Written by Megan Frederick
With its distinctive silhouetted foreground and unspoken narrative, BADLAND: Game of the Year Edition brings Frogmind’s evocative mobile hit, one eerily reminiscent of the 2010 indie hit LIMBO, to a whole new bevy of consoles. Here players control Clony, a wide-eyed round owl-like creature, through an ominous forest that has been overtaken by dangerous machinery. Through handpainted HD visuals and stunning sound effects, the game’s atmosphere practically begs the player to undertake its many challenges to pursue the truth behind the forest’s mechanical invasion.
The adventure begins with only an instructional graphic describing how to direct Clony’s movement. With this limited knowledge, the player must navigate through a 2D labyrinth of mechanical traps to discover what exactly is going on in this atmospheric woodland. The extensive colorful background is overshadowed by a solid black foreground, making any sign of hope feel far away. The forest’s ambient sounds of birds and leaves is easily disturbed by the metallic clanks of the shadowed machines. Various orbs are scattered throughout each level that alter Clony’s size and speed to assist (and sometimes deter) our hero’s completing navigational puzzles.
In addition to these orbs, clones of Clony (Clony Clones?) can be picked up along the way. While these doppelgangers are necessary to pass through some of the more head-scratching obstacles, their survival is also a measure of performance for each level. This gives the player incentive to play through levels multiple times to improve their score.
Mastering the challenging in-game physics is a feat in itself (one that I’m not sure I ever fully accomplished). Using tap-to-fly mechanics similar to Dong Nguyen’s Flappy Bird, the player must keep pace with the forward movement of the camera while controlling Clony’s altitude and, new to this release, direction. The first few levels might have an uncanny resemblance to a lap of bumper cars as you smash Clony against every surface possible in an attempt to make sense of the game’s physics and control scheme.
Players who master the unique mechanics will then be free to focus on the threat of upcoming puzzles, which in itself requires utmost attention. Thankfully, the game is well designed when it comes to compensating failure. There are times when the automatic checkpoints will position Clony and his troupe in situations where they cannot progress, but the levels are well-paced and easy to redo, encouraging a trial and error strategy.
Though classified as a side-scrolling action-adventure game, the genre doesn’t really speak for the gameplay. There’s an underlying narrative and interactive environment, sure, but the game still plays more like an endless runner with a concrete level structure. This doesn’t take away from the experience, but still worth mentioning for those considering jumping in with different expectations.
Double-dipping aside, BADLAND: Game of the Year Edition gives non-mobile gamers the opportunity to experience the original’s engaging gameplay and well-crafted visuals on their platform of preference. Expanding the audience to even more consoles and platforms was an excellent move on Forgmind’s part, and the inclusion of a stylistic atmosphere and what’s essentially an endless runner format lets players enjoy a truly engaging world hand-in-hand with addictive gameplay. Definitely recommended!