by David Habinski
Developer : Super Giant Games
Publisher : Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment
Platforms : Microsoft Windows, Mac OSX, XBox 360, Google Chrome, Linux, Cloud (OnLive)
Genre : Action Role-Playing Game
Mode : Single Player
Following the success of the most recent Humble Indie Bundle, it only seemed fitting to revisit last year’s Summer of Arcade hit, Bastion. Up until the playthrough for this review, my only experience with Bastion was the trial version, when it was first released. With the trial, I found the narration gimmicky and the gameplay lack-luster, and at that time, I decided it wasn’t worth my time or Microsoft Points. That was a mistake.
In Bastion, you play as “The Kid”, one of the few survivors of “The Calamity”, an event that left Caelondia almost entirely in ruins. After a brief tutorial you reach the Bastion, a hub where it was agreed everyone would meet should any disaster occur. Upon your arrival at the Bastion you are greeted by the only other survivor, Rucks, who also serves as the game’s narrator. From this point on, you start your journey to collect missing shards to rebuild the Bastion, find any other possible survivors, and perhaps undo the damage caused by The Calamity.
Although you play as The Kid, Rucks is the real star of Bastion. Voiced by Logan Cunningham, Rucks is the source of all information about all the characters and the world they inhabit. With a voice that should belong to the most badass of all cowboys, Rucks always makes you feel as though you can trust what he’s saying, yet leaves enough uncertainty to suggest there may be more to the story than what he tells you. While the demo made the in-game narration feel gimmicky and more annoying than interesting, it actually grows over the course of the game. In the tutorial stage, Rucks does seem to narrate everything you are doing (“..And then, he fell to his death”), but as the game progresses, it becomes not only about what The Kid is doing, but providing information about the areas he is visiting, what they were like before the Calamity, and what’s changed about them since. The best parts of narration come in the “Who Knows Where” trial stages, in which Rucks provides more bits of a specific character’s back story with every completed wave of enemies. On a whole, using Rucks as the sole narrator of the game works perfectly in establishing a feel to the game much like Rucks’ voice itself; giving some information while leaving enough unsaid that the player can really use their imagination to work out the rest of the setting and story.
Like Cunningham’s work as Rucks, the music by Darren Korb gives a type of western feel to it. The music provides a sense that The Kid really is a cowboy pushing west and re-establishing the laws of his once home of Caelondia. While action-packed and exciting, and at other times exotic and mysterious, the music really captures the essence of the game’s sense of exploration and discovery in a somewhat familiar yet dangerous land.
Visually the game is beautiful. The use of bright, and exciting colours serves in stark contrast to the games rather dark happenings. The stunning visuals, paired with additional narrative bits from Rucks, and the game’s mechanic of making the floor appear only as The Kid approaches just screams at the player to explore more than just the single straight path necessary to complete the level.
While the game excels in almost every aspect, the combat can be somewhat less exciting. The varying weapons and their upgrades, special techniques, and power-ups for The Kid that are found throughout the game can be combined in many unique and interesting ways. As well as this, there’s also the features of the shrine, which offer money and experience bonus in exchange for giving the enemies various advantages. The game also features trial areas in which you must complete various tasks with specific weapons to earn rewards which can help to teach you the most effective situations for specific weapons. This also allows for the player to develop their own ideas for what may be good combinations of weapons and special moves when facing specific types of enemies. The depth in weapon choices and combinations only goes so far however, and at most times it feels as though any weapons will get the job done. Furthermore, the targeting system for projectile weapons and the shield can be quite bothersome when facing more than four or five enemies at a time and you may find yourself wanting to defend in one direction while actually defending from another.
After completing Bastion, the multiple endings, new game plus, and score attack features may be enough to make you want to try to once again restore Caelondia, but for the most part, the experience is largely contained in the first playthough. Should you choose to play around with a new game plus or test your skill with score attack, you won’t need to concern yourself with playing for hours at a time over the course of the game to remember where you left off and what you were doing.
Overall, Bastion is a good game with solid gameplay and unique style. However, it’s also so much more than that. Bastion is a special type of experience that invites the player to explore, admire, and in a smaller respect, create. The music and running narrative of the game not only provide the perfect complement to this experience, but in many ways are actually the driving force. The choice for multiple endings, although they are only quickly presented to you at the end, are the icing on the cake for this type of experience. Even though I’m a year late to the Bastion party, I still cannot recommend this game enough, and if you’ve been debating whether or not it’s worth your hard earned Microsoft Points, let me just say it’s worth it. Or maybe we could even share a DRM free copy from the Humble Indie Bundle?