Badlands: Video Game Review

Badlands is a Top Down Racer by Matt Furniss and Atari Games that was released in 1989. Originally intended for arcades, the game is a gloomy battle-race based in the aftermath of a nuclear disaster.

Seeing a map open up, it is hard not to notice how visually appealing the game is. The map compositions consist of dank, subdued hues and a rich vibrant tonality. Some of the map designs share a common impact with the works of M. C. Escher. This is meant by way of their contradictory perspectives, and the tracks being continuums that fold in on themselves (much like a tessellation) with many over and under passes. The peripherals are embellished with apocalyptic little happenings, such as brightly tinted lava flow, or a lone rotating satellite dish. All these animations and aesthetic choices compliment the mood of the game and tie in to its ominous theme.

The graphic quality is evidently pixellated but, by no means, is this distracting or in any way detrimental. Pixellation is the distinctive flavour of video games from this era, and the designer/s of Badlands worked seamlessly well with low resolution to create visual cohesiveness. Furniss and/or his team created what can only be described as beautiful ‘pixel art’ that has a simultaneously fresh and retrospective charm.

As with the visuals, it is difficult not to be pleasantly taken back by the soundtrack in this game. If the colours can be considered dank, then the music is ‘whatever word should be used to describe something even danker’. The dark disparate melodies, executed on 80s synth patches, are really very enticing. These tunes make for a disconcerting yet captivating atmosphere, and despite the auditory dissonance there is a distinct artistic unity between the music and the visuals.

As far as the points system goes, wrenches equal currency. The player can either earn wrenches by winning a race or they can pick them up if they are layed out on the track. With this ‘currency’ can be purchased missiles, speed, tires, turbo or shield. Missiles can also be collected from pick up points. Scores are allocated and tallied depending on placement in races. This system is both detailed and simple enough to be intelligible yet interesting.

Some miscellaneous details that will be encountered along the way are:

  • The races are notably short. This is not necessarily a bad thing, simply noticeable.
  • The player’s car is a brighter hue than the drone cars, this makes it easy to keep track of during the races.
  • Should the player happen to fall off a broken bridge instead of make the intended jump to the other side, or crash into a wall too many times, a helicopter flies on screen to rescue the character and send them on their way. It is a brief occurrence and a cute touch.
  • On certain maps barricades on the track appear and disappear, this adds to the difficulty level but also the visual / kinesthetic interest.
  • Steering may initially be counter-intuitive for players who aren’t acustomed to steering a Top Down Racer from the vehicle’s perspective instead of their own. The rest of the game, however, is engaging enough to maintain interest through initial setbacks.

All these dot point elements add up to establish a characteristic flow, identity, and challenge within the game.

This is a very strong game, both conceptually and design wise. The visuals are intriguing, the soundtrack is enchanting and the graphics evoke an engagingly nostalgic response. The game play makes sense and has cleverly varying elements. It is artistically robust and aside from the topic of Top Down Racers, it would be interesting to see what other creative projects this designer has been involved in.



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