into multiple copies of itself. Aside from being extra fuzz to make you feel a tad safer while navigating through Badland, saving these extra selves goes towards your overall ranking. So if you're the type of gamer that absolutely had to have a 3-Star rank in every level of Angry Birds, you are going to want to be mindful of your clones.
If there is one thing I haven't talked about yet it's Badland's art-style and design, and that is because I could honestly go on and on about how breathtaking and smart the entire package is. The graphics are nothing short of stunning. The contrast of organic, forest life and mechanical contraptions go surprisingly well together, and it really makes you believe that such an impossible place could truly exist. And it would be remiss of me not to mention the level design: brilliant. Between the abilities you posses and physics of the world itself, there is so much to interact and play with.
Another praiseworthy item is the game's soundtrack. While most of the experience is filled with ambient jungle noises, there are moments where jarring and even haunting tunes slowly begin to build up in the background. It is a real treat to listen to so do as the game tells you and play with your headphones on.
Last but not least, Badand has a surprisingly addictive multiplayer option. Up to four players can compete against each other on the same device. The goal, like the main game itself, is to outrun the moving screen of death and outscore your buddies by having more clones or by simply outlasting. Playing with two players on an iPhone was fun, but I can see how that tiny screen can become crowded once a third or fourth player enter the mix. So if you are looking to make this a group session, best play on the larger screen of the iPad.
Badland is a gorgeous yet eerie iOS title that is as charming as it is challenging. It is the sort of game that makes you wish your commute to work was longer. In fact, I found myself taking an extended subway ride to the office this morning just so I can get my fuzzball on. It has a real knack for drawing you into its bizarre world; the lush background is filled with all sorts of flora and fauna, and it all just oozes personality, detail, and even the occasional creep-factor. Frogmind Games has created an experience that is without a doubt a must-buy for any iPhone/iPad owner. Pay close attention to this developer, I sense many a great things from them in the years to come.
Fun Factor: Power-ups turn Badland into a veritable playground. The physics-altering abilities your flapping fuzzball is able to acquire combined with smart level design makes for an insanely fun experience; every game should come packed with a 'Superclone' ability.
Difficulty: You'll die - frequently…but you also don't have any lives to worry about losing, and you'll always respawn just a few steps before you last messed up. There is a certain challenge, however, to be had in both ability acquisition and timing, as the game's puzzle elements will have you planning out just how to get passed a certain hindrance.
Length: With 120 missions spread across 40 levels and ample clones to save, expect your stay in Badland to last between the 6-8 hour mark. Perfectionists can look forward to extended single-player playtime by repeating missions and besting their previous records.
On the Negative Side: It's hard to find fault in such an imaginative and captivating gaming experience. If I was to nitpick, I would say that the soundtrack does not come through as often as you would want it to.
Bang for Your Buck: At 3.99, Badland is an absolute steal, and should be picked up by anyone and everyone who owns an iOS device. With a lengthy single-player experience and a party-pleasing multiplayer mode, Badland is the ultimate in iOS gaming; it encapsulates what is best about the platform.