It feels wrong to mention Flappy Bird and BADLAND: Game of the Year Edition in the same sentence, but there's no way around it: BADLAND plays a lot like Flappy Bird. Pressing the A-button to ascend, and simply releasing to let gravity do its job, this physics-based sidescroller is all about avoiding a gamut of hazards and reaching the end of a level in one piece. But unlike the infamous phenomenon mentioned above, BADLAND is elegant, experimental, and eerie – and it's actually a pretty good game.
Considering it was originally developed for smartphones and tablets, you might assume that BADLAND isn't bringing much to the table; however, that's not the case. While the controls are effortless to understand, mastering the movements of Clony – the flying critter you'll be helping to escape these hostile environments – will take much finesse and practice. Since the thumbstick now plays a role, which allows you to slightly adjust Clony's horizontal placement, there's a bit more to it than there was on a touchscreen device. But because thumbstick movements sometimes seem to affect the auto-scrolling speed in jarring and ways, it's certainly not a perfect implementation – though it is manageable once you understand its quirks. All in all, using a controller feels fairly genuine, and as long as directional inputs are administered in a subtle manner, the tools required to survive to the end of the game are there.
Between the realistic physics, Clony's uncoordinated movements, and the volatile landscape, there are many types of challenges to overcome. One moment we were blazing along and dodging large obstructions, and the next we were brought to a halt and presented with an environmental puzzle that needed to be solved before advancing any further. Whether it comes down to triggering a Mouse Trap-like sequence of events, flying through a maze of portals, or finding ways to slam into switches without colliding with an intruding hazard, there are some truly brilliant scenarios to take part in. Unfortunately, a frequent theme of claustrophobic pathways – filled with lots of head bumping and physics-induced struggling – can keep these scenarios from seamlessly leading one into the next.
Another major aspect of navigation and puzzle-solving comes in the form of pick-ups, which are scattered throughout each level in a very calculated manner. Because these pick-ups have so many varying effects, and because multiple types are often absorbed at once, it can be tough to determine which you need to nab and which to avoid. While one may shrink you down small enough to flap through an ultra-narrow maze just ahead, grabbing a deviously-placed pick-up with an opposite effect will cause you to grow, denying access to the only route forward. Another, perhaps the highlight of the bunch, forces Clony to multiply, and being responsible for a large flock of critters with a single button press is equal parts chaotic and exciting. Sometimes these clones are merely a safety net that grants better odds of survival, and other times they play an instrumental role in progression. There's a lot of experimentation required of the player, which often leads to death, and thankfully, most levels feature frequent checkpoints to accommodate this design choice.
It helps that the stunning visuals, which look like a cross between Ori and the Blind Forest and Rayman Legends, are crisp and of very high quality. Because everything at the forefront is silhouetted and the background is limited to no more than a couple colours at a time, there's no confusion between layers. There's the occasional case where light shines through foliage in the backdrop, causing a slight blurring effect that's unpleasant on the eyes, though it's not a frequent enough occurrence to be a serious bother. Overall, BADLAND won't necessarily convince you that it was designed specifically for consoles – especially not with its mobile-styled menus – but it's good-looking enough that we don't feel it detracts from a big-screen experience. The lack of any music, however, is a bit perplexing. While we understand that the ambient noises compliment the mysterious, alien setting, we do believe that the absence of music diminishes the impact of the action unfolding on screen. Again, this isn't a deal-breaker, but it does have a negative effect.
When it comes to content, BADLAND is pretty buff. The single-player mode is comprised of 100 stages in total, and each one features three optional goals to accomplish – things like "survive with 2 tries" or "save 20 clones." Without making it a point to aim for these objectives, we completed this mode in a little over five hours. If you wanted to obtain 100% status, though, well…good luck. Not only would doing that be an incredible feat, it would likely increase the amount of playtime, exponentially. Adding to that playtime is the inclusion of local multiplayer, which allows all 100 levels to be played with up to four players, cooperative style. Even with just two players, this can be somewhat hectic – but there's certainly fun to be had for people that go for this type of thing.
The biggest surprise of the package, however, is the multiplayer battle mode, which offers up 27 stages for four players to race through. We were only able to test out this mode with two players during our review sessions, but what we played was an absolute riot. Not only can you win by knocking or pulling your opponent off the screen, but if you both reach the level's end, each of you will receive points for doing so and extra points depending on how many clones made it with you. While some of these levels are designed just like the ones in single-player mode, others are prepared specifically for multiplayer entertainment. If you're putting consideration into purchasing BADLAND and have the extra controllers and friends to play with, consider this a very nice bonus.
Thanks to a combination of gorgeous hand-painted visuals, unique level designs, and inventive physics-based puzzles, BADLAND: Game of the Year Edition makes for a fascinating experience. The questionable implementation of the thumbstick for added movement, along with some truly clunky navigational moments, might cause too much turbulence for the tastes of some players; but if you've got a little patience and the will to succeed, there's a stern challenge with a nice sense of reward awaiting you. What it comes down to is that, even though it's a redesigned version of its mobile counterpart, BADLAND: Game of the Year Edition is experimental and rich enough to justify its existence on a home console.