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Binary Land (NES) artwork

Binary Land (NES) review

"Binary Land has something to offer if you look past it's faults and the conspicuous lack of a 2-player mode."

"Finally," I think to myself as I blow hard and thrust the plastic into my NES, "a game that will get me laid." I had found the perfect formula 8-bit romance: adorable penguins, a love story, and cooperative gameplay. I imagined things would start with an innocent beak here, a brush of the wing there, and before long we'd be in our birthday tuxedos. I debated whether or not I should take off my pants now to save time before pressing the power button.

"How do I play with it?" my wife asks. That's what she said. I grin and look up and down the title screen. As I review the game's options, my face changes. "Where the hell is the 2-player option?" The disappointment sets in: Binary Land is a game for playing with yourself.

The over-analyzing nerd in me quickly takes over. What a missed opportunity this game really was. It's clever alright, very clever, and was only a few steps away from being great. I turn to tell my wife, but she's already gotten bored and left.

A Famicom-only story of love between two arachnophobic penguins separated by a daunting 8-bit wall, Binary Land is a puzzler in the tradition of Pac Man. Using one controller, the player moves two penguins at once. The goal is to get both penguins to a caged heart, which will then open in an ecstasy of unadulterated penguin-penguin love for 3 seconds in heaven before the next level begins. Along the way are spiders--which are of course the natural enemies of penguins and very common in Antarctica--spider webs, and randomly appearing treasures that distract you from your date on the other side.

The game begins with you, by yourself, selecting Gurin or Malon, one of the two star crossed aviaries trapped on opposite sides of a maze, much like two lovers caught in a whirlwind from Dante's 2nd circle of hell. The penguin you control moves through the maze as expected; the other penguin will mirror your movements, meaning pushing left moves him or her right. You can spray on any spiders that try to invade your mating territory and destroy webs. If one of the penguins gets trapped in a web, the other will need to B-line to break them free before one of those roving spiders meanders in for the kill. This is all, of course, done under the crunch of a timer. Points and beating the clock are the motivation here.

The great innovation of Binary Land is the simultaneous control of both characters. You can actually get this experience right now, at the comfort of your own desk! Grab a pen, a mirror, and a piece of paper. Now, prop up the mirror so that you can see the paper in it. Looking in the mirror instead of at the paper directly, try to draw a penguin. If you want, you can decorate your ugly blob with a costume afterwards. I added a funny hat and bow-tie to mine.

One of the things that really grates me though is how you complete each level. If one penguin makes it to the heart before the other, it will walk through it to the other penguin's side of the maze. If you don't get each penguin to stand exactly next to the heart at exactly the same time, the stage won't end--they will literally walk through each other. Wasn't the entire point to reunite them? This love is very conditional, it seems. So once you've gotten to the top of the stage, you're moving your penguins around, walking into walls, backing into corners, and sacrificing chickens over an altar to Morgan Freeman to try the penguins to stand in the bloody spot. 95% of my deaths occurred while trying to accomplish this geometric feat.

There is no two player mode--have I mentioned that? While it may be grossly unfair to criticize a game for lacking a feature that I think it's supposed to have, a game that pushes the player into a cooperative maze alone feels like going to a romantic bed and breakfast by yourself--something is simply missing. It's hard to sell two sweaty dudes running half-naked through the jungle chasing demon aliens from outer space with matching machine guns; kissing penguins is something I could work with.

Binary Land's unique gameplay still makes it stand out among the many Pac Man-likes of the 80s. It suffers the same pitfalls of other games in this genre, such as the lack of strategy and the perpetual race against a timer, but it's still fun and fair. Binary Land has something to offer if you look past it's faults and the conspicuous lack of a 2-player mode. It's special in a way that only a penguin loving a penguin can be.


dagoss's avatar
Community review by dagoss (July 12, 2012)

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honestgamer posted March 01, 2017:

It seems like I would have read this review back when you posted it, but I don't remember doing so. Reading it now, I'm not sure how I would have forgotten. You did a beautiful job of mixing a relateable story of a gaming night gone awry with descriptions of the game that let me easily picture about what it must be like to play. I really enjoyed this one!

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