It’s hard to categorize BADLAND (out now, $3.99) in exact words, and perhaps that’s what sets this game off from everything else and makes it so terribly good.

At the start, you’re unceremoniously dumped from a pipe into a forest. The background is all bright and gorgeous, while the foreground consists of dark shadows. Eerie, in a way. In a departure from other remotely similar games, you aren’t told what you’re supposed to do. There’s no background story, not even a word of instruction. But since this is an iOS game, you’ll probably start tapping the screen, and that’s when you’ll discover each touch makes your little two-legged/winged fuzzball soar. It’s only when you pause the game that you’ll spot brief instructions or hints.

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Like an endless runner, BADLAND auto-scrolls to the right, and you’ve got to keep your black fuzzball moving. If you fail to keep up and the dark border catches up, that’s the end for this particular fuzzball. But thankfully, you’ll immediately get reborn at the last checkpoint. You’ll also be able to pick up clones, sometimes one by one, sometimes in clusters. Inevitably, you’ll lose some, or perhaps all. Your goal is to chaperone as many clones as possible to the next pipe opening (at the end of the level).

Soon, you’ll find out BADLAND is also a physics-based platformer. Moving too slow isn’t the only way to die. As you progress up the levels, you’ll encounter more and more obstacles, some of which may seem impossible at times. There’ll be spiky balls, circling saws, pointy needles, and various traps placed in strategic positions to splice, squish, stake, and explode your fuzzballs. Other obstacles come in the form of barriers that you’ve got to figure out how to open. For instance, you may need to push a switch or maneuver something into place.

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Various power-ups will alter your fuzzballs. They can fatten or shrink your critters, speed them up or slow them down, make them bouncy or sticky, and even make them roll right or left. Most times these power-ups will help you get past the next obstacles, though sometimes they may make life tougher for you.

Aside from the single-player adventure, you can also pit your skills against a maximum of four friends. Unfortunately, it’s local multiplayer only, and of course, with up to four fingers frantically tapping one screen, the race is more fun on the iPad. BADLAND currently offers 40 levels split into four sections: Dawn, noon, dusk, and night of Day 1. In a future update, more levels will come in Day 2. This fuzzball adventure is so amazingly thrilling I can hardly wait.

Verdict

BADLAND’s superlative graphics and sound effects, simple controls and challenging physics-based hurdles combine to make it among the best games I’ve played in a long while. With its frequent checkpoints, you can focus on overcoming whichever obstacle you’re having trouble with without repeating too much of the level. This fast-paced game is addictive from the get-go and replay value is high. Perfectionists will want to repeat levels in an attempt to save more clones. If you’re into endless runners and/or platformers, BADLAND is a must buy.