It’s appropriate that the swarm of flying beasts that Badland puts you in charge of are named ‘Clones,’ as the game itself is – at its heart – a clone of so many of the indie side-scrollers we’ve seen in recent years. This is by no means a bad thing, however, and the devil is truly in the details for this deliciously difficult take on a classic format.
In Badland, players are tasked with guiding their clones through a world made cruel and harsh by all manner of offending objects. At its core, the game is a mad dash against the encroaching edge of the screen, but that race against time will be the least of any player’s worries. The clones also have to contend with additional hazards which include falling debris, spinning razors, bombs and even the occasional laser – and that’s naming just a few. Fortunately, the game does offer plenty of aides in the quest for survival, with collectibles allowing your clones to shrink, grow, spin, speed up and even multiply into a buzzing hive.
All of this chaotic action takes place over the backdrop of a richly realized world. The visuals are neatly rendered and striking enough to drive players to occasional distraction; at times keeping an eye on the foreground can be a challenge of its own, when this world’s other odd inhabitants catch the player’s eye in the background.
The fact that the single player levels are split across different times and days also allows for the world to shift its personality accordingly. In the game’s morning the backdrop is a humming swamp, but by night time the whole thing becomes a Limbo-esque forest nightmare. The soundtrack, of course, also adjusts as well and the latter levels bring along eerie effects that add a tense atmosphere to the proceedings.
Unsurprisingly for a game that started out on mobile devices, nothing about it comes close to straining any of Sony’s hardware and virtually no technical issues present themselves. The controls, which operate with a rhythmic mastery over one button and some occasional input from a thumb-stick, are responsive and accurate enough never to leave players feeling unfairly let down by them. Not once did I find myself cursing a defeat at the hands of poorly designed controls or unreliable clone movement.
This Game of the Year edition also finds superiority over its humble mobile beginnings as far as value is concerned. The celebratory version of the game boasts hours of additional gameplay over the package of the original, as well as local multiplayer modes so that players can share the chaos with their friends. There’s also the added bonus of cross-platform packages, with the Playstation pack including a bundle of downloads for the PS4, PS3 and PS Vita. That’s a heck of a lot of content for the price of your average indie title!
Badland’s greatest strength undoubtedly lies within the bulk of its gameplay, and in the gruelling challenge it presents its players with. At its toughest, Badland is staggeringly difficult. While it sounds fairly average to say the game offers up 100 relatively short levels, some of these have sections so precise or dangerous that they can easily eat up twenty minutes of your time before you succeed.
While that success can come from simply reaching the end of each level with one clone, the game sets the challenge for its players to guide as many of them to safety as possible, and that’s where things get really tough. At times the game lulls players into dullness by filling the screen with multiple clones, only to throw in a section so dangerous that the only way to get anything through is to plough right in and hope for the best. Multiplied clones represent the opportunity for larger success, but it’s just as regularly about giving the player enough cannon fodder to protect just one of them.
Badland is a game that demands you to have ample stores of three things; skill, patience and – ultimately – luck. There’s a beautiful clumsiness to the clone’s quest for safe passage and the very best of the game’s levels will leave players scratching their heads as to just how they managed to make it through alive.
Unfortunately, this difficulty could also be what stops this game claiming a true longevity. While the joy I felt after completing some of the more difficult sections was ample reward for the frustration it caused me, I’ve yet to feel compelled to dive back in for more. The game does encourage players to do this, and challenges you to improve your worldwide standing by replaying to save more clones, but it just ultimately never feels worth the hassle. There’s definitely replayability in the multiplayer modes, but even they have their limits after a while.
Prolonged exposure to Badland is also where its similarities to predecessors are highlighted, and any session longer than about two hours leaves a bit of a stale taste in the mouth. While it channels successful titles like Limbo in its tone and atmosphere, it doesn’t quite do enough to feel like it’s worth sticking with after the clones have reached their relative safety for the last time.
Minor gripes aside, however, Badland really is a great experience. Its fifteen hour challenge is gruelling enough to offer players a real sense of achievement at the end, and the value it offers for a meagre price tag is certainly worth taking up the gauntlet for. It may not keep you coming back for more much after the credits have rolled, but it’s a game I’d recommend to any challenge seekers out there!
This review is based on the PC version of the game, which was provided to us for review purposes.
Frustration and short lifespan aside, Badland is a deliciously difficult side-scroller that offers remarkable value in its gruelling challenge.