Landit Bandit is a lot tougher than it looks. Although this PlayStation Network exclusive appears to be a kid-friendly old-school flyer where you pilot a Stone Age helicopter taxi service around islands, the game is actually a maddeningly hard test of your twitch skills. While there are some fine moments here, first-time developer The Bearded Ladies Consulting has mostly wasted its good ideas because of the touchy controls, exacting level design, and punishing difficulty.
You play Marley in the 20-mission solo campaign, a laid-back Caribbean dude with Grateful Dead hair living peacefully on the kind of tropical islands you might have seen once or twice in Saturday morning cartoons. Comic-book cutscenes tell the story of a plane crash that leaves a fat businessman named Lander stranded in this goofy paradise with a suitcase stuffed with valuable art. Marley offers to help this obnoxious jerk get back to his big-city home for reasons unknown, so he examines some of the art and concocts a rickety pedal-powered helicopter based on Da Vinci sketches. So the Helivinci is born.
From there, you work at getting Lander back to the big smoke by flying this bamboo contraption from one island to the next, typically ferrying the locals to different hot spots while trying to beat a clock, like some kind of aerial Crazy Taxi. A typical level sees you doing something like schlepping six villagers to their destinations in a couple of minutes. If you succeed, you keep going; if you miss out by a couple of seconds, it's back to the starting line. Various gimmicks are introduced along the way to keep things interesting. Levels soon sport hooks you can swing on, hot babes who can lure riders to jump onboard the moving chopper, icy slides where you whip the helicopter around like an antediluvian bobsled, and even a 2D cave system. You even have to balance delivering riders to a bar with keeping it stocked with barrels of booze at one point because if you don't keep the patrons well oiled, they wander off and force you to collect more passengers.
Unfortunately, adding these extras turns a reasonably hard game into an annoying one. Both the controls and the helicopter often aren't up to the demands put upon them. Movement is clunky and unresponsive when things get tough. This is likely intentional, given that the contraption you're flying looks as aerodynamic as Snoopy's doghouse, though the frustration remains. Levels have also been dressed up with little touches that enhance the overall difficulty. The helicopter is ridiculously fragile, exploding into chunks of wood if you hit terra firma too quickly. You have to be really careful when coming in for landings, which isn't easy given the timers and how hard it is to move the camera into a good spot with the right stick to tell how far you are off the ground. There are gear power-ups that repair your ship on the fly, though never enough that you can't go boom with a single rough landing. Passengers are also way too easy to kill. It's tough enough just landing without blowing apart; having to also worry about scraping up against the guy waiting for his cab and killing him is an unnecessary extra bother.
With all that said, Landit Bandit has some good points. While there are a lot of rough edges here, the game is enjoyable at times, particularly after you get over the initial learning curve and come to grips with the aerial rock that is your helicopter. Figuring out the trickier parts of the levels and gradually accepting how gently you need to touch down to avoid blowing your ride to bits also comes with time. After you get through all of that, you can get hooked here, although it's a shame that the rigorous controls and difficulty make the game so off-putting in the early stages. The look and sound of the game are also appealing, blending intentionally crude, cartoon 3D graphics with wacky sound effects, such as how the characters speak in a grunting form of Simlish. The story is absolutely impenetrable, with the dialogue subtitles making as much sense as the spoken Simlish. Either the developers were going for a really surreal vibe, or somebody out there is desperately in need of a good translator. Local co-op and competitive multiplayer are also offered via split-screen, adding replay value. The co-op is particularly pleasing, as a second player can drop into a game at any time and the objectives ramp up to reflect the presence of two flying taxis. There are no online options, though.
Since it costs only $10, you can overlook some of the bumps in Landit Bandit's ride. Still, a lot of these issues should have been ironed out before the game was offered up for sale at any price. There is a pretty good arcade trifle buried under all of the flaws here, but in its present state, you have to look the other way too often to try to enjoy what the game has to offer.