Crashlands is a wonderfully-bizarre action-RPG worthy of your attention

In these days of short attention spans, intentionally developing a mobile game that's designed to claim and hold your attention for 60 hours is a huge gamble. We live in a world filled with "time wasters" that occupy a minute or two at a time — due in no small part to the way most people use their phones and tablets. Smartphones and tablets don't lend themselves particularly well to games that favor grinding to fill up that time, and if the gameplay is so action-packed that you can't put the game down, users are only going to pick it up when they know they have a couple of hours to kill.

The folks at Butterscotch Shenanigans have struck an amazing balance between a game with long hours of story-fed gameplay and one that you can pick up and play for a few minutes at a time. It's called Crashlands, and it's quite possibly the closest thing to a perfect mobile action-RPG we've seen so far.

Crashlands puts you in control of Flux, a space-age slacker delivery guy whose ship is destroyed by a bizarre floating head with a name you're going to spend way too long trying to pronounce when you see it. Your escape pod crashes on a strange alien planet filled with dozens of strange creatures and plants, and notifying your employer of your situation so they don't dock your pay is the only thing on your mind. To get there, you need to basically start from wooden tools and build yourself better resources to slowly develop the technology necessary to phone home. Unfortunately this isn't easy, and to make things worse that floating head is also looking for the technology you are looking for in order to accomplish something less than nice.

After five hours of actual gameplay, it was strange to feel like we'd made a lot of progress only to open the game map and realize just how little had been done.

For a top-down Action-Role Playing Game (ARPG), Crashlands doesn't feel all that different from Terraria at first. You roam around a randomly-generated biome and destroy everything around you, using the debris to construct armor and tools with silly names and moving on to bigger and meaner creatures as you move away from your spawn point.

It doesn't take long for this feeling to fade, though. Crashlands includes an impressively-intricate story, sending you from NPC to NPC in order complete basic tasks that almost always include a resource acquisition component. As you move along the story, you gain access to more and more technology to bring you closer to your ultimate goal, but each of those steps includes more than a couple side quests you're going to want to explore.

Butterscotch Shenanigans invited us into the beta for Crashlands, and after five hours of actual gameplay it was strange to feel like we'd made a lot of progress only to open the game map and realize just how little of this world and this story you've actually seen. A big part of what makes this feeling so strange is also what makes the game perfect for mobile: the pacing. Your character is just about always surrounded by potential dangers when you leave the hut you've made, but these threats are spaced out just enough that you can either tear through a field and destroy everything in your path for 20 minutes or you can make a beeline for your objective and not have to worry about any conflict at all if you move fast enough. If you need to stop playing, you can instantly teleport back to your hut, and because this planet is inexplicably covered in ancient teleportation pads you can quickly get back to where you were headed when you return to the game.

That, in a nutshell, is what makes Crashlands special. You can run around and pick fights with things well above your skill level and win if you're careful, and you can do so fast enough that any combat can be quickly set aside so you can get back to the real world. Weaved throughout that series of gameplay mechanics is a story built to stretch you out to this 60-hour mark the creators are so proud of, and because the game is paced so well getting to that point could take a casual player months of just playing a few minutes a day. At the same time, you can play that few minutes every day and not feel like you're grinding into boredom or rushing into something more difficult or time-demanding than you can handle. It's a massive balancing act, and Crashlands handles it well.

Five hours of gameplay isn't nearly enough to make any kind of final judgement on this game, but for $5 Crashlands has already delivered more than enough entertainment to keep busy for a while. If ARPGs are your thing, this silly adventure is well worth the price of admission.

Download: Crashlands ($5)

Russell Holly

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter