A Surprise Release
Bad North is the latest indie title from publisher Raw Fury and the first game from developer Plausible Concept. It takes bloodthirsty viking battles and puts them in a level-based format where you control your army to victory. After getting some more details in a Nindies presentation, it was released on the same day. Was it worth the wait?
RTS and Tower Defense
Bad North starts you out with a single battalion of militia on a small island. Your job is to move your troops around the island to defend from evil vikings that try to destroy houses. Once you beat the level, you’re given coins that you can assign to your troops, which allow you to buy upgrades for them. After that, you’re thrust into a map where you can choose the next island to defend. Along the way, you’ll encounter some special maps as well as more troops to add to your army.
There’s a fun combination of real-time-strategy and tower defense in Bad North. I find a lot of tower defense games fun up to a certain point because it gets old just watching characters stand still as they knock out enemies who are trying to get past. In Bad North, you can only have up to four commanders (each with a set of troops) at a time. Because vikings are constantly traveling to the island with different strengths and weaknesses, you have to constantly manage your army to defend your homes at all costs.
Once you win each level, you get coins that you grant to commanders. The more coins a commander has, the more upgrades you can purchase. It’s important to know where your weak points are so you can better distribute your coins. Spread them out evenly, and you might not be strong enough for the next battle. Feed only one character, and the rest will die too quickly. It’s all about thinking ahead.
To be honest, it’s a brilliant system that had me playing for fairly long sessions at a time. To make matters more interesting, if a commander dies, then he/she is gone forever. It’s up to you to make sure that you gather as many as possible so you can keep fighting the vikings. Lose all of your commanders, and it’s game over. You have to start at the very beginning again.
All of these ideas come together to give the game a real identity. There’s an organic sense of urgency with each level at the prospect of losing characters. Even a single house burning down feels like a major blow to your army, because that drops the coins you get at the end of the level. You can always risk escaping on a boat if things get too serious, but that’s a move that can put you in a tougher spot. I do have to say that the game can be unforgiving and brutal, even on Normal Mode, so getting farther is going to take a lot of willpower and fighting the urge to rage quit.
Bad North is about constantly making decisions. All it takes is one bad move to lose your entire army, at least in the later levels. Thankfully, the game does help by slowing down movement each time you select a character, giving you more time to think.
Bloody and Cute
All of these good things to say about Bad North so far, and I haven’t even talked about the visuals. It’s surprising how adorable a Pacific bloodbath can look with the right art style, but Plausible Concept pulls it off well. There’s a consistent and minimalist vision with the game, but there are enough nuances that make it stand out. The song that plays on the title screen is also fantastic, but the lack of music in the levels did make the game lose some of its punch in the process.
I also want to take the time to mention that an update came out for the Switch version of Bad North, which addressed some of the complaints I had. The map screen isn’t so stutter-y anymore, but I still noticed some slowdown. However, it also replaced the beautiful title screen with something a lot less memorable, which I found disappointing.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: A review code for Bad North was provided by Raw Fury.