Holy Invasion of Privacy, Badman! What Did I Do To Deserve This? (Badman) follows up Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero? in NIS America's assumed line of Roshambo-inspired games. Not content with breaking a handful of PlayStation Portables as Prinny, NIS wants to destroy the rest in the guise of a pickaxe. An 8-bit pickaxe of pain.
As the God of Destruction, it is your job to keep heroes away from your regent, the Dark Overlord. By digging out a subterranean dungeon and creating an army of monsters, the Overlord will be kept safe to continue doing your evil bidding. How you create that army of monsters lays the heart of the game. Represented by a pickaxe, you chip away adjacent stones to create tunnels to funnel both hero and villain. Some stones are rich in nutrients which, when destroyed, release slime. The slime are the building blocks of your army’s food chain: slime release nutrients, which can give way to stronger stones that release slime-eating monsters, which can give way to stronger lizards that eat the slime-eaters, and so on. You have to not only dig tunnels in such a way that confuse the heroes, but also that compel your monsters to both enrich the soil as well as feast to grow bigger, lay eggs, and stay alive. In short, you must design and control an ecosystem within a puzzle-based framework that is under constant threat from do-gooders.
Don’t let the game’s charming throwback graphics fool you, it’s a beast. A handful of training levels are unlocked in the beginning, with additional training and challenge levels unlocked as you progress through the story. Each training level helps you to become a better, eviler God of Destruction. You will learn everything from how to enrich soil to how to feed portals to grow giant monsters. You will note that training levels are unlocked only after playing the story mode, which means that you are meant to fail: unless you are disturbingly astute, you will not know how to use mana, runes, or create larger monsters your first time around in the story. The steady influx of heroes will eventually overwhelm your defenses and drag your Overlord off, forcing you to hit the training missions and restart the story. Yep, you read that last sentence correctly: if you lose, you restart from the beginning. No mercy.
You are only given a set number of picks per level. The game encourages conservation of action by offering bonuses for leftover picks in the form of experience towards leveling up your creatures at the end of each round. To get a time bonus, you can sit your pickaxe at the dungeon’s entrance to entice the heroes down below before your action phase is finished. The few times I was cocky and egged the heroes on, they paid me back in kind. No, I, like no doubt many others, needed every second allotted to get dead-ends, t- and h-shaped tunnels, and monsters birthed and strengthened before the knights and wizards made their way into my sanctuary. Before the round starts, you do get a chance to tuck the Overlord away into an out-of-the-way spot, though, primed for ambushes and pain for the poor saps that wonder down that way.
The heroes also act as if they are in a role-playing game. They rest to replenish health points, indicated by lit torches, and cast offensive and defensive spells. When felled, the heroes’ remaining mana points will seep into the surrounding soil, allowing you to grow mana-based creatures. The manual notes that the heroes have their own personalities, some are dumb while some are tenacious, but I found all of them deadly; seeing a little knight slice his way through a small army of monsters is as frightening as if you were facing the monsters yourself. A lot of careful planning can be undone by a wilily adventurer. A hint at what you might expect can be found in your Almanac, which stores information about both heroes and monsters whenever you run across them; however, the information might not always be the most useful – see: the disgraced hero Belmondo, noted as erring by not listening to his mother’s advice on becoming a dental hygienist. There is also an edit mode that allows you to set up a group of heroes, along with some rudimentary traits (name, comments, etc.) and stats (bonus points towards strength, attack, defense, and so on) for up to three stages and unleash them on a friend by swapping memory cards – not the most in-depth mode, but a nice addition for the diehard. The heroes’ handful and animations are charming – the ‘Hyaa!’ when victorious – but a little more on-screen personality would have been nice.
There is no doubt that Badman is an acquired taste. After all, the game can be downright infuriating: your monsters, as brainless denizens are wont to do, roam about and attack in a crazed frenzy. No matter how skillful you are at designing dungeons, ingeniously creating ambushes and inviting paths to nowhere, you are still at the mercy of your creatures. Imagine my horror as I saw my prized dragon busily attacking my slime while the wizard behind it wailed away with reckless abandon; the result was my Overlord being bagged and dragged out to the surface, and my PSP with tears on its screen. You have no sway over strategy or tactics, you can only set paths in the hopes that your creatures follow them enough to gain enough nutrients to give birth, get stronger, and surround enemies. Complicating things a bit is the fact that saturated soil is also the same color for both mana- and slime-based nutrients, requiring a menu to see which dominates that brightened square – a needless process in an already difficult game. The humor is also a bit to the left, exemplified by the lengthy and quirky title, along with the presentation. If the idea of sending 8-bit Japanese role-playing pillars - the dreaded slimes - against heroes eerily similar to the avatar from the original Dragon Warrior and wizard from Ultima: Exodus – or any number of role-playing titles – while the Overlord cracks jokes about the genre doesn’t interest you, then there’s a good chance the game won’t. As clever as a puzzle and planning title as it may be, it’s also steeped in its own quirkiness.
It should also be noted that this is a download-only release. You need access to the PlayStation store to be able to download the title, either through your PlayStation 3 (hooked up to your PSP via USB cable) or directly onto the PSP itself.
As frustrating as Holy Invasion of Privacy, Badman! What Did I Do To Deserve This? can be, I also found it to be as addictive as it is charming. The ecosystem management mixes well, if imperfectly, with the puzzle elements. Watching your monsters battle the heroes are great for those who remember when these were cutting-edge graphics, and encounters are often nail-biters as you watch your monster counter tick down as the heroes slaughter their way to the Overlord. There’s also the fact that establishing a viable ecosystem, regardless of the dimwitted monsters and heroes, is downright difficult: the monsters starve, slime die off, and nutrients evaporate out of the soil. It is sometimes goofy, often unforgiving, but ultimately a challenge worth the effort.
(This review is based on a copy provided by the publisher.)