Bad North is an interesting take on the tower defense genre. Upgrade your units and defend the houses on your islands from the invading Vikings that come by boat from seemingly every direction. After the recent death of the king, your father, hop from island to island in order to seat yourself as the rightful heir to the throne.
Bad North’s commands are simple and easy to grasp. You control small groups of enemies and quickly switch between them, allowing you to swiftly execute your battle strategies. When you are organizing your troops, time greatly slows down, allowing you to carefully consider every possible option. Camera controls are also nice and intuitive, allowing you to move and zoom in and out to see every nook and cranny of the action. And if all that doesn’t do it for you, there are also touch screen control options.
The user interface and HUD in Bad North are minimalistic to the point of neglecting to tell the player important information. For example, in order to upgrade your unit leaders, you’ll need to keep pressing down in order for the menu to come up (even though you also use the directional buttons to navigate the map) or touch the unit icons on the screen (obviously only in handheld mode), and yet there are no indicators to inform you of this.
Bad North can seem deceivingly difficult at first but once you begin to notice the strengths and weaknesses of your units, the game will open up in fun and engaging ways. The gameplay can become quite addictive in short bursts, however there will be some frustrating moments, such as the AI leaving their attack on enemies for seemingly no reason. This is also frustrating as you will need to monitor multiple parties at once as the game progresses, and it can be a bit disconcerting when you realize that your units are just standing around while an enemy is torching a house.
The map allows you to take your own path, allowing for some great replayability. It almost feels Star Fox inspired, except the map is procedurally-generated each time you play through it and there are no secret pathways. Bad North’s map also has a line that prevents you from backtracking too much, as well as a dotted line that indicates which islands will become unavailable the next time you rest. The only downside to this is that it doesn’t provide context as to why you cannot go back. However, it does prevent the player from grinding, leaving you to strategize and think ahead.
There are three different types of units that offer different abilities, such as Archers who can fire from a safe distance but are weak to melee, Pikes who can push opposing units back but cannot attack whilst moving, and Infantry who have an all-round combat style but do not excel at a particular area. Be careful where your units are when the enemy is about to land as their boats can push you back and stun your units (or even push them into water and drown them). You can also rest units in houses in order to replenish their health and flee by using enemy boats when things are looking grim.
At the end of each battle, you’ll receive experience coins depending on how many houses you have protected at the end of each battle. These coins allow you to upgrade your unit leaders, adding an RPG element to a game that could have been potentially dull without it.
Bad north is certainly very challenging as it features permadeath, so once a group of units die, they’re gone for good. Unit leaders also don’t come across all that often, making it feel even more devastating when they go down. However due to the lack of dialogue, you rarely feel any emotional loss. Once you have lost all of your unit leaders, that means game over. You will then be forced to start all over from the beginning, so our advice is… don’t die. When restarting from the beginning, the gameplay becomes quite slow as you have become so accustomed to the game’s mechanics. There are also some very steep difficulty spikes, which creates a lot of repetitivity until you get good enough to get past the initial hump.
Bad North’s levels are bite-sized 5 minute challenges that are perfect for the Switch’s on-the-go style. Each level is designed with little intricacies that requires a lot of calculation on the player’s part. That being said, they rarely lack in variation as they continue to use the same design features in almost every map.
The official blurb states that you must defend your home kingdom from Vikings that threaten your way of life. The king has recently been slaughtered by your enemies and you must rise to the challenge and take your father’s place as king. But when it comes to Bad North’s story presentation in-game… it’s nonexistent. The setting is great and it really captures the atmosphere of 8th-12th century England and its ongoing wars with the Nordic people. However with so much history to draw from, you’d think that a story would’ve been present in order to flesh out the unit leaders’ characters. There isn’t even any dialogue, just quick character sketches and names to go with them.
Graphics / Art Design
While the art direction may be simplistic, it makes it easy for the player to easily distinguish between friendly and enemy units. And yet from afar, it is difficult to see what weapons and equipment oncoming raiders have. Whilst you can zoom in and take a closer look, a marker or an icon could have been a lot more convenient. Being able to see each individual unit in docked mode and the nuances that are happening in combat can also be difficult. In docked mode, we found ourselves needing to lean in closer; and in handheld mode, we were (without realizing) gradually pulling the screen closer to our faces so that we could get a better view of things (and yes, I have recently had my eyes checked… thank you very much!).
Music / Sound Design
The music in Bad North is subtle during combat, often accentuating war drums and tension building tones. Outside of combat, the soundtrack is nice and whimsical, albeit a little repetitive. However, it can often be a little unimaginative and it certainly doesn’t have any tracks that are memorable in any way. Lacking anything memorable simply dilutes the overall experience, leaving Bad North to be a great game that you may never feel the need to come back to.
Final Score 65%
Bad North offers some great tension-building moments, but struggles to create a memorable experience. Its lack of storytelling and its repetitive nature will ultimately leave you bored and without much reason to continue. If we were to offer some potential improvements, one that springs to mind would be for each unit leader to have unique strengths and weaknesses, ultimately giving them more personality and weight to their involvement towards the cause.
Do you agree with our review? Will you be picking up Bad North? Let us know in the Comments section below.