The art looks peaceful and almost cheery, but the bleached white of the rocks and cliffs and the overcast grey of the calm waters suggests otherwise. Then there’s the soundtrack, muttering and worrying at strings and giving way to deep ominous booms when a dark craft appears on the horizon. And the game is almost all horizon, isn’t it? Each level is a tiny Chewit of turf surrounded by ocean. You marshall your forces, send them towards the likely landfall and then you wait, completely adrift and beset on all sides by the potential for invasion.
Bad North may look sweet, then. It may occasionally feel sweet, as you use a finger to spin your current island, as if it was a tiny model on a designer’s turntable. But this is about as unsweet as games get. A stripped-back real-time strategy – a handful of units to control, no base-building – with all that genre’s potential to watch a single mistake blossom into panoramic catastrophe intact. Marry that with the structure of a roguelite: incremental improvements, the strengthening drum-beat of your evolving powers and abilities, all playing out across a procedural campaign and silenced by a single disaster.
Each level lands you on a fresh island with the same objective: defend the cluster of buildings huddled around you from the invaders who will arrive on your shores one after the other. It is all so sinister! They stand silent in their longboats, these invaders, masked faces unreadable but murderous intentions entirely clear. You, meanwhile, control that handful of colour-coded armies, moving them from one spot to another, slowly levelling them up over the course of a campaign so you have the likes of specialised archers, pike-men and infantry, all with strengths and weaknesses regarding things like range and the ability to attack when moving to take into account. You take out one landing, and then you scan the horizon for the next one. And then the one after that, and then the landings that occur in two places at once.
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