I've had Badlands on my iPad for quite some time now, but only just got around to playing it. Which is a shame really, because once I started, I couldn't stop and I think of all that lost time when I could have been playing on it!
In Badlands, you play as some sort of glowy-eyed, winged hedgehog thing (do stop me if I'm being too specific!) that is dropped into a hostile environment. You must make your way past all these traps and to the exit for the level. This will unlock the next for you to try.
It's fair to say that Badlands drops you in at the deep end. There is no introduction, tutorial or anything to suggest what it is you are meant to be doing. Instead, you are simply dumped in a threatening 2D world, full of hazards and must learn by trial and error what can help you and what will kill you.
Graphically, Badlands is an absolute stunner. It very much reminds me of Limbo on the PS3, presenting a stark, hostile and eerie alien world where if something looks like it might kill you, it probably will. Most of the foreground objects (and your character) are presented in silhouette, which is highly effective and, like Limbo, enhances the sense of danger. Although it takes a little while to adjust to this stark presentation, after a while you appreciate how effective it is. It's a lot easier to pick out objects or potential dangers, and the graphical simplicity lends the game an air of stark beauty and menace. Some equally imaginative (and slightly creepy) colour background graphics further enhance the game's atmosphere.
Aurally, the game is even more minimal, but no less effective. Like the graphics, stark is the best way to describe it: there's no music, only the occasional sound effect such as the ambient sound of birdsong or the rumbling of a boulder as it starts rolling towards you. Yet, like the graphics, this helps to build the tension: you can often hear a new hazard long before you can see it.
On the downside, Badlands can be a little frustrating. The gameplay is very much trial and error which can result in a lot of annoying deaths. When you come across something for the first time, the only way to find out if it will help you or kill you is to bump into it and see what happens. You will find yourself playing and re-playing the same bits time and time again to try and get past certain hazards. Even when you know what you need to do, executing it correctly can still be tricky.
Here's the thing, though: you won't mind. Badlands looks so beautiful and is so much fun to play, that, like Limbo, it makes all the dying seem worthwhile The gameplay is perfectly tuned to give enough tiny rewards so that you keep trying. When you finally get past that hazard that has been causing you such problems, you feel a massive sense of achievement totally out of proportion with what you have actually done... and that encourages you to carry on. Badlands is a game of small victories and gradual progress,. Its challenging difficulty level is part of its appeal.
Controls are nicely implemented to give maximum control over the flying hedgehog thing, whilst being as simple as possible. Holding your finger to the screen, will cause your avatar to flap its tiny wings and rise up the screen; removing your finger will cause it to descend. It's a beautifully simply control method that is incredibly easy to pick up and gives a strong sense of control. It doesn't necessarily make the game any easier (judging the exact amount of flapping needed to get through that tiny hole is still tricky), but at least you know that when you die, it's because you did something wrong, rather than the controls not doing what you told them to.
At £2.49, it's not the cheapest game on the App Store, but it's wroth it. It has stunning presentation, challenging but fair gameplay and superb controls. It's a game that you can just pick up and play, but also one with a lot of long term playability. It's not by accident that this was chosen as one of the best iOS games of 2013.
(c) copyright SWSt 2014