Press Start and select “Retry” - never has a game made me use this sequence more than Landit Bandit. How much punishment could my Start button handle? "Who made this game, again?" I wondered. Ah, yes, Landit Bandit is the labor of love from The Bearded Ladies. They are a small company who set out to make a fun, unique gaming experience; one that’s simultaneously simple and complex. Did they succeed?
Well, the game’s story is simple enough. Marley is transporting Da Vinci’s drawings and washes up onto a remote island. The only person around is Lander (the red-bearded guy). While Lander doesn’t look like much, he does manage to build a flying machine loosely based on one of Da Vinci’s sketches. It’s an odd pairing, but Marley and Lander team up to make it back to civilization.
Like any voyage, a lot can go wrong. This comical worst case scenario allows for a wide variety of environments to traipse through on the way back home. By the end, you’ll fly the rickety pedal-copter around tropical islands, icebergs, a cave system, and a Caribbean Resort. It’s not photo-realistic but it doesn’t need to be. Each location is crafted believably with little details that add personality: icebergs are littered with igloos and giant icicles, caves have spiders, and sharks that infest the waters.
The gameplay is also simple to describe. Imagine Crazy Taxi, only you’re flying a helicopter on remote islands. The similarities don’t end there. You are almost always working against the clock while ferrying items or passengers between locations on the map. Perform the requisite tasks and get rewarded with a medal. However, striving for gold quickly devolves into the previously described “Press Start and select Retry” loop. One mistake will ruin your chances at the gold level especially on harder difficulties.
The result is fast and furious frustration unless you have no qualms about playing on a lesser difficulty or accepting a lesser medal. The presence of medals promote replay ability. It’s possible to just pass many of the levels, but if you want the gold it will take practice, skill and luck. Having a flawless run will grant you an impress time that will automatically post to PSN leader boards. It’s nice to have these to brag among friends and even the world.
I have to applaud Landit Bandit for how well it’s structured to ensure an ever changing experience. As soon as I would become extremely frustrated with a level, the gameplay would change. Whether it was a new ability or losing a whole dimension (side scrolling here we come!), I was consistently intrigued and anxious to see what was next. Ever-changing parameters add variety, but needs to be well explained. The Bearded Ladies level introductions were sometimes too vague and necessitated a trial play through of a level just to get familiar with it. Having an on-screen arrow might have done much to combat such lack of direction. Between each level, the story progresses by a series of cartoon images. The Bearded Ladies have a very dry sense of humor that isn’t conveyed properly through writing. I did chuckle a few times, but that was typically because of game sounds or situations, not dialogue. Speaking of speech, though, the characters are fully “voiced” which is a nice touch. Instead of talking, every person and animal mumbles in an interesting mixture of Simlish and Charlie Brown’s teacher. It works with the exaggerated art style and fits the characters.
Throughout your travels, Marley and Lander will switch out numerous wingmen. What could an Island Babe, Mountaineer, Balloonist and Dragon add to the mix? Quite a lot! Each wingman has a special ability that will be used for at least the area you find them. Grab the attention of male tribesman with the Island Babe or swing via the Mountaineer’s grappling hook for greater flight control. Having Balloonist as your wingman enables you slide across the ice and dive into the water, while the Dragon will use his fire-breath to change the flying machine’s direction quickly.
Additionally, the action can be played in split screen co-op mode. It’s more fun to get competitive and duel in one of the six available maps. These pay homage to the best of the game’s levels and allow for some crazy action. After playing through the story, its necessary for my competition to have done the same. While pick up and play is possible, it takes more skill than a cart racer or button-mashing fighting game. Since there is no online play, only local multiplayer, it’s very limiting and sad that many will miss out on the dueling fun.
Landit Bandit provides different spin on a tried and true genre. Well-planned pacing and creative level design help this PSN title stand out from the crowd. However, the inherent difficultly and resultant frustration in addition to the lack of online multiplayer will turn many away. It’s a bumpy flight, but an enjoyable diversion between bigger, full-priced titles.