Bad North is a real-time tactics roguelike challenging you to save your island-cluster homeland from viking invaders. Fight waves of vikings as you sail from island to island, collecting items and recruiting troops along the way. To fight, position troops near enemies, then watch the carnage unfold. Battles are easily won at first, but their difficulty intensifies, and even expert players may find themselves tested. But with enough practice, most players can make steady progress in Bad North, and any truly dedicated player can beat the game.
Bad North’s main roguelike feature is procedural generation, and each island is randomly generated. Some are flat; others are hilly; some are sprinkled with trees; others offer limited foliage. Even the seasons, weather, and time of day vary, so you’ll never play the same island twice. Each island features a few homes, which yield coins if they’re adequately protected during battle. (These homes also serve as safe havens for troops mid-battle, but more on that later.)
Each unique island landscape warrants a particular strategy. While flatter islands let you view everything at once from every viewpoint, they aren’t conducive to strategic placement of squads. On the other hand, mountainous landscapes offer great perches for archers, but they can present challenging fighting conditions due to their rough terrain and limited views. Through trial and error, you’ll develop effective strategies for tackling Bad North’s varying landscapes, which grow more challenging as you progress.
You’ll start the game on a tiny island with two 8-person squads, each controlled by a commander. (You’ll accumulate more commanders as you play, and a maximum of 4 can be deployed each battle.) To place a squad, select it (with your controller or the Switch’s touch screen), then pick where you want it to go. The squad will run to its assigned location, fighting vikings encountered along the way. Once positioned, it will fight vikings nearby, but if those pesky invaders slip past your ranks, you’ll need to keep moving your troops where the vikings are until you’ve wiped them out. Proper positioning is key, and it’s trickier than it seems.
Vikings approach the island aboard boats traveling at slow speeds. At first, only one boat approaches at a time, but this doesn’t last long. Vikings come in waves, and their final wave is announced in every battle. Battles almost always result in troop casualties, but troops conveniently replenish between battles if their commanders survive. Troops can also be replenished mid-battle if they’re stowed in an island house for a little while. But if you continuously lose soldiers mid-battle and you feel all hope is lost, you can always try to flee in an empty viking ship, if one is available. Of course, you’ll have to watch the vikings destroy what’s left of the island as you slowly drift away, but at least your commanders are still alive. Right?
Though your troops are easily replenished, your commanders are not, and when you lose one, they’re gone forever. When you lose them all, your run is over, so it’s crucial to keep them alive and recruit new ones whenever possible. Local commanders can be found on select islands, and they fight alongside you and join your team if they survive. Commanders are bound to die as you progress through the game, and there’s a good chance that all your commanders will die eventually and you’ll lose a run. But don’t get discouraged. You’re supposed to die in a roguelike and start another run, making mistakes and learning from them along the way.
Available upgrades include items, skills, and classes, and all upgrades can be further upgraded with coins. Items are found on select islands and include things like bombs, a powerful hammer, and a magical ring. Skills, which can be purchased with coins, include special maneuvers and attacks. Classes, also purchased with coins, fall into three categories: archer, infantry, and pikes. Each class has its own strengths and drawbacks, with infantry seeming to offer the most balanced option. If you know how to use them, pikes and archers are incredibly useful, but it all comes down to practice and/or skill. Classes are probably the most important upgrade to upgrade, since a powerful army is needed to stand any chance in mid-to-late-game battles.
Bad North’s minimalist graphics are sweetly charming, and from the tiny soldiers (and their viking adversaries) to the dainty islands and foggy seas, the graphical detail is impeccable. Softened edges and neutral colors create a calming visual experience that extends far beyond the island levels and into menus, maps, and even loading screens. Some of our favorite graphics include the detailed illustrations of commanders’ faces. Each commander’s tiny portrait conjures the ghost of a distinct personality, and we often found ourselves forming emotional attachments to our brave little commanders.
Bad North’s lush, orchestral soundtrack is quite impressive for a $14.99 indie. The music often features horns, strings, percussion, and harp, which generally sets an ominous tone. Yet some compositions are bright and hopeful, bringing an optimistic touch when it’s needed. Bad North’s music is largely pared down during battles, with sound effects like pitter-pattering of feet, slashing of swords, and rushing of waves taking over. This soundscape works with Bad North’s incredible graphics to create an immersive aesthetic experience that’s surprisingly calming, considering the tension and carnage.
Here are some other cool features you’ll find in Bad North:
- Option for intuitive touch controls
- Save up to five campaigns
- Play in “Normal” or “Hard”
- Turn off the blood—or don’t
- Skip the tutorial if you want
- Play in your choice of 12 languages: English, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Portuguese, Turkish, Russian, Korean, Chinese, and Japanese
- Set volume for music & sound effects
- Invert cameras if you like
We love Bad North as a pick-up-and-play roguelite, and we think a lot of other players will, too. Bad North is a great game for all ages, and with the flawless touch screen controls, it’s a perfect fit for the family-friendly Switch. Roguelite elements ramp up the replayability factor, and while more serious roguelite fans might prefer a challenge with a bit more bite, Bad North is the perfect roguelite for the average gamer—and at the pricepoint of $14.99, it’s an absolute Nintendeal that we’re proud to recommend.
Platform – Nintendo Switch eShop Download
Publisher – Raw Fury
Developer – Plausible Concept
Price – $14.99
Genre – Strategy, Action, Adventure
Size – 232 MB
Nick and Sarah are the ultimate gaming couple. Nick is a Super Mario Maker 2 enthusiast, but working with Nintendeal has fostered a love for tough-as-nails indies such as Enter the Gungeon, Celeste, and Cuphead. Sarah prefers sim games like Animal Crossing, Don’t Starve, and Stardew Valley, but she challenges herself by grinding Slay the Spire from time to time.