While cleaning up my iPad this weekend, I noticed a game I had installed on a whim, likely after a sale, earlier this year. The dingy brown icon barely stands out amidst the colorful bursts of games like Oceanhorn and Sproggiwood, and I had overlooked it time and again when searching for something new to play. This pass, however, I paused and tapped on it: and now, 15 hours of playtime later, I’m so glad I opened Drylands.
At first, the game itself is as unassuming as its icon. You begin in a rundown town and are sent on extremely simple fetch quests for the self-appointed sheriff: run to the end of town for this, peek outside the gate for that. Soon, however, the world opens up and you’ll find yourself combing crumbling buildings full of raiders, dank sewers packed with mutated bugs, and underground vaults with secrets hidden on ancient computers.
Sound familiar? Drylands is obviously and openly inspired by the Fallout series, and fans of that brand of post-apocalyptic desolation will find themselves right at home. But as a side-scrolling run-and-gun platformer, there’s a bit more mania to Drylands that’s a perfect fit for mobile. Groups of raiders with pool cues will mob towards you as you shoot explosive barrels in front of them. Machine gun-toting giants will lace you from a distance, driving you to duck behind a desk or grab a fallen sign for cover. Of course, your enemies can utilize these same tactics against you, forcing you to consider if you really want to stand near something flammable or jump around a desk-fortified gunner.
When you manage to dispatch your opposition, they’ll explode into piles of loot, refilling your ammo, grenades, health, and more. Powerful enemies will drop weapons or stash them in crates you can discover while exploring their hideouts. Most of the levels in Drylands are extremely vertical, forcing you to double-jump your way to distant ledges or use elevator systems that may require passcodes or unlocks. Stages are just complex enough to remain interesting but not so convoluted that you need a map to find your way around.
Plus, you’ll end up backtracking and mastering each area if you want to uncover all the secrets of Drylands. Your base of operations is the town you start out in, which grows as you find other Drylanders out in the wastes and they follow you back home, to Serenity. As the story progresses, you unlock other areas to explore that are connected by an overworld map. The main story involves finding a way to make pure “juice,” the only form of sustenance now that water is completely gone from the world. But plenty of side quests pop up as you play, ranging from finding a hat for the sheriff to solving and avenging a young man’s murder. There are a ridiculous amount of quests to take on in the game, with lots of secrets hidden in hackable computer terminals or via conversations with NPCs who will send you back to areas you’ve explored but unlock new places you couldn’t access previously.
In order to hack those critical terminals and survive longer trips to the wastelands, you’ll level up and assign perk points to your beefy, unnamed character. He can learn new skills—like knife dashing or dual-wielding, as well as passive abilities like better bartering at shops or automatic health regeneration. You can upgrade everything from his ammo count to his inventory size, which is important in a game where you’re constantly bombarded by new weapons and loot drops. Those weapons come in four types—pistol, automatic, rifle, and shotgun—and feature a certain rarity—white, green, blue, or orange—and elemental damage—fire, acid, or electric. Different enemies are weak to different elements and weapons, so it’s useful that you can equip up to six guns at a time for fast-swapping and can carry extras in your pack.
Really, there’s so much going on in Drylands that it’s hard to cover even all the basic features. It’s a fully equipped post-apocalyptic run-and-gun RPG platformer with a crazy amount of content and surprisingly deep world lore. The pieces of history you uncover through missions and emails are both helpful to finding new quests and also just charming backstory told through the eyes of NPCs and enemies alike. The game is challenging even after you’ve become a super-human, orange-gun-decked out level 20 beast, but always forgiving thanks to checkpoints and a near-constant auto-save system.
Two-man developer team Angry Bugs have been so thoughtful to players that their hidden dungeon—a ridiculously frustratingly fun series of challenges—has the best reward room I’ve ever seen in a game. And once you beat the main story, you can continue to play to earn achievements and max out anything you missed. Drylands is the kind of pure-fun game that makes you want to start a second playthrough as soon as you finish the first, which is easy to do because hey, another thoughtful inclusion—multiple save files! It’s an absolute blast, and while I’m sorry I missed it when it first came out last year, I won’t miss it again—Drylands has earned a permanent home on my devices.
And one final thoughtful feature: there is both a full, premium version of the game available for $2.99 as well as the free-to-try “Plan B.” This version is identical to the full game except for a few marginal ads and the ability to remove those ads for $1.99 (and pay an extra $0.99 for the skins pack included in the full version). There is absolutely no barrier to entry to this amazing, thorough, post-apocalyptic platforming experience.