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Professor Q Oct 21, 2018 @ 4:29pm
Original Bad Pad Review
The Metroidvania Review

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How Metroidvania is it?
Medium Fit – While the entire castle is indeed available to you at any given point in time, there’s little reason to backtrack except in the main hub. Otherwise, Bad Pad fits the genre in my opinion.

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Full Review
The Review Code for Bad Pad was provided to the Metroidvania Review through Curator Connect.

Bad Pad opens as a fully voiced Rock Opera musical which conveys its (silly) plot to the player. As the story goes, after a long and arduous battle against one of those excruciatingly difficult video game levels, a video game player rage quits and throws his controller against the wall. The discarded and broken controller becomes sentient, one of the buttons has turned evil, and it’s up to the Square button to save the world. It’s a premise so ridiculous that it dispels any delusions the player might have that Bad Pad is supposed to be anything other than a fun trip, and I was eating the campiness up. Bad Pad also uses Super Meatboy mechanics – where you play a small squarish character with a generous amount of acceleration and wall jumping capabilities – and I was very interested in how well that could fit into a large Metroidvania map. Sadly, while I think the idea of “Super Meatboy as a Metroidvania Rock Opera” has great potential, I’m sorry to report that Bad Pad comes up short of that potential.

I want to really emphasize though that I don’t think it’s the core concept that is Bad Pad ‘s failing point. Super Meatboy was very much enhanced by having a plethora of characters to try and use in its levels. Having a singular character who gets movement upgrades as you progress almost seems like a natural evolution. Bad Pad ‘s biggest issue is the same as most Metroidvania games that fall short of the mark; the general level design either does not support the game’s mechanics or does not remain interesting for large portions of the game. That isn’t to say that Bad Pad doesn’t have moments of brilliance – those were there. Unfortunately my own personal rule of critical integrity that I must see at least one of a game’s endings before writing my full review wasn’t too kind to Bad Pad. It feels long – partly because it is actually a very lengthy game – but primarily because I think a lot of its content could be cut without losing anything of value. There are a lot of unnecessarily frustrating portions that had me quitting earlier than normal just to cool off and try again the next day.

Everyone is going to have their own tolerance for frustration when playing a game, so just like any opinion I can post for The Metroidvania Review, there is going to be a lot of subjectivity involved. I have a few personal guidelines for creating a “Hard but Fair” gameplay experience, and I would like to outline a few of them and then discuss how they apply to Bad Pad. I apologize if this sounds like a Game Design lecture, but I feel like the exercise will expose some of my biases that you can use to better determine whether or not you agree with my standpoint.

“Hard but Fair” games will usually include the following elements:
- Enemies and obstacles should be predictable
- The player should be taught how to play before their skill is tested
- Consequences for failure should serve a positive purpose

Enemies and obstacles should be predictable
It’s never fun to be killed by something that seems to be random. Enemy attacks should be telegraphed, obstacles should be on the screen long enough to give a player a reasonable time to react to it, or everything should fall into a rhythm that the player is able to adapt to. I’d like to think that most players would agree that “Fairness” comes when they can clearly see how they failed so they can improve on their mistakes in subsequent attempts. It feels unfair when they feel like there’s no way they could have predicted what killed them.

I started Bad Pad on hard mode originally. If you play Bad Pad I don’t recommend you do that. I don’t know if later on in the game there are HP power-ups on hard mode, but at least at the beginning one hit will kill you. However, that initial experience of dying that easily did highlight from the very moment I gained control of Square how Bad Pad could improve on this concept of predictability. In the first gameplay moment, you are placed on a field and have to run from a deadly metal blade while the villain shoots at you with missiles. The difficulty in this section comes from dodging the missiles, but the tell for the missile firing is extremely subtle. The missile launcher gradually turns a shade of red before it fires and changes back its original color afterward. In theory this should work as a telegraph, but the conveyance feels a little inconsistent. Thankfully, in this particular example the missiles fire at regular intervals, so after dying enough times I got into the pattern and didn’t have to rely on the telegraph. Since the consequence for death was small at this point in the game, learning by death was, in my opinion, just fine (But I’ll talk about this principle a bit more later.)

The issue of predictability arises in different ways as you progress though. Many later sections of the game include enemies flying around in random patterns, and in some places it happens when your vision is being obscured by lighting effects screen space. Even if the consequences of death were always reasonable, it still feels like you have to rely on lucky placement of enemies in too many cases.

Imagine if, in Meatboy, every level also included a bouncy ball that randomly flew around the level, and if you touch it you die. Bad Pad sometimes does this.

There are other parts where there are just too many things on the screen at once – it really taxed my ability to keep track of things. Add in the fact that most things aren’t on a pattern of clockwork timing, and predictability goes a little too far beyond normal human capacity – especially if you want to get things right on the first go through your skill. The controlled character just isn’t agile enough to react to some of the sudden things that can happen.

The player should be taught how to play before their skill is tested
It’s frustrating when you’re suddenly presented with game elements that you haven’t had much time to adapt to. A game should present each of its elements in a relatively safe environment and give the player time to adjust to how the element works. Games that don’t do this are sort of like going to class and taking the final before any lectures are given, and phrases like “Trial and Error” start to crop up as negative criticism.

Bad Pad has a lot of ambitions. Besides the Super Meatboy style primary gameplay, Bad Pad has on-rails “minecart” sections, underwater schmup sections, boss fights (each with different kill conditions), almost literal insertions of classic Space Invaders and Asteroids, and puzzle platforming sections where you play a different character and follow different platforming rules. Besides the starkly different gameplay sections, the core game introduces new gimmicks (as it should) on a regular basis.

That ambition requires careful attention to the teaching principle, which Bad Pad could do a lot better with. In the end game there’s one room where the whole room moves up and down while buzz saws swing back and forth in the visual cacophony. The physics of being pushed upwards by the floor and having to catch the walls as they came downward took some getting used to, and the bloody wake of death that was also flying around made it aggravating to focus on the learning process, and this is the only room in the whole game that does has the bouncing gimmick. This kind of thing also makes the game’s difficulty seem a little stilted, because, as an example, on the opposite side of the bouncing room was another challenge that felt like an early-game cakewalk by comparison.

The “Extra Curricular” activities have similar learning problems, and as a result cutting them from the game would improve things more than what would be lost. To progress with the game you have to play these arcade machines and achieve a specific high score or survival. The Space Invaders arcade machine had me exclaiming “I didn’t play Bad Pad to play Space Invaders! If I wanted to play Space Invaders, I’d find one of the thousands of flash websites that hosts it!” There isn’t anything particularly wrong with having these kinds of variety sections, but if you’re going to do them you need to stylize them, add a twist, or make them short periods of inconsequential fun. To beat the Space Invaders section, you need to “git gud” at Space Invaders, which isn’t necessarily what the player would rather be doing. The same thing applies to the other sections of the game.

The variety sections aren’t always bad because of poor tutorialization though. The underwater schmup section does have a learning phase area before it escalates into an eventual boss fight, but it still doesn’t do anything unique for that genre and presents a kind of boring shell of another genre that you didn’t really set out to play in the first place.

Just as a random example of a situation where a variety section like this can be good, take Metal Gear Solid 4 when you get to pilot a Metal Gear Rex and fight a Metal Gear Ray (Spoiler alert, for a 10 year old game…) Mechanically it’s a pointless thing – and it’s not really the game you started playing - but the scenario is so flipping amazing that the player probably doesn’t care that you can button mash your way to victory. Bad Pad plays its variety sections perhaps a little too straight on the gameplay front.

Consequences for failure should serve a positive purpose
Failure is very important for many games. It raises the stakes and builds tension. Without the threat of failure, there isn’t any point in trying, but with it the player can grow and do things they didn’t think they could. Thus, failure and its subsequent consequences is perhaps the most powerful teaching tool a designer has at his disposal. However, if these consequences are handled poorly, it becomes a proverbial kick in the groin after the player falls down.

Super Meatboy includes a whole lot of instant death and also trial and error (not necessarily negative!) while the player learns the game’s mechanics, but it handles this approach to its gameplay by making death as short as possible. The loading time is near-instant and when you FINALLY succeed any given level you get to watch the hordes of attempts you made in an instant replay – which adds to the fun. It wouldn’t really work if you had to slowly swim up a shaft for 30 seconds to reach the challenge again every time you died. Bad Pad sometimes does that.

Bad Pad mitigates a lot of its problems by having the normal and easy difficulty modes give you an HP bar – letting you make more mistakes than standard Meatboy. However, sometimes it’s not enough in the face of combined elements, and in the case of the Triangle character’s puzzle platforming sections you die in one hit anyway. Those puzzle platforming sections are immensely disappointing to me, because there is some actually very clever level design in a few of them, but random pattern triangle things ruined my day multiple times, and nothing was to be gained from the death experience other than just having to do it all over again (just having checkpoints within the minigame would help a lot.)

Sometimes checkpoints in Bad Pad are plentiful, sometimes they’re extremely far apart. In some games having long periods between checkpoints can be exciting. Tensions can get higher as you’re desperately looking for that next bonfire… er… whatever the checkpoint may be. That approach works best though when the pace of the game is slow and methodical, and death is only the result of carelessness. Bad Pad doesn’t want to be slow and methodical, and in combination with the other two “Hard but Fair” game design elements I already went over, it can be immensely frustrating to have to do an entire section again just because a stray and unpredictable piranha decided to swerve left instead of right.

Final Thoughts

I loved Bad Pad’s music, I think the characters are funny (albeit very corny), and I love its concepts. But there are a lot of decisions that clash with the overall design and make the experience difficult for the wrong reasons. It makes it hard for me to recommend the game, and honestly that’s more disappointing than anything. I respect the amount of effort that went into making it, but Bad Pad for me is not something I’d want to do again.

2 out of 5
Last edited by Professor Q; Nov 15, 2018 @ 4:47am
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