This year’s make-believe award for longest, most bizarre video game title goes to NIS America’s odd new PSP game Holy Invasion of Privacy, Badman! What Did I Do to Deserve This?, no doubt about it. But does the game, launching with today’s PlayStation Store update, deserve as much attention as its title so blatantly cries out for? Let’s take a look.
Holy Badman – that’s what I’m calling it for short, no way am I typing out the full title again – is a very peculiar game that truly defies typical genre classification, because frankly, there isn’t another game out there like it. It’s this oddball amalgamation of tower defense strategy, JRPG and simulation gameplay concepts coupled with 2D sprite graphics hearkening back to the 8-bit era and a quirky sense of humor that is sure to squeeze more than a few hearty chuckles out of you.
The basic premise of the game is very, very simple. As the God of Destruction, represented in the form of a pickaxe, you are tasked with building a perilous, labyrinthine dungeon to protect your servant of evil, the Overlord, from any valiant hero who dares brave his domain. So in effect, this game is sort of a reverse RPG. Instead of you commanding the party of heroes and venturing into dark dungeons to slay monsters and level up, you are the nefarious evildoer plotting world domination.
Creating a dungeon and protecting the Overlord is actually like playing a tower defense game in a lot of ways. Using the God of Destruction’s almighty pickaxe, you must plot out a dungeon maze — chipping away at a grid-based map one block of dirt at a time — and hide the Overlord deep within to make the heroes’ capture attempts as treacherous and confusing as possible. But instead of using towers to defend the Overlord, you must build an army of creatures to guard the corridors of your dungeon and attempt to manage a balanced ecosystem of evil like you would in a simulation game.
Doing this is fairly easy at first, but gets trickier and trickier the larger your dungeon becomes. Certain blocks on the map house creatures called slimemosses, and these little blobs of algae are the lifeblood of your ecosystem, the resource gatherers of the Netherworld if you will. As you crack slimemosses out of their blocks, they begin to crawl around the dungeon and provide the needed nutrients to spawn more powerful creatures like Omnom insects, lizardmen, spirits, demons and even dragons.
But things aren’t as simple as just creating the most powerful creatures possible. All of the creatures that make up your dungeon are governed by a food chain. Certain creatures feed on other creatures to stay strong and potentially evolve into stronger creatures, so to ensure a thriving ecosystem, and thus a strong defense against intruders, you have to keep your minions in balance (i.e., don’t let insects overrun your slimemoss population, and so on). It also becomes vitally important to develop efficient dungeon layout skills. In each level you are limited to a certain number of dig points (each block you dig uses a dig point), and at the end of each level you can use leftover dig points to level up your creatures. Therefore, building an effective dungeon using as few dig points as possible is key to long-term survival.
There are a lot of strategic concepts to learn and master here, and because of that the game isn’t all that accessible. But thankfully, for those looking to invest the time to learn the ins and outs of proper dungeon management, the game provides an extensive creature almanac and a set of tutorial levels and special challenge missions to help guide you along, and should you go through the learning process you will be rewarded with a satisfyingly clever strategy experience.
However, I do have a few important issues to address. First is the sense of randomness the game has. You have full control over your maze’s layout, and the layout does dictate how your dungeon’s ecosystem develops, but at the same time you have no direct control over any of the creatures. They roam around randomly, which in turn makes it difficult at times to plan out a dungeon strategy. When you fail a level, it’s difficult to discern whether you failed because of faulty dungeon design or because your creatures didn’t act how you wanted/intended them to. Another potential source of aggravation for some players, especially when combined with the random nature of the creature movement and the fairly assertive difficulty level, is the game’s old-school method of progression. While playing through the story mode, you can’t save your progress and there are no checkpoints. It’s all or nothing – fail anywhere along the way and you have to start all over again.
Before closing, I’d also like to address all the hubbub that’s been stirred up by NISA’s last-minute decision to make Holy Badman a PSN-only PSP game, as I think a lot of the criticism they have received has been wildly unfair. Would I have preferred the game released on UMD? Absolutely. I like downloadable games, but if there is the option I certainly prefer owning a physical copy of a game. But the fact is, this is an extremely niche game that simply wasn’t going to get much, if any, shelf space at retailers. GameStop wasn’t even going to carry the game at all, and other top retailers like Amazon were only going to stock a limited number of copies. Frankly, if NISA stuck with the UMD release it would’ve been next to impossible to find for everyone but the most devout of fans. So instead of whining about the lack of a UMD version that you probably wouldn’t even have been able to find in stores to begin with, you should be happy that you even have the chance to play such a bizarre game.
Overall, Holy Badman is a delightfully refreshing strategy/RPG/simulation game that rewards you for what you put into it. However, there is no denying that this is an incredibly niche game with a fairly steep learning curve, and because of that it’s not a game I can blanket recommend, even though I may want to. Knowing the limited appeal, NISA was smart to provide a playable demo via PSN, and I strongly urge you to give it a shot. If you like what you see in the demo, chances are you’ll enjoy the deeper offerings of the full game even more.
+ Fun, unique mix of tower defense, RPG and simulation gameplay
+ Loaded with bizarre humor
+ 8-bit era graphics and audio perfectly compliment the gameplay and humor
+ Helpful selection of tutorial missions and unlockable challenges
– Have no direct control over your creatures
– Learning curve is fairly steep
Platform: PSP via PSN
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: 7/16/09
ESRB Rating: Teen