Earlier this year I did the preview for this game. I’ll admit that at first glance, I misread the title as “Holy Invasion of Privacy, BaTman” and wondered why NIS and DC Comics would be working together. Of course, that train of thought only lasted until I reread the title. Considering the title is a play off of the 60’s Batman series, it seems I wasn’t too badly off. But it did catch my attention and pique my curiosity, and I was really looking forward to getting my hands on a complete copy of the game.
So is Holy Invasion Of Privacy, Badman! What Did I Do To Deserve This? (henceforth known as Badman because it’s easier to type, and twelve letter long acronyms can bite me) a good game under the wacky title, or is it just plain bad?
The premise of Badman involves you as the God of Destruction (incarnated as a pickaxe) being awakened by the Overlord Badman. Your job is to prevent the heroes that keep invading his lair from dragging Badman to the surface so that you can do what countless JRPG villains (and Pinky and the Brain) have done: try to take over the world. You know, for a god, you do an awful lot of menial work while your supposed servant just sits there periodically cackling to himself, but all things considered I suppose it’s for the best. The game is rife with pop culture and gaming (particularly JRPG) references and humor, such as, “By the power of Excaliskull!”, “Saved by the Hell,” “The Mana is strong in this one!,” and the “Dragon Worrier” challenge, just to name a few. If you didn’t get any of those references, then this game’s humor will likely fly right over your head. It wouldn’t make the game unplayable, but you’d be missing out on part of the game’s charm.
In terms of gameplay modes, there’s story mode, training mode, and edit mode. Story mode consists of eight increasingly difficult levels that you have to beat in one go; you can’t save your progress midway. Training mode consists of, well, training levels and challenges that have you complete tasks ranging from, “create X monster in Y time” to, “beat the hero using this monster” and so on. Edit mode give you the chance to create your own hero to fight against or pit against someone else. As you complete more stages in story mode and challenges, you’ll earn bonus points that you can assign to different statistics of your hero, such as attack, defense, speed – all that good stuff that’s in many an RPG. You can also give your hero a witty remark to make before they march to their doom – I mean, valiantly brave the dangers of the evildoer’s lair – as well as change their voice, gender, class, and outfit color.
The graphics resemble those old 8-bit RPGs we all know and love, albeit with some polish and veneer on them. Naturally, with 8-bit graphics comes our dear old friend the palette swap, as upgraded creatures differ only in color from their predecessors. In this case, it’s actually befitting of the game, and you can still easily tell what creature is what type. You, the almighty God of Destruction, is represented by a floating pickaxe, which is not exactly the most intimidating form ever, but it gets the job done (better than a floating book, at least). The different soil blocks are distinguishable even if you zoom out, though the ones that would yield slimes/spirits can be a bit hard to discern. Above your dungeon you can see a little village with a castle where the king and queen await word from the hero they’ve dispatched and the inn where the heroes probably stay before going forth to conquer; nice attention to detail there, even if there’s no way to, say, send some minions to overrun it. While the visuals probably won’t dazzle anyone and don’t push the PSP’s graphical capacities in any shape or form, they’re quirky and have their charm.
The soundtrack consists of cutesy and upbeat tunes that serve as a good backdrop for squashing heroes. They manage to not get old or wearisome even after repeated looping, which is good since you’ll be hearing plenty of the track that plays as you’re merrily carving out your oubliette and maintaining the ecosystem therein. Each character and creature have their own battle and death cries. Only Badman gets any actual “voiced” dialogue, and he speaks with that mumbling gibberish that’s supposed to stand in for full voices, like in Golden Sun games and Henry Hatsworth, among others. Normally, I’d find this irksome, as I never was particularly fond of that substitute (either go all the way or don’t bother), but considering the overall feel of the game, full out voice acting would actually feel out of place here. Plus, the garbled murmuring actually suits Badman.
There’s so many nuances to the gameplay mechanics that you will need to go through the training levels – practice makes perfect and all that jazz. The almanac records every creature and hero you’ve seen, so you can consult it at any time if you need information on any of them. You can also press the X button on a block or monster to see basic stats for them, like nutrient/mana content and remaining HP. Those who have play the Dungeon Keeper games may experience some deja vu when playing this game. However, the only interaction you can have with your critters here is to poke them with the pickaxe, thus killing them; there’s no way to issue direct orders to them. You’ll actually want to do this sometimes because when creatures die they release nutrients and mana back into the soil around them, allowing you to make more creatures – a benevolent god you most certainly are not. Sadly, you cannot poke the heroes with the pickaxe. Then again, that would probably make things too easy and defeat the purpose of maintaining the lovely circle of life contained in your underground abode.
You construct the dungeon by digging underground in a way that’s somewhat reminiscent of Dig Dug. You can only dig a soil block that’s adjacent to a block that’s already been dug, so no digging diagonally or randomly in the middle of the ground. The amount of digging you can do is limited by how many dig points you have; digging one block costs one dig point. If you run of dig points, no more digging for you, and you’ll have to work with what you have. You can hold down the square button to dig in rapid succession. Occasionally, you’ll unearth a chest in the midst of your digging. If you open it, a monster will pop out. If a hero opens it, either a trap will spring and damage the hero, or an elixir will restore their HP.
Creatures come out from soil blocks filled with nutrients and mana; the more nutrients/mana in the block, the more powerful the creature. Slimemosses are responsible for distributing nutrients to soil blocks and tend to keep going until they hit a wall, then either go back the way they came or turn left or right. You can use this to your advantage by keeping them in a small T, H, or O shaped corridor so that they keep passing nutrients to the same blocks. When their vitality is depleted, they will plant themselves and grow into a flower. When the flower withers and dies, new slimes spring forth from its dried husk. Spirits serve the same purpose as Slimemosses for dispersing mana, except that they do not reproduce upon dying, which makes building up mana a bit more difficult.
You can also create runes by isolating a block with 20 nutrients or mana, then breaking it open. The rune will absorb any nearby spirits, and the rune changes color depending on how many spirits it absorbs. Tapping the rune with your pickaxe will cause a wookiemon to emerge; the more spirits the rune absorbed, the stronger the wookiemon. While wookiemon look like they should be formidable fighters, they’re not; they’re best used for their ability to boost the defense of every monster in the dungeon. In addition, runes saps mana from any heroes that tread upon it, so setting a rune near the entrance would be quite useful if you manage to pull it off.
Stronger creatures feed on weaker ones in a manner that would make Darwin proud. Omnoms feed on slimes, while lizardmen in turn feed on omnoms. Liliths consume spirits and omnoms, and wookiemons feed on skelemen and spirits. Skelemen, which are the bones of heroes your creatures have defeated, don’t eat anything, but will absorb nearby spirits while they are just a pile of bones. Dragons eat everyone (except Badman, of course), so be careful what monsters you let near them. In order to ensure your minions’ survival, at least until the heroes arrive, you need to maintain a delicate balance of creatures alive, lest all your minions starve to death and leave you defenseless.
After you successfully complete each stage, you’ll have the opportunity to upgrade your units by distributing any remaining dig points you have. The more dig points you have remaining, the higher your score and the more dig points you have for the next stage. On the other hand, you’ll need some upgraded units to take down the stronger heroes, or your army will just get mowed down and poor Badman will be forced to suffer the slings and arrows of shattered goals and world peace. This of course poses a lovely economic dilemma, and you have to determine how to balance the two out so as not to shaft yourself in either area.
After some time wherein you fortify your dungeon and build up your legion of creatures, heroes will invade and attempt to find Badman and drag him outside, those accursed homewreckers. You’ll then be asked to place Badman somewhere safe and sound. You can also bring your pickaxe up to the entrance to make the heroes come faster if you’re feeling impatient and/or chomping at the bit to show them what for, which will net you a time bonus. Different heroes have different moving patterns (like, one might like going down the right passage first, another might turn left) so pay close attention to them and exploit them to your advantage, especially if you find yourself losing to the same heroes over and over. Passages with many different branching paths also helps to confuse the heroes and make it harder for them to find Badman. Sometimes they’ll leave behind torches, which lights the way for a period of time restores the health of any heroes within proximity. Whenever heroes use a skill/spell or bite the dust, nearby soil blocks will be infused with mana.
There’s a lot to do, and it’ll take a while to complete all the challenges. One round through story mode will probably take you less than half an hour – that is, if you manage to survive. However, you can experiment with different dungeon layouts and creatures, so no two playthroughs will be completely identical. You can even show off the dungeons you’ve created and see what others have come up with here if you so desire. If you want to mix things up, you could always create your own heroes to squash and try to others’ heroes. Like many games of yore (and yes, some current ones as well), the old “attain the highest ranking possible” incentive is also present, as well as filling out the almanac for the completionists out there . If you feel like a change of pace you can access hard mode by entering L, R, L, R, L, R, L, R, L, R in the main menu screen. You’ll know the code worked when you see the screen change and the words, “Holy Home Invasion Robbery, Badman! Why Does This Always Happen to Me!?” (the creators of this game have a propensity for really long titles, it seems) appear. This will net you a bonus story mode with eight new stages and souped up heroes to face. You can enter the code again to revert back to normal mode.
I won’t mince words: this game is hard, and an abundance of time and patience is required to beat everything it has to offer. It took me multiple tries to get through story mode, thanks in no small part to the whole not being able save in the middle aspect. There were challenges that took me multiple tries to beat, and I felt quite vindicated when I finally did beat them and got those lovely S and A rankings. On the other hand, I was able to complete some challenges comfortably and in one try, which I suppose makes for a nice break from trying to tackle one challenge however many times in order to get past it. The fact that you can’t control your minions directly does lead to some unbalance, since you can’t just order them to attack or put more nutrients/mana into a certain block, you have to hope they do so on their own. Most of the time this is manageable, but there are times when this gets frustrating. For instance, a block of soil manages to accumulate enough nutrients/mana so that a powerful creature will come out of it…and the slimes/spirits go and sap that block before you can break it to release the creature you wanted. One time, a hero managed to crawl out with Badman with one HP left, with a dragon alive. However, said dragon had its back turned when the hero waltzed by, so it didn’t attack. If not for the stage ending, they definitely would’ve gotten the (pick)axe.
Badman is essentially a pastiche of genres, and there’s not really anything like it. There’s a smattering of RTS in the sense that you manage and create your units, although you can’t actually command them. If you want, you could think of Badman as a devilish cackling tower that you have to defend from the heroes, and there’s your bit of tower defense, although even if they do get to Badman, you have time to squash them with your remaining minions before they reach the entrance. Considering you’re acting as a God of Destruction, this could also be somewhat considered a god game, as you create and rule over many subjects and have to maintain a stable ecosystem in which they can survive. In short, it takes elements from different genres and mixes them up to create a unique experience.
From the first time I loaded this game, it managed to sink its claws into me. Even when there were stages I kept losing, I would continually feel compelled to retry, feeling as though I was on the cusp of victory and that I could beat this if I just did this or that one thing. Then I would want to try to progress just a bit further in story mode or tackle just one more challenge. Eventually I’d look at the clock and wonder where the time went. The game is well suited both for short bursts and longer marathons, depending on your mood, so it’s a good one to fire up if you’ve got time to kill. Plus, I have to say, there’s something delightfully diabolical about being able to attack incoming heroes with the bones of those that failed before them.
NIS tends to release games that appeal to the more hardcore audiences, and this is no exception. Badman received virtually no advertising, so it’s doubtful many people have heard of the title unless they actively went out and researched it or are one of the rare few that actually imported the Japanese version. The fact that it’s download only also hurts sales, as that limits the audience to those who browse the PSN Store and tend to pay attention to gaming news, and alienates those who were expecting to be able to buy hard copies. The game’s difficulty, heavily nuanced gameplay, and the lack of saving in story mode may turn some people off. This will definitely be a niche game that’s overlooked by the mainstream audience.
One source of controversy swirling around is NIS’s last minute (as in, about a couple of weeks before the release date) decision to make this game available only in the PSN store. While I wasn’t particularly happy with this decision, I can sort of understand why they chose to go this route (before you pick up those pitchforks and torches, hear me out).
First, how many retailers would keep around many copies of this game? I can’t imagine that print runs for this game would be large, so I could see this game getting scarce and prices getting gouged on Ebay quickly – that is, if people do snatch up all those copies in the first place. Since it’s such a niche game and has no name recognition to work with, not many people would bother with it. With unsold copies comes lost money from producing and shipping those copies. With lost money comes less profit and less incentive to release the second game here.
Yes, in a perfect world, they’d just release the game on both formats and make everyone happy. But think about it: given the option of paying $19.99 or $29.99 for a game, which would most people pick? The extra $10 would net them a physical copy of the game and a case they can proudly display upon their shelves, but I can definitely see people complaining about having to pay more for the privilege, and retailers wouldn’t be happy about someone offering a product they sell for a cheaper price, considering that the majority of consumers will tend to lean towards the option that has a less thinning effect on their wallets. Charging the same price for both mediums would not be feasible due to the extra expenses associated with producing and distributing physical copies. In addition, apparently Sony barred dual format releases until after the PSP Go comes out. If that’s the case, then this decision wasn’t even entirely in NIS’s hands.
All that being said, while I’m not as much of a stickler for having something tangible to hold (though yes, that can be nice to have), I do find the fact that this game is only available in hard copy in Japan somewhat disconcerting. Sure, manufacturing, packaging, and shipping the goods does cost money. But frankly, I have trouble believing they couldn’t have figured out that such costs would prove fiscally onerous earlier in the process. NIS even offered retail copies of Badman as a prize for the contest on the game’s official site, which further indicates there was originally going to be a retail release. I have the feeling that some of the outrage would’ve been staved had the format change been set from the beginning or announced earlier. Yes, I’m grateful the game came out here in the first place, but the last minute announcement feels like a bait-and-switch. At the very least, there should be download vouchers like the ones for Patapon 2, so that those who want something concrete to display can have it (even if it is just a case and a piece of paper), and also for the additional exposure that would come from people seeing the case in a store and possibly being intrigued enough by the unusual title to look it up/buy it.
Graphics: Above Average
Sound: Above Average
Control and Gameplay: Very Good
Balance: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Pretty Poor
Miscellaneous: Pretty Poor
FINAL SCORE: ABOVE AVERAGE GAME
Short Attention Span Summary: Badman is a quirky and enjoyable game with a steep learning curve. It incorporates aspects of various genres, and the execution is smooth rather than a mishmash. It’s essentially like having your own personal ant farm of minions. Anyone who likes a challenge and being able to play the villain should check this out. It’ll keep you entertained for quite a while.