Clone Some Owls With Badland

Side scrollers are a dime a dozen these days on iOS, so it takes a really polished — but extremely inventive — game to stand out. That’s no short order. But this genre has been done so well so many times — Rayman: Jungle Run comes to mind — that it’s hard to meet that goal.

That’s why I’m more than a little excited about the latest offering from Frogmind: Badland is sophisticated and artistic with a level of polish that most games would only dream of, but also simple and easy to pick up. It’s gorgeous, but understated. Read on to find out what makes this game so great.

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The Premise

Owl clones. Good, I have your attention. Your job is to navigate a flying owl from one end of a “Badland” to another, using finger taps to make it fly. Tapping on the screen makes the owl fly upwards and keeps it in motion. On occasion, you’re going to bump into other obstacles, some of which are deadly.

Welcome to Badland.

Welcome to Badland.

But what’s most interesting is when you run into little cloning devices. You might have two owls on screen that you’re keeping track of, and sometimes there might be a dozen or more. You want to try and keep them all alive, but you’re going to quickly find out some of them are going to be necessary sacrifices.

There’s tricks to this: you might need to get one owl on a platform to activate a lever while another will have to fly through the newly-opened door, but since you can’t backpedal, you’ll leave an owl behind. You have to be ruthless in order to survive this. You might encounter a field of spinning sharp-edged gears and end up sacrificing several owls to get one through alive. Such is life.

Lots of owls!

Lots of owls!

Beyond that, you’ll also encounter little gizmos that speed you up or slow you down. You’ll find some power-ups that make the owls bigger and some that make them smaller, often so you can weigh down platforms or get through tiny spaces. The game is a combination of platformer/puzzler with a lot of beauty thrown in.

Gaming Tricks

Some elements of the game are brilliantly devious. Take, for example, the cloning itself. You’re in control of every owl at once, but you have predominant control over whichever one is leading the pack. It doesn’t matter if one dies or if all but one dies, your predominant control just shifts to whichever owl happens to be the leader at the time. It’s smart, and it feels natural. All things considered, that’s an impressive trick. It could have easily felt like a mess to control all these owls, but it feels natural.

Some power-ups are more like power-downs that make your owls smaller or, in some cases, larger.

Some power-ups are more like power-downs that make your owls smaller or, in some cases, larger.

The environment, including the animals, feels real because it feels very reactionary. If something blows up (spoiler: things will blow up), you can watch the owls as their eyes widen and they struggle to regain their footing, struggling with their wings and the flapping. It’s a physics engine, albeit a glorified one, but it’s great.

There’s also a multiplayer that I love. Instead of playing online, you play against somebody sitting beside you. There can be up to four players, and the idea is that you’re all in control of an owl. It’s identical to single player, but with several rounds, a scoreboard and some competitive flying. I can’t tell you how much of a hoot (pun intended) this game is to play with other people.

The Tiny Details

Really, a lot of the reason the game works comes down to the detailed environment. It seems like it’s almost painted, but the black foreground makes it appear nearly 3D. It pops off the screen, particularly with the gorgeous colour renditions of the iPhone 5 display.

Each level has its own goal set.

Each level has its own goal set.

When you finish a level, you’ll seamlessly begin the next one. Although the game’s incredibly polished, I’m not sure I like how levels begin. Each level ends with your remaining owls getting sucked into a pipe, but each level begins with an owl sitting on the ground beside a pipe instead of spitting out of it. It seems like a small oversight, but when the rest of the game is polished, I kept expecting it to be the trigger that begins a new level.

There are about forty levels split up into different times of day, and each one comes with its own unique goals. This gives you a reason to play through the game again without taking away from its arcade-like nature.

The level selection screen gives a clear indicator of what you've done and what you have left to do.

The level selection screen gives a clear indicator of what you’ve done and what you have left to do.

There are a few things I would consider changing in future updates, including the afore-mentioned moments that start each level. I’d adjust the checkpoint system: there’s a lot of them, but there are never any punishments for failure. I can repeat the same checkpoint sixteen times without ever having to restart the level. I understand the three-lives-system is a little Mario-esque, but there’s no real implication of death. There are no stakes.

And the game does need some sort of stakes. It’s great that you can pick it up and put it down whenever you want, and I don’t think that needs to be altered, but I do think introducing an aspect of real failure makes it more rewarding when you succeed. No risk, no reward and that goes double for video games.

Final Thoughts

Badland is a one-button platformed that is both surrealistically beautiful and addictive as all get out, but it isn’t perfect. The game itself is a lot of fun, but I find myself wishing that there was some kind of risk to dying apart from restarting a checkpoint. That being said, despite any niggling flaws I have, the multiplayer is out of this world and a ton of fun. There isn’t a single person out there who doesn’t love tapping an iPad in the name of competition, and it’s rare to have that in a one-on-one gaming experience. (That being said, the game does feel a wee bit cramped for multiplayer on an iPhone.)

Badland reeks of polish. It’s got an unbelievable physics engine and beautiful artwork that comes to life. And at the end of the day, it’s very much worth it’s $4.99 asking price — especially for those who love a good platformer. The astounding multiplayer is icing on an already-beautiful cake.


Summary

Badland is beautiful to look at, a lot of fun to play and has an irresistible multiplayer that makes it worth it to keep playing.

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