During the Nintendo Switch Nindies Showcase back in March, publisher Raw Fury and developer Plausible Concept surprised us all by announcing that their minimalistic, real-time tactics roguelite, Bad North, would be coming first to Nintendo Switch. The game was given a loose release window of “Summer 2018,” but as that timeframe started to get smaller and smaller with absolutely no clarifying date, many started to believe that we were headed towards news of a delay. This past week, however, at the onset of GamesCom 2018, Bad North showed up in a surprise Nindies Showcase that only aired in the UK, which brought news not of a delay, but of a surprise global release. As promised, Bad North released on Nintendo Switch first, but as of today it’s now available for Xbox One and PS4 as well, with PC, iOS, and Android to follow suit sometime later this year. Since its release, Bad North has been praised by critics and players alike for its minimalistic art style, its easy-to-learn mechanics, and its surprising depth. We’ve been playing it for a little over a week now, and we couldn’t be more in love.
The first time you fire it up, Bad North presents you with a small island and two groups of soldiers. This is your home, and it’s under attack. Vikings—who seem hell-bent on destroying everyone and everything in their path—arrive on boats, slowly at first, with increasing speed and quantity as time ticks on. To defeat them, you must tell your troops where on the grid to position themselves, when to flee, and when to rest, all in an effort to survive until the last boat full of Vikings is vanquished. Success is rewarded by a set number of coins for each home saved that can be distributed amongst any surviving units, and death marks the end of the journey. After all of your available units have defended an island, be they successful or dead, they must all rest before departing for the next. This routine makes up the entirety of the game, challenging island after island until the hordes of Vikings strike down your last unit, or your reach the end (something I still haven’t been able to do, and am not totally sure is even possible).
Additional units and special items can be collected along the way, depending on what path you takes, and the coins earned from successfully defended islands are used to upgrade units and giving them special abilities. For instance, when you save up enough coins you can arm a unit with bows, pikes, or shields, each of which upgrade and inform the tactics necessary to quell the waves of Vikings. But don’t be deceived; as you upgrade your army, so, too, do the Vikings. They will send archers, shield-bearers, and giant men that can knock fling even your best your units across the field with a single swipe. The farther you go, the tougher and more varied your enemies get, and while the difficulty curve that results from this may be steep, it’s here that the game’s tactical depth truly shines.
It’s easy to settle in and feel relaxed in Bad North—what with its gorgeous art style and nuanced soundtrack—but as soon as you start thinking you understand the game enough to outsmart it, it will do something new that surprises you, kills you, and haunts you as you begin again from the very beginning. Bad North is tough as nails, but it remains challenging in a way that’s fun, feels fresh, and never seems to tire.
Bad North is available now on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and PS4. It will release first to Discord on PC later this year. iOS and Android versions are planned, but do not yet have a release window.