Badland: Game of the Year Edition review for PS Vita, PS4, Xbox One

Platform: PS Vita
Also On: PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Wii U, iOS
Publisher: FrogMind
Developer: FrogMind
Medium: Digital
Players: 1-4
Online: No

The “Game of the Year” part of Badland’s title comes from the fact the game was named Apple’s GOTY for the iPad in 2013. This is simultaneously incredibly easy and incredibly difficult to believe.

Easy because, at its core, the game is essentially an artsier version of Jetpack Joyride or Flappy Bird. You use one button to flap your little arm-wings, and you increase or decrease your height based on the obstacles in your way. There’s a little more nuance to the gameplay when you factor in the power-ups — some make you spin, some make you multiply in number, and so on — but basically, the gist of the game is so simple, it’s hard to imagine Badland getting it’s starting anywhere but mobile.

Badland 1

My disbelief comes from the actual execution. While the vast majority of Badland can be played with one button, there’s still a small-but-essential part of it that demands you use a thumbstick to maneuver. Not only that, as the game progresses it requires more and more precision — and as great as touchscreen gaming can be in a lot of ways, precision isn’t exactly its strong suit. The fact it could’ve shined on a touchscreen when it seems so well suited to the Vita (or any other console with buttons) astounds me.

Whatever its origins, though, I’m glad to play Badland in its current form. The controls strike the right balance between being totally intuitive to pick up, yet incredibly difficult to pull off. This, too, speaks to the game’s strong level design; most of the time it’s easy enough to figure out what you’re supposed to do, but the challenge comes in actually doing it.

Badland 2

What’s impressive is that Badland shines so brightly despite the fact it’s so unremarkable in other ways. There’s zero attempt at a story or plot, for one thing. You’re just a round little monster with the ability to do some crazy things, and that’s about all the context you’re going to get. Similarly, the graphics are pretty unremarkable; while Badland looks nice enough, it also exists very much in the post-Limbo space of “artsy platformers”, and while it’s undeniably cool that that’s been successful enough to distinguish itself as a unique genre, it also means that Badland doesn’t stand out visually as it did even a few years ago.

It more than makes up for that by standing out gameplay-wise, however. As plenty of games have shown, the jump from mobile to console isn’t an easy one for a whole bunch of reasons, but it’s something Badland pulls off without even breaking a sweat. In fact, if anything this new version may be even better than the original — which means that, come end of year, that “Game of the Year” may prove to be just as predictive as it is descriptive.

Grade: A-