If you manage to finish the main game, there's an ultra hard version just waiting to punch you in the face.
Nothing, however, is as important as efficient digging, and this is where Badman loses review score points. Grasping just what makes for an efficiently dug dungeon is like trying to understand quantum physics. At no point does the game explain it to you; I don't think the developers know, either. And even if you were to understand, it's impossible to predict the movement of your units. They seem to wander around aimlessly, sometimes doing things that make sense, sometimes doing things that make you question your very existence in the universe. I understand that it's better to have short narrow tunnels so that monsters don't have to travel far to eat each other and transfer nutrients to soil, but beyond that, success often feels like it's the whim of a mischievous god.
Take, for example, the creation of level three soil blocks. They spawn Lizardmen, which are good quality units that form the backbone of your monster army. The only problem is upgrading soil to level three feels completely random. I reckon my maze is well built, with enough Slimemosses distributing nutrients to get the job done, but the creation of level three soil seems the result of some bastard dice roll. Getting the little Slimemosses (or gits, as I have christened them) to do what you want them to do is harder than steering wild horses with reins made of weed killer.
You still paying attention? You there, at the back, stop doodling! Jenkins, wake up! You kids today, really. You might not think it important now, but one day, one day soon, all this learning, all this ecosystem stuff I've been drilling into your thick skulls will save your lives. Remember, Badman is completely defenceless. When the humans come calling, you'd better be prepared, because if you're not… well, Game Over!
And Game Over! is another problem. Badman is unfairly punishing. Story mode, ridiculously, doesn't allow you to save in between stage completions. When you die, and you will die, you have to start at the beginning and go through the easy first two stages all over again. I can't think of one good reason for this design decision.
Bizarrely, the game's difficulty extends to the Training mode. It's particularly annoying not being able to complete the eight training stages, which I always thought were designed to teach you how to play, rather than piss you off. If you do manage to finish them, there are loads of one-off challenges that bring new meaning to the word "hard".
At £23.99 on the PlayStation Store, or £24.99 in shops, some might feel Badman's a bit of a rip-off. There are only two game modes - Story and Training - and while there are 100 entries to unlock in the expansive and mildly amusing Almanac, there's a distinct bare-bones feel to the overall package. It feels like a £15 game at best.
Badman isn't bad, it's just unnecessarily difficult, too complex and seemingly has a mind of its own. But the seeds have been planted by Nippon Ichi that should eventually bloom into a quality real-time strategy sim. Only slight design tweaks here and there are needed. And with the sequel announced at the recent Tokyo Game Show, you won't have to wait long to see the fruits of the harvest.