I expected to enjoy Badland: Game of the Year Edition far more than I did. Who wouldn’t fawn at the sight of Clony, a fuzzy black being whose lumbering movement is more reminiscent of a misunderstood sloth than the graceful aerial creature that it had always seemingly dreamed to be?
Frogmind’s physics-based puzzler presents little in the way of introduction to the somewhat timid creature that you play as, immediately placing Clony under your control with no particular indication as to what you are required to do next.
Left to fumble with the Wii U GamePad, perseverance will soon teach you that movement in Badland: Game of the Year Edition relies on the player to either tap the touchscreen or use the ZL/ZR buttons – momentarily encouraging Clony to gleefully flap its arms with each press. With Clony in flight, the Left or Right Sticks can then be used to help negotiate crumbling rocks, razor wheels and menacing lasers as you nervously soar toward each level’s eventual goal.
It felt like an early promise that Badland: Game of the Year Edition will unravel an adventure layered with an innate sense of personal discovery, but leads to an experience where the developer relies far too heavily on punishing level design that will ultimately see most players become frustrated all too quickly. That it’s entirely devoid of any clear guidance only empowers such negative sentiment, with no clear explanation as to what the power-ups that soon litter the levels do.
That is only accentuated by Badland: Game of the Year Edition‘s reliance on auto-scrolling levels, which, aside from meeting a grizzly end through your own errors, frequently sees the player’s demise merely be the result of simply falling behind. It’s clear that such repeated deaths are an expectation, but where trial and error have easily gone hand-in-hand in other games, it results in a weary experience this time around.
That’s an inevitable shame, considering the success that Frogmind’s creation saw on iOS. Having rustled up many award nominations and clinching a few prizes to justify the ‘Game of the Year Edition’ label, there’s clear evidence as to why it had so readily impressed. Power-ups can let Clony shrink or become enlarged, make you incessantly roll or see you stick to surfaces, and it’s hard not to raise a smile when you suddenly sprout multiple clones. An untapped maternal instinct kicks in as you try to keep them all alive, but posed with increasingly difficult routes to tackle you will resign yourself to the fact that it’s a near impossibility.
There’s hilarity to be had by tackling co-operative campaign levels, tapping into that local multiplayer magic that Nintendo themselves have long been renowned for. But, while Badland: Game of the Year Edition packs hundreds of levels, there’s little impulse to replay any despite a concerted effort to encourage you to do so through achievements and online leaderboards.
Stages are remarkable aesthetically, but even that accomplishment is undermined by an experience that is disconcertingly discouraging. In that regard, the game’s iOS origins remain clear in relying on quick burst play, but that becomes a disparity with the longer sessions that are usually spent on consoles.
Badland: Game of the Year Edition has attracted more than 28 million players worldwide, and there can be no denying that it wouldn’t have been able to do so without some creative flair. But, in the transition to console, it seems to have failed to retain that same spark.