When it seems like every other game that's released these days has some endless-running or platforming elements, it's hard for a new title to stand out in a genre that's quickly becoming played out. But to refer to Badland as an endless-runner title would be doing it a disservice. The colorful, trippy world created by developer Frogmind feels like nothing else on the App Store and really makes Badland stand out. But is it just a pretty game to look at?
From the get-go, Badland immersed me in the stylish atmosphere of its weird and strange world. Between the silhouettes, the colors and the lush music, it felt like I booted up a portal to a different dimension. The game quickly wrapped itself around me as I was thrown right into things, leaving the action and gameplay discovered through experimentation.
There's not a lot of explanation as to where exactly this world resides or what exactly we are doing here. Like, what's up with that rabbit from the title screen? The game starts when a furry blobs pops out of a tube. After a few test taps, I found that I could make it awkwardly fly across the screen by waving around its scrawny little arms. The goal is to make it to the other end of the stage while the screen moves along at its own pace. It's definitely a style of endless-runner gameplay, mixed with some platform elements. Yet it never really feels like either.
At first, it everything seemed pretty simple and I spent most of my time focusing on how snare-drum tight everything feels, especially the amazing sound effects and how they're synced to the action. As I advanced through the early parts of the game, I noticed that each new level introduced a new gameplay element, with names like "Clone," "Speed," and "Mines!" giving a hint of what's to come. It's not long before the new elements start to change up how you play the game. Each level brings a new challenge or obstacle to avoid, along with different items that grant the ability to grow in size, speed up, or multiply your blob into many copies.
After I made it to the second stage, everything was taken up a notch. I would fill the entire screen with new clones, each one popping into existence with a tangible sound effect, only to lose them a second later to the dangers of rotating saw blades, grinding gears, or falling boulders. The game's 40 levels are divided into four different stages -- Dawn, Noon, Dusk and Night. Each stage ramps up the challenges, while also providing new surroundings and music.
As hard as I tried, it always seemed like only one of my little kush ball guys would be able to make it to the end of the level, no matter how much furious tapping I would apply. The more I played, the more it seemed as though this was by design. So don't get too attached to your little kush ball guys, because most of them will bite the dust. And that's where the game can feel slightly off to me. Even though I had to apply some skill to make my way through a level, there was a bit of disconnect between what's happened on-screen and what I was actually controlling. One tip I can offer -- definitely incorporate multiple fingers. Using something along the lines of the impatient hand gesture will make it easier to control the clones. It's also useful to just hold a tap on the screen when you want to lay on the gas and motor your characters over an obstacle.
If you want to progress, you will have to figure out ways around new puzzles, sometimes having to sacrifice some of your team for the greater good of getting to the end of the level. Despite all of the beauty in the game, I can see why they call it Badland, as there's no doubt a pervading sense of menace everywhere. It's also quite unsettling to watch the eyes of your little kush ball guys grow large and terrified the closer they get to any kind of danger. It's especially noticeable when they are blown up in their super large state.
If you get hooked like I did, it probably won't take you long to make it through to the end of the game. But if you really want to play it thoroughly, you will have to take on the challenge of getting three eggs for every level, much like getting the stars in Angry Birds. The requirements differ from stage to stage, but some of the later ones can be really tricky, such as keeping a set number of clones alive by the end of a level.
There is also a multiplayer element, which boils down to a survival-style game. Four people are put in the same level and then it's pretty much left up to who can survive the longest. Since the multiplayer divides up the action into four sections on the screen, it's probably best to mess around with this on an iPad. But I did not find myself drawn to this nearly as much as I was the single player, which is really where Badland truly shines.
Overall, I would say that Badland is definitely worth the asking price and deserves a space among some of the other artistic and visually stunning iOS games out there like Contre Jour and Osmos. Based on the amount of polish alone, you will be getting your money's worth for sure. Hopefully with updates to come, we will get to see more of this game and its compelling world.