Welcome to Game Pass Roulette, a weekly series where I hit the “Surprise Me” button on Xbox Game Pass for PC and play whatever game the random gods give me. Don’t think of it as a game review, think of it as me exploring different experiences that I would otherwise never have tried and sharing my impressions. Maybe we’ll stumble on something incredible, maybe it’ll be something intriguing or maybe it’ll be a great big dumpster fire. It’s all down to where the Roulette takes me.
This week’s Roulette was planned to go out last week, but I took a tumble in my eternal war against gravity and ended up breaking my leg so badly I had to go for surgery. I’m fine now, but I’ll be stuck on my couch for the foreseeable future and since we’re all supposed to be stuck inside anyway, it’s the perfect time for some more Game Pass Roulette. I did manage to play Bad North before all this malarkey, so rest assured that my opinions weren’t clouded by strong painkillers or anaesthetic hangovers.
I’ve been curious about Bad North for a while because I’ve seen it around during my internet spelunking adventures and I redeemed it on the Epic Games Store back when it was free, but never really tried it. Anything Viking themed instantly grabs my attention and I was curious to see what this game was all about. To my surprise, it’s a rogue-lite strategy game that was originally meant to be played on mobile.
I have no qualms with mobile games, there are some amazing experiences out there if you look past all the excessive timesink microtransaction factories. I’ve had some amazing experiences playing games such as Florence, The Room and Monument Valley. Bad North would definitely stand shoulder to shoulder with those games as well, I just happened to play it on a PC only using my mouse to control my actions.
As I mentioned, it has rogue-lite mechanics, starting you off with a fresh run and if you fail, you have to start again from scratch. The gameplay is deceptively simple, with a streamlined UI and easy controls, but the difficulty ramps up real fast the further you go into a run. It’s a strategy game, another genre that I’m relatively unfamiliar with, but contrary to other strategy games, I wasn’t given a tome the size of War and Peace during the tutorial to learn the mechanics.
The objective is simple, protect an island’s homes from invading hordes of Vikings using squads that you can upgrade using coins that you earn from successfully defending against the attacks. Each squad can have a speciality such as ranged units and spear units that each have strengths and drawbacks. When the battle begins, it plays a lot like a tower defence game as you shuffle units around to greet the invading Norsemen and strategise during the ensuing carnage.
After each successful mission, you get access to more islands on a map that you have to slowly work through. Your units can get upgrades to make them more efficient or equip items to give them various bonuses as well. Whenever you use a squad during a defence, they become tired and need to recover for a turn, but you can have multiple squads up to defend multiple islands during a single turn.
And that’s essentially the loop of Bad North. Incremental progress, upgrading, defending and doing some on-the-fly strategising. It’s a very simple game to play as you only really have to move your squads around, but using the right combination of units against enemies with different strengths and weaknesses is key to successfully defending the islands. It’s as simple as it gets, but there’s enough meat on the bone to get you invested in a run and watching the minutes tick away.
I played on PC, but I can see this being an absolutely amazing mobile gaming experience. Defending an island only takes a few minutes and you can build an amazing run as you pick up and play during the day. If my phone wasn’t stolen (I know, my luck is horrid) and I didn’t have to use a phone from 2015 with a battery life expectancy equal to an ant in a volcano, this would be a no-brainer to download. It’s elegantly designed and it excels in what it wants to do while not overwhelming you whatsoever.
While not a big bombastic experience, it was a nice little diversion for me. It gave me those sweet dopamine releases while not expecting me to invest my life into it and I enjoyed defending islands while having videos or streams on the other monitor, If you were looking for a great mobile game to play as you lay around in bed doing nothing during the quarantine, Bad North comes with a hearty recommendation from me. I didn’t expect to recommend games for other platforms during the Roulette, but this is one of the surprises that random chaos can sometimes give.
Now, let’s see what’s in store for me next week. Hopefully I don’t break any more bones next week, huh?:
Oh boy, remember what I said about strategy games? This one will be an adventure.