On the road again this past weekend, meeting up with my esteemed co-editors in our nation’s capital – you can listen to the ridiculous fruits of this meeting by listening to yesterday’s podcast. In addition to being a damn good time, though, it also robbed me of most of my major gaming platforms. I grabbed the old PSP, downloaded two or three of the most recent demos and hopped a plane, hoping I’d find something worth writing about. I am pretty sure I did. Or did I? Only you, dear reader, can continue on and find out!
Nippon Ichi’s Holy Invasion of Privacy, Badman! is, in as few words as possible, some sort of Bizarro Gauntlet. As in Patapon or Black and White, you are an omniscient presence, peering down into the game world via your screen and being communicated with by a Humble Servant. In some of these “god games,” you’re a benevolent force guiding your followers to victory and prosperity. In Badman, you’re Lord of the Underworld.
Your smart- and foul-mouthed servant, who seems very much to have his own delusions of grandeur, directs you through the basics of the game, and now so will I. The playing field is an underground dungeon, represented by a grid. When you start, most of the squares on this grid are taken up by plain old dirt, and one is taken up by said servant. By expending “dig power” you can clear the dirt from these squares and form a path. Certain clearly-marked squares contain nutrients – breaking these will spawn small slimy creatures. These slimes will spread further nutrients around – the more nutrients in a patch of soil, the stronger the monster that will emerge when it is broken. Some of these stronger monsters eat the slimes to grow stronger and reproduce, so you need to keep a steady supply of them coming even as you produce stronger creatures. The end result of all this is that your dungeon is its own ecosystem, most aspects of which need constant maintenance if your monsters are going to stay strong enough to defeat your enemies.
Of course, since you’re the Lord of the Underworld, your enemies are the heroes, the knights and wizards who descend into your lair to defeat you. Your monsters have to drain the heroes’ hit points – if they reach your evil servant and drag him out of the dungeon, you lose.
Badman’s writing takes full advantage of this role reversal – in one round, a knight comes into the dungeon accompanied by a wizard and his healing magic. Your servant complains that it seems like the heroes are the ones who get all the breaks, but will cede that “that is just how JRPGs are.” Small and clever witticisms put this game’s writing head-and-shoulders above 90% of the big-budget action games on the market today. The hero characters are also humorous caricatures of those you’d find in a standard RPG, though from the demo it’s hard to tell whether you’ll see the same heroes over and over again as you progress, or if Nippon Ichi continues to throw new ones at your for the duration.
Graphics and sound are basic but serviceable – like most Nippon Ichi efforts, this one leans heavily in the direction of the old school. Tiny sprits crawl around your screen while appropriate blips and beeps accompany your every action. I find the retro presentation charming, but if you’re more impressed by bumpmapped textures, lens flare and giant shiny explosions I might have to point you in a different direction. Also, bring your magnifying glass, because this shit is tiny, and distinctions between the different types of soil blocks are subtle enough to be occasionally maddening.
Old school aesthetics also bring old school challenge – I died a few times just trying to complete the demo, and the game’s difficulty ramps up quickly. The full retail game will probably bring all this challenge and more, so don’t give this one to your girlfriend or your little brother unless you want your PSP lobbed across the room.
I always have a little more trouble evaluating a retail title over a $5 downloadable quickie. $5 is what they call “chump change,” and if you don’t happen to like the game after you download it then it’s not as if you’re out much. Get up into the $20 or $30 range, and I become less comfortable telling you how to spend your money. Also, retail games are typically deeper in scope, and the demo doesn’t offer as complete a picture of the game’s potential. All of that being said, I don’t have a lot to complain about here, other than the cumbersome, goofy name which goes way too far out of its way to reference a campy 1960s TV show that has absolutely nothing to do with the game at hand. Nippon Ichi seems to have put together a clean, tidy game with a simple-to-learn-difficult-to-master mechanic that’s part RPG, part RTS, and part SimAnt. If you like any of that stuff and you can get your hands on a PSP, I’d say this one is a pretty firm buy. If you’re on the fence about it, you know, you can always just download the demo yourself and give it a spin.
Holy Invasion of Privacy, Badman! is due for release on the Playstation Portable July 14, 2009 for $29.99. Played single-player demo to completion.