I loved Bad North back when I reviewed it. It’s a doomy game about fighting off invading forces, set on a chilly archipelago strung across the edge of the world. It’s one of those games where brilliantly simple mechanics – three kinds of units, very straightforward victory and loss conditions for each scrappy battle – are married to rich atmospheric details. The seas here are glassy and still, each island a bleached eruption of cold earth. You feel the cold, the wind, and you get a sense of how tenacious life must be to get by here. And then the invaders arrive, masked and silent in their black ships which ghost in without sails to propel them. There is a horrible inevitability to their advancing, something of a bad dream to it. And the horn that marks their arrival! The horn.
At the time I was playing it for review, Bad North struck me as being almost a museum exhibit of a game – everything was so poised and perfected. You stand back from the landscape as if you’re viewing a little diorama through safety glass. The game is so wrapped up with death and violence that there is nothing else in its world besides death and violence – unreadable heroes and villains from the past, so unlike us!
None of this is a slur, by the way. I love a game with a strong sense of its identity. But as I return to it now, clumsier somehow, sausage-fingered at the Switch, I’m starting to see so much more. This is one of those glorious games that scales brilliantly to match the player’s errors with sheer fun.