For christmas I asked for all the games. My wife graciously gifted me a copy of A Boy and His Blob, a wonderful game about hugs. But aside from that: nothing. And here I’ve spent the past few weeks avoid anything new in the hopes that some far off and forgotten relative would surprise me with a cornucopia of video games. With boxingmas over with I can turn my attention to everything I’ve missed over the year. First stop PSN. On a whim and a suggestion from Destructoid I downloaded the demo for Holy Invasion of Privacy, Badman! 2: Time to Tighten up Security! I was so intrigued that after a few minutes I snapped up a copy of the first game. I avoided the game before because of its terrible, terrible title and that it was published by NIS America (not that I have anything against NIS but you have to be in the right mood to enjoy their games, you know?). I knew that the Badman was a dungeon simulator where you play the villain and try to keep heroes from invading your underground home—the eponymous invasion of privacy. What I didn’t expect was a variation on The Game of Life.
Typically, in a dungeon creation sim you mine out a cavern to find gold with which to hire monsters to protect the dungeon from heroes. Defeated heroes will drop more gold with which to hire stronger monsters to kill stronger heroes. It’s a variation on the RPG grind and like many sims you’re managing an economy.
Holy Invasion of Privacy, Badman! is something entirely different. The only action you’re allowed is to chip away rocks in a vertical two-dimensional dungeon (imagine an ant colony). Some rocks are overgrown with lichen. These rocks contain nutrients and destroying one will create a slimemoss. Slimemosses are the typical jRPG weakling mook but they also flower and spawn like plants. More importantly, they absorb nutrients from nearby rocks and move them around. If the slimemosses deposit enough nutrients in a single rock it can be destroyed to spawn an omnom, a type of bug. Omnom are stronger than slimemoss and can swarm invading heroes. They also eat slimemoss and once full will grown into a omnom fly which can give birth. Meanwhile, if slimemosses deposit a lot of nutrients into a single block it can be destroyed to create a lizard man. Lizard men eat omnoms and reproduce by laying eggs in nests if given enough room.
In addition, felled heroes leave traces of magic in rocks which can be used as the basis for an entirely different food chain. It’s all very complicated and deep, yet at the same time appealingly simple. After all, when you get down to it, all you’re doing is digging tunnels. You’re still creating a dungeon to destroy heroes but this time you do it by manipulating an ecosystem.
The sequel takes this further by allowing for evolution. Controlling the amount of food available or the predators that threaten a given species will cause them to evolve into giant or mutated versions of themselves. In the first game you can create variations on the species by leveling them up in between rounds but I savor the in-round evolution. I can not wait for the full game to drop.
Aethesticly, the game is a real winner. It’s done in the retro style that’s all the rage these days. Not that I’m complaining! I love the neo-retro movement. And Badman succeeds greatly. The animated slimemoss is a thing of beauty. Along with the 8-bit elegance is a first rate translation. The Badman himself is a great character, full of snark but also a faint wistfulness. He strikes me as a down to earth King of All Cosmos. In addition there is an almanac that describes all the various elements in the game. My favorite so far is an entry on the lizard man egg:
“You must be wondering how an all-male race can lay eggs. It’s simple. Life breaks free, expands to new territory, and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously. Life… finds a way. Or at least, that’s what I’ve heard.”
You know, game, so have I.
There are some sticking points. Badman is fiendishly difficult. The heroes ramp up in strength quickly and it’s not immediately clear how tunnel design influences growth. One ill-dug passage can cause big trouble down the road. I can’t fault the game too much on this point. Badman is a game explicitly about a system. Learning how the system works is the game. But I can see how the steep difficulty curve could turn some players off. It’s not a game for those unwilling to give a little effort.
And for a game with such great visuals and writing the music is rather terrible. It’s a medieval fanfare sort that doesn’t fit the 8-bit style at all. At best it’s non-offensive. I’m the type of player who almost always listens to a game’s music but with Badman I find myself busting out the iPod. Sadly, the music makes a return in the sequel. For a title that gets so many things right it’s a real shame it stumbles in this one area.
Badman is only available via Playstation Network. It recently dropped in price to $10.00 which I feel is more than fair for what it offers. It’s a great system in a great package. I can’t remember the last time I was sucked in so thoroughly. Post-box-mas stage 1: SUCCESS!