Weird, wonderful Badland
In the last 10 years or so, the market for independently developed video games indie games has expanded radically. Thanks to digital distribution models for PC, console and especially mobile devices, indie game designers can deliver their wares directly to their target audiences.
Indie games are usually produced by small teams or companies with no financial backing from mainstream game studios and distributors. They function like independent films in that regard. And like indie films, indie games tend to be a little artier theyre more experimental and take more risks.
Such is the case with Badland (iOS; $3.99; rated 9+), a weird and wonderful side-scrolling adventure game from the Finnish indie company Frogmind. Well, company might be a misleading term. Its basically two guys in Helsinki.
Badland drops you right into the thick of the action. You control a vaguely avian fuzzball who must navigate his way through the worlds most lethal forest. The game was designed specifically for iPhone and iPad and employs a one-touch system to keep the control mechanics as simple as possible.
As the forest obstacles scroll from right to left, you tap and hold on the touchscreen to move your fuzzball up. Release to have him float down. Thats it.
But as with all clever game design, the apparent simplicity hides a careful and complex gaming system. As you float through the forest, youre confronted with a series of improbably deadly traps spikes, syringes, spinning saw blades, giant scythes, lead pipes, falling slabs of granite. What kind of forest is this?
All the stuff in the foreground seems designed specifically to kill poor little fuzzballs. Meanwhile, the colorful background scenes display sylvan glades with the occasional disturbing detail, like a menacing rabbit with glowing eyes.
Its funny and scary at the same time. The sound design underscores the games schizo spirit, with gentle ambient sounds regularly interrupted by apocalyptic klaxons.
As you progress through the games levels, the forest gets even more surreal. Certain power-up thingies lets call them acorns will cause your fuzzball to shrink or swell in size. Youll need to slim way down to get through some tight spots.
Other acorns trigger spontaneous cloning so that youre suddenly controlling an entire flock of flapping fuzzballs. Some of those clones will need to be sacrificed so others can survive. For three fuzzballs to make it, seven more may be needed to clog the gears of that buzzsaw.
The game also has a local multiplayer mode for up to four players. Here, you can really get into the spirit of natural selection by deliberately bumping your opponent into merciless death traps.
Yes, its a grim, Darwinian world in the realm of Badland. The puzzles and traps get quite difficult in the later levels. Too difficult, probably.
After a dozen or so forced restarts, I started to feel a growing frustration. But then Id narrowly escape a deadly arena of iron spikes and find my resolve once again.
And that, of course, is how game designers like to hook you. Theres both art and science in physics-based puzzlers like Badland. When the calibration is just right, you find that several hours have passed while you try to keep a little black fuzzball alive on your iPad.
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