More than a decade ago Bullfrog released a quirky simulation called Dungeon Keeper. Bullfrog was the company that made the godly Populus and the intensive squad-based action game Syndicate, before Peter Molyneux was obsessed with the stupidity known as Fable and actually led some creative projects, before Bullfrog was assimilated into EA where talents ceased to exist, the industry has changed, war has changed, it felt like a lifetime ago.
The premise of Dungeon Keeper is simple, it is essentially Sim City where you are the architect and the medieval dungeon is your playground. You order your imp to dig around to build you rooms and you summon minions from portals to ready yourself from the endless sieges of the heroes who are ready to loot gold from you in the name of relinquishing evil from the land. Now you can deploy your troops and control them to fight your heroes, take the heroes prisoners and put them into a torture chamber, break them and turn them against the forces of good, and you can possess one of your minions and roam your dungeon in first person mode. It was a game that felt so ahead of its time it sometimes felt overwhelming just to keep track of what you could do.
Now turn the clock forward a decade, Holy Invasion of Privacy, Badman! What Did I Do to Deserve This? (Yes, the longest title I have ever laid eyes on), developed by Acquire and published by NIS America as a downloadable PSP title, is essentially Dungeon Keeper meets Dig Dug, which manages to look a decade older than Dungeon Keeper, with nostalgic pixel graphics (which seems to be a trend nowadays with the exceptional Half-minute Hero and the upcoming sexy 3D Dot Hero). Strip out the time-consuming resource management, room building, all the complicated simulation details, and the micro management of units and battles from Dungeon Keeper, adding some automatic food chain rule in, and the remaining is a simple skeleton of a game that looks a lot like Dig Dug, but manages to be insanely challenging.
The challenges mainly come from what little control you have over everything, and how tough the invading heroes quickly get just a few minutes into the game. Learning to smartly build your dungeon is the key of this game, and that is done by simply pointing the cursor (which is a pickaxe) at a block of soil and pressing the action button to remove it. That is pretty much the only direct interaction you will have with this game, which sounds really simple on paper, but results in pretty challenging gameplay that requires strategy. Dig up a block with nutrients inside, and a slime (yes, those monsters you take down in Dragon Quest when you are level 1) will appear, which basic function is to distribute nutrients throughout the dungeon. And depending on how you planned your construction, when enough slimes gather they may distribute enough nutrients onto one block, which changes color, and you can break it to get a stronger unit, which may prey on the slimes and grow into another yet stronger unit, mix in with that mana that the heroes drop when they are vanquished, then you get a pretty complex Spore-like system which will take seconds to understand, but a lifetime (slime life) to master. The strategy is learning to build effectively, as you have no direct control of where the slimes take the nutrients, you have to trap them in long or circular corridors, and combine with the need ] to protect the helpless Overlord Badman (the Dungeon Keeper) against the heroes, it is a pretty big learning curve on the simplest kinds of mechanics. The difficulty of the game ramps up quickly, as the parties of heroes get effectively brutal quickly and they will be slaughtering your slimes and flies with their fingertips. And evolving to the stronger units may not be as simple as it sounds. And within minutes you will find yourself getting overwhelmed and slaughtered, maybe even more often than the unforgiving Demon’s Souls.
Holy Invasion of Privacy, Badman is a quirky title that reminds me of one of the more original games, Dungeon Keeper, from the past. While its premise is simple, mastering it is difficult. At times it feels like a tower defense game where your only control is building the path. It isn’t a game for everyone obviously, I at times felt helpless against the onslaught and wanted to throw the PSP against the wall but found myself keep going back to it trying different dig patterns. Even though the game is meant for short playing sessions and you could take advantage of the PSP’s standby function, and you probably need to start over anyway if you find yourself in a difficult situation, the lack of a save function within the arcade/story mode is still a crap shoot. I could envision Badman begin a lot better than it already is, but no doubt it is a game worth trying if it sounds like your cup of tea. In fact, NIS has a poll at their site and is planning to bring the game to UMD if enough people want it, and Holy Invasion of Privacy, Badman 2! (out in JP) is already scheduled for a spring 2010 release. Check the trailer out, and cross your fingers for a much better game.