The Vikings have always been a fearsome bunch; invading lands and pillaging villages. The blast of their battle horn was enough to send shivers down your spine as their longboats strode from the cover of fog towards their beachhead landing points. It would have been a case of defend or die should such a thing have ever happened to your homeland and it’s an experience that you have to live through in Bad North, out now for the Nintendo Switch.
Developed by Plausible Concept, with publishing through Raw Fury, this real-time and roguelite strategy title pits you with defending a series of procedurally-generated islands from the onslaught of the invading Vikings. In an effort to create a more accessible and appealing game, the developers have stripped the mechanics of its genre down to its bare-bones, calling its concept ‘micro-strategy’. What this has created is a sublime example of how a basic form of gaming can be just as, if not more, playable than a title that contains all the bells-and-whistles of a myriad of menus or a utopia of upgrades.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is a concept that makes it an easy ride though, as its progression system, both in terms of friendly and enemy units, as well as varying elements which I’ll get into shortly, makes this a game that is sublimely easy to play, yet difficult to master. Its basic premise is easy. Hopping from island to island, you take control of an initial number of two units and it’s your job to use them in defending the island and protecting the houses that reside there. Lose all of your troops and it’s game over. However, fail to protect the properties upon each island and you’ll lose the rewards that each one house.
Everything begins relatively simple, with two units and a handful of small boats that land on the shores. By selecting units with the touchscreen or R button, you can position your units around the island, set along a series of squares upon multiple levels, in order to provide the best defence for the varied number of buildings that sit upon each island. Using the right stick, you can rotate your view around the islands, as well as spot the Viking longboats as they break from the surrounding fog in any direction; with the ZR and ZL shoulder buttons zooming in and out to produce a varied range in your field of view.
It’s a simple control scheme that works remarkably well; allowing you to position troops with ease, as well as change their stance on-the-fly with a quick execution should you need to reposition your units. This soon becomes an important element as you progress through the variety of islands that are available to you, as enemy attacks become heavier, with bigger boats and greater numbers; as well as differing varieties that shield themselves or fire a hail of arrows before reaching your shores. Fail to keep the invaders at bay and they’ll begin to torch the properties upon the island; allow the Vikings to deal too much damage and the houses will burn to ashes.
However, should you succeed in keeping the island’s properties intact, as well as repel all of the attackers, then each remaining property awards you a series of gold coins, from one to three; depending on the size of the house left standing. These in turn can be distributed amongst your units in order to upgrade their capabilities, from shields to archers and special moves to overall strength. Some islands also contain extra awards, such as more units to bolster your force up to a total of four, and token awards that can grants larger unit numbers or stronger weaponry. Should you come across an invading force that is too strong for your forces though, then you can also acquire one of their empty vessels to beat a hasty retreat and live to fight another day.
Houses also serve another purpose, making them an important asset within the game. As well as providing a means to create a stronger army, they can also replenish unit numbers should they succumb to the odd casualty or two. However, there is a timed delay before the unit is ready to fight again, making this a mechanic that needs to be used only when the time is right to do so; usually in-between battles or when the invading force is particularly light. It sounds a simple premise on paper, but in action there are a lot more factors which need to considered if you want to get anywhere within the game.
Positioning is vital. Place your units too close to the shore where the Viking boats are landing and the force of the embarking boat can smash into your troops; taking one or two of them out of the equation. Place unshielded troops at the fore and they may succumb to a hail of arrows, or put your swordsmen against an army of pike-wielders and they’ll soon become fish food for sure. Despite the simplicity of its nature, this is a game that requires quick-thinking in the changing of strategies and the placing of troops. It’s here, where the beauty of this game lies. It’s instantly accessible and easy to play, but its challenge is balanced to such a degree that the simplest of errors can have everlasting consequences.
Unfortunately, upon release, the game has been shipped with a number of bugs, from sole enemies that can’t be slain to an infinite loop in the loading screens. However, none are these are really game-breaking and can often be solved with a restart back to where you left off. It should also be noted though, that the developers are well aware of this problem and are working on a patch to eradicate all of these problems. It shows a good level of support for the title, as well as showing that there has been a lot of thought that has been put into this game, from the simplistic nature of its mechanics, to the sublime execution of its strategic element. Even the presentation values of this game are stripped bare, yet provides a graphical look that matches the most beautiful of illustrated children’s books, yet provides an atmosphere of tension as the horns of the Viking boats bellow the appearance of the figureheads through the rolling sea-mists. It all adds to produce a stunning game, not just visually or audibly, but also in the way of every aspect in which the game plays; making this a strategy game that will satisfy the most hardened of armchair generals, yet at the same time, provides an accessible experience for players who may not necessarily look at strategy games.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.