If feel-good movies have taught us anything, it’s that even the seemingly most insignificant individual can be a hero. In that vein, the shadowy, wide-eyed protagonist of Badland for iOS is a hero twice over. Not only does the little guy undertake a quest to save his world, but he also brings new life to side scrollers and endless runners, two genres oh-so in need of some fresh air.
Badland puts you in the fur of a nameless bat-hedgehog hybrid who wakes up one day to find his forest home in peril. Pipes, sinister constructs, and deadly traps have somehow intermingled with the vegetation. You need to get to the bottom of the weird invasion.
Badland mixes side-scrolling action with some endless runner elements. Levels automatically scroll from left to right, and there are plenty of obstacles to impede your progress. If you get pushed off the screen, you presumably go squish.
Your flying hedgehog pal isn’t strong in his basic form, but he can take a few bumps. He also has a few interesting power-ups on at his disposal. He can collect pods that shrink him, letting him squeeze through tight spaces. Similar pods let him grow to gargantuan sizes, which lets him plow through obstacles, though transforming into a blundering behemoth comes at the cost of speed and maneuverability.
But Badland’s most impressive power-up is undoubtedly the ability to pick up more flying hedgehogs. At times, you can have a veritable swarm following you—at least until you fly into a pack of sawblades that are hungry for some critter flesh. If even one ‘hog survives, though, you’re allowed to carry on. It’s not uncommon for a huge murder of hedgehogs to get sheared down to a lone survivor. Harsh, but it’s that emphasis on communal survival that gives Badland an indelible, melancholy atmosphere.
The graphics help, too. Granted, unsettling silhouettes have been done to death in indie games, but Bandland is no Limbo rip-off. The shadowy foregrounds may look familiar, but they have a life of their own against the surreal, colorful forest backgrounds that offer glimpses of the strange wildlife.
Great graphics are always appreciated, but Badland’s unique power-up system and how it interacts with each stage is what makes the title shine (dark though it may be). You can expect to bash your way through road blocks, tumble along arcs that take you within a hair of a swirling sea of blades, and command armies of fuzzy black things. The game is also generous with checkpoints, so frustration rarely keeps you from playing level after level. Unfortunately, there are only 40 stages to get through, so you won’t be occupied for too long, but Frogmind promises that more stages are on the way. After all, saving an entire ecosystem shouldn’t be a job you can blaze through in just one night.