BADLAND (iPhone Game Review)

BadlandBADLAND is a side-scrolling puzzle/platformer designed for the iPhone. That means simple controls on top of a powerful engine, beautiful graphics, and gameplay designed to be broken out into two-minute chunks. In a lot of ways, I appreciate that. I mean, I wouldn’t be playing it if I had to sit down for an hour at a time. But on the other hand, this makes me miss the more involved platformers of the past.

In fact, maybe “platformer” isn’t the best term for it, since your avatar floats through the air rather than jumping between surfaces. And it’s easier for me to appreciate when I don’t use the term. There is a lot of great stuff here. Frogmind has taken a very simple concept – tap to fly up and forward, do nothing to fall back down – and built almost every conceivable idea they could on it. There are power-ups that make you smaller, larger, bouncy, sticky and even change the flow of time. Some also give you “clones”, sometimes allowing dozens of your characters on the screen at once. This is necessary for some puzzles, since you may need to pick up items or flip switches in both a high and a low path, or trigger a deathtrap while other clones sneak through. It’s also fundamental to the scoring in the game, since you can keep replaying the level to see if you can save more clones next time. (Each level also has three missions, which include saving clones, but also picking up all the items, exploding all bombs, completing without needing a respawn, etc. Being a smartphone game, most of the gameplay comes from going back to old levels to try to do better.)

Badland 2The atmosphere is the most distinctive part of the game. Your character is a circular flying blob in an otherwise-unpopulated world. It appears to be an idyllic land that was turned into the dumping ground of a technological society. You have to maneuver around gears, buzzsaws, bombs, loose pipes, and more (though the main threat is often just keeping up with the scrolling screen). These foreground items are so iconic that they’re shown mainly in silhouette, while the background is defined by a beautiful color palette that changes as the levels progress.

Everything about BADLAND seems designed right. The rules are taught in-game. The difficulty curve is good. The puzzles and unique situations keep things varied and leave no idea undeveloped. It’s memorable, instantly recognizable, and easy to keep playing for just one more round. I like it, but feel like I should like it more than I do. It’s not really compelling. I’m not getting anywhere in the end or finding secrets, and when I put it down, it’s pretty easy to ignore for days at a time. But when I pick it back up, I always remember how fun it is.

Grade: B

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