Save the Bandies in Band Together

Band Together is a new iOS game for iPad 2 and the new Retina display iPad published by Backflip Studios. The game is a collaborative effort between games industry veterans Dave Taylor (engineering/producing work on Doom, Quake, Abuse, Karateka), John Chalfant (art and design work for Warcraft 3, World of Warcraft, Batman: Arkham City) and three of Taylor’s students, who spent last summer developing the game. The game has drawn praise from high-profile game and film industry luminaries such as Oddworld Inhabitants’ creative director Lorne Lanning, director David Lynch (who has worked with Chalfant on a number of previous occasions) and designer Syd Mead, and is available now from the App Store — free for a limited period.

Band Together is a puzzle-platformer that makes good use of the iPad’s large touchscreen, and is perhaps best described as a cross between the “cardboard” aesthetic of Sony’s PlayStation 3-based platform game LittleBigPlanet and Psygnosis’ classic puzzle game Lemmings. Each level tasks players with saving as many of the curious “Bandie” creatures as possible while avoiding a series of increasingly-elaborate traps made from popsicle sticks, rubber bands and thumbtacks.

Rather than controlling the creatures directly, players give orders to them by swiping the screen. Starting a swipe from a single Bandie moves just that single critter, while swiping through a whole group moves them all together. The Bandies will continue moving until they reach the point where the player stopped moving their finger, though the move they are currently on can be overridden at any time if it looks like they are careening headlong into certain death.

Bandies respond to light and fall asleep in the dark, so as levels progress, players gain access to a Bandie with a candle on its head which wakes up its nearby comrades. Solutions to levels become increasingly elaborate as more complex mechanics are introduced at a good pace, including pressure pads, trapdoors, switches and more vicious-looking thumbtack traps. There are currently 30 levels in the game which should keep players busy for an hour or two at least, though some App Store reviewers are claiming they finished the game very quickly and don’t feel the original asking price of $5 for 30 levels is good value for money. At the time of writing, however, the game is free, plus its modular nature means it will be relatively straightforward to expand through updates and/or in-app purchase of addon content.

The most striking thing about Band Together is its beautiful visual presentation. All the levels look like they are carved out of battered old cardboard boxes, while all the thumbtack traps have been rendered lovingly as if they were real machines, complete with convincing representations of all their moving parts. The Bandies, too, are packed with character (and somewhat reminiscent of the robotic protagonist of Amanita Design’s Machinarium) meaning that the player quickly develops a sense of attachment towards them. The background music, on the other hand, is extremely repetitive, being made up of a short guitar and banjo loop, but can be easily switched off in the options.

Above all, though, Band Together is noteworthy for being a high-quality game that doesn’t rely on the cloning of other games’ mechanics to produce an excellent, addictive and satisfying experience. Its (present) lack of in-app purchases and free price point will help encourage people to check it out risk-free, too — though it’s a shame there’s no iPhone version. Backflip claims it is becoming much more selective about the titles it publishes — if this game is any indication of the quality bar the company has set, then it looks like exciting times are ahead.

Band Together is not yet ranked on the App Store leaderboards. Check back shortly to follow its progress with AppData, our tracking service for iOS and social games and developers.