The Vik­ings are com­ing! Look busy!

XBox: The Official Magazine (US) - - START - Mar­tin Kitts

Stats, re­sources, mi­cro-man­age­ment, long-term plan­ning: just a few of the sta­ples that this in­ven­tive indie re­al­time strat­egy genre-bust­ing game sim­ply has no time for.

Bad North is RTS on a tiny scale. With a max­i­mum of four units to con­trol and an is­land play­ing area that can be tra­versed in a few sec­onds, the aim is to re­pel Vik­ings that sail slowly to­wards the shore. There are only three classes to con­sider. Archers are best placed where they can launch a hail of ar­rows from dis­tance, pike­men form a strong but static de­fence, and in­fantry are ba­sic all-rounders. That’s all there is to it.

Each round lasts a cou­ple of min­utes, and when the last of the in­vaders has been killed, ev­ery un­pil­laged house con­trib­utes coins that are then used for up­grad­ing your war­riors be­tween bat­tles. Then it’s on to the next pocket-size is­land in a ran­domly gen­er­ated ar­chi­pel­ago.

Bat­tle ships

It’s won­der­fully sim­ple to play. Time slows down when se­lect­ing a unit, al­low­ing you to place it ex­actly where re­quired, be­fore re­turn­ing to full speed as your troops ex­e­cute their or­ders. There’s not much you can do other than move them into po­si­tion or ac­ti­vate a spe­cial abil­ity, but tac­tics and pri­ori­ti­sa­tion are re­quired as the Vik­ings edge ever closer and you pre­pare the best type of wel­com­ing party to counter the dif­fer­ent foes on each in­com­ing ship. Fights are over

“Takes a genre known for its com­plex­ity and strips it down”

in sec­onds, and there’s very lit­tle you can do to turn the tide if one of your units is over­whelmed.

Some of the is­lands you visit con­ceal bonus items that award per­ma­nent buffs to your troops, while oth­ers have un­trained units who will be added to your ros­ter. You can ro­tate them into the main squad as you see fit, and we’d ad­vise train­ing them up as soon as pos­si­ble if you in­tend to use them in bat­tle, as coins are scarce and up­grades ex­pen­sive.

The dif­fi­culty curve could do with some ma­jor tweak­ing. It’s a pushover to be­gin with, but by the time you’ve amassed enough units to al­low you to dis­patch ad­di­tional squads to other is­lands, the en­e­mies have be­come too tough for low-level units to han­dle. Coins can only be shared among those who ac­tu­ally took part in a fight, and babysit­ting rookie units in a lat­estage bat­tle is worse than not hav­ing them there at all. There’s no way to re­visit eas­ier is­lands for train­ing, so we al­ways wound up with a few very strong war he­roes – the only ones who stood any chance of win­ning – and a bunch of hope­less ex­tras who would get smashed within sec­onds.

Death is per­ma­nent in BadNorth, and be­cause los­ing one or two of your first-choice units late in the game car­ries such a heavy penalty – it’s ba­si­cally game over – the temp­ta­tion to pull the plug when things go wrong is over­whelm­ing. You can ac­cept the loss, watch your re­serves get steam­rollered in the next round, and restart the en­tire game from scratch, or just quit and reload. You’ll be back on the map screen and bet­ter pre­pared to have an­other go, as­sum­ing you don’t get crushed be­neath your own sense of shame. ‘Save scum­ming’ aside, Bad

North is im­mensely like­able. It takes a genre known for its com­plex­ity and, in strip­ping it down to the bare bones, makes it ac­ces­si­ble and in­tu­itive. Long-term ap­peal may be ques­tion­able, given that each is­land is much the same as the oth­ers, but it’s an im­me­di­ate hit of fun while it lasts.

right As­saulted on three fronts. Luck­ily these ones are weak. Just wait un­til the big guys show up…

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