Binary Land

Here's the basic appearance of the Binary Land cover art.

Binary Land is a puzzle game developed by Hudson Soft and released for the Famicom in 1985.  The plot is that you control two penguins, a male and a female, named Gurin and Malon, respectively.  These penguins are in love, but they constantly find themselves separated by a wall.  The goal is to reunite the two, but along the way, they are confronted by spider webs, spiders, birds, and various creatures in general, whom they can kill with cans of mace.  The way to get to the end of the level is by controlling the two penguins in unison and maneuvering them through a maze to ultimately get them on either side of a caged heart, at which point they are temporarily reunited and the next level begins.

Needless to say, this is a rather unusual game.  Where is this game from, some kind of weird country where penguins get a hold of cans of infinite mace?  Oh right, it's Japan. (I'm just kidding, I have no problem with Japan.)

Corny jokes aside, this is a little-known game made for the Famicom, or the Japanese version of the NES, for those of you who didn't know.  Moreover, it was made in an era when the video game industry was still relatively young, and when various concepts for games were being tossed around the market.  Essentially, it was a "wild west" period that gave rise to some very unusual games like Bible Adventures, Monster Party, and others.

I was cautious about playing this game at first because of the unique mechanic of controlling two characters with one button to maneuver them through very small spaces.  Despite this unusual setup, the game as a whole makes far more sense once you get into it; in fact, I find it to be a very fun and creative game.  The story is lovable and sweet, and the style of gameplay breaks a lot of ground.  But, just as important as style is execution.

With that said, I must say that the gameplay is quite disorienting, because in each level, you start out with Gurin and Malon on either side of a wall, and they make opposite movements as you command them.  Since you're maneuvering through a tight maze containing traps and enemies, one or both of the penguins can get stuck or killed easily, which can make it impossible to complete the level.

What makes this worse is that in every level, you have to get the penguins exactly on either side of the caged heart, and since the penguins move in opposite directions every time, you can get yourself in a situation where you run out of time (yes, you are indeed timed) because you can't get the perfect formation together.  This struck me as being a rather cheap means of inserting difficulty, and while I know that high difficulty levels are common for older games, there is a line to be stayed behind that Binary Land crosses at times.  It would take repeated study of each level to figure out how to flawlessly arrange the penguins efficiently and continue to the next stage, and this seems like an odd thing to have to do for a game of this sort.  I suppose it takes advantage of the home console venue to use a game mechanic involving playing and replaying to get better, but doing so doesn't feel fulfilling here.

However, in all honesty, I'm being too hard on this game.  I think the concept is nice, and very original. It certainly has challenge; it's one of those games that you can tell people who claim to be geniuses to complete, to see if they're up to it.  My only wish is just that the two penguins didn't move in different directions.  It may be that if they moved in identical directions, or if there were some other control scheme, it would have been more playable. In this case, though, I wouldn't quite say it's worth playing.

It's not that the concept or design of the game is bad; it's just that the controls are too awkward, to the point where completing a level doesn't provide enough satisfaction and fun to keep you going.  Plus, the way it can tease you with completion, but then make it impossible to actually finish is just not something I find acceptable.  I understand it, but I don't enjoy it.

Still, Binary Land is a cute game, and if you have a fun time with it, I'd recommend it.

Thanks for reading!

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