Xbox Live Summer of Arcade: Bastion Review

The argument can be made that games are still in their informative years, their late teens or early twenties if you will. If that is the case then I think it’s fair to say that games have found their arthouse film equivalent in the downloadable gaming market. Of course, the major difference here is that you wouldn’t get much argument from anyone that these ‘arty’ games are really enjoyable. You don’t need to look any further than the Supergiant Games developed indie title, Bastion, to know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s a game that’s beautiful, intriguing and a ton of fun to play, finding that perfect balance of entertainment and art.

Home Is Where I Lay My Head

Bastion tells an interesting story, but the takeaway for most people is going to be the way it’s told – but more on that in a second. You play as The Kid who wakes up after somehow surviving a near-world ending event, known as the Calamity, and heads for refuge in a place known as the Bastion. The Bastion was supposed to be a safe haven for The Kid’s people if things went south, but when you arrival you find it incomplete and deserted. Bastion is about you putting it back together and discovering the truth behind what happened.

As you go about fixing the Bastion the gameplay manifests as a fairly pure action-adventure with really light RPG elements. The Kid hacks, slashes and shoots his way through hoards of enemies, level by level, in an effort to find enough shards to bring the Bastion back to full power. Supergiant Games smartly unravels the gameplay so that you’re unlocking new weapons and items and meeting new enemy’s right up until the very last level. Along the way you’ll discover a lot more, but as I mentioned above a lot of people are going to be more concerned with the way they discover these things and not what it is.

One of Bastions most prominent characters is The Storyteller, a man who narrates your every move, or thereabouts. From the moment your character first gets up The Storyteller, in a low soothing tone, provides the voice over for your actions and fills you in on the story. It’s a neat reflective too on the decisions you make but it also creates an interesting story device for the story. It works in a lot of ways because he doesn’t repeat himself, something crucially vital for the game to succeed. That said, I come from a school of thinking where voiceovers are usually not the best option to tell a story, but worth the risk if done well. Bastion is served well by having The Storyteller as a companion for the player but it still doesn’t translate as a story-telling device very well. Since there’s no dialog, or anything to read that tells the story, all the relevant details are told to you, not shown. Some people won’t care because The Storyteller sounds so awesome, but it would have been nice to have other ways to discover information.

Variety Is The Spice, And Ammo, Of Life

What makes Bastion so great is that it doesn’t rely on that one device to keep your attention. The action has a respectable amount of depth that stems from the enemy types and loadout options available to you. You pick up weapons and upgrades with such frequently that there’s almost always something new to try each level. You start 7.62×39 surplus ammo with things like an axe or bow and eventually you’re using mortars and shotguns. Some weapons can fire while moving, other you can’t, and some have an area of effect or a spread while the rest fire in a straight line. These things might independently be very standard but put them altogether and you get a lot of great possibilities. One annoyance with the system is that when you pick up a weapon you don’t get to choose which one of yours you want to drop for it. It runs the risk of leaving you with two similar weapons which can be frustrating if things get tough. Players that don’t like to switch will be happy to learn that there’s optional test levels for each weapon so you can test them out to see if they’re to your liking. As you level up you also get to equip more and more elixirs. These give you boosts in things like health or retries, but some of them also have adverse effects like lower healing rates or less damage. It’s up to you how much risk to take and how much reward you expect.

Another way to greatly alter the gameplay is by putting certain idols into play. You’ll collect or purchase idols and when the time comes you’ll be given the option to set them on or off. The idol’s all do different things but they can all be summed up the same way: they make the game harder. Players looking for something tough to tackle can turn the idols on and head down into one of Bastion’s three challenge rooms. Here, The Storyteller lays out much of the The Kid’s backstory as you fight wave after wave of enemy. It’s a great distraction that’s totally optional but well worth it, and if you like leaderboards this is how you get your name on them. But since you can leave here at any time and because levels are only ten or fifteen minutes long you can keep customizing your experience until it feels just right. Bastion’s most appealing factor may be that its gameplay is unbelievably adaptable.

The look of Bastion adds as much to the personality of the game as anything, if not more. As you walk around, the world will literally piece together in front of you, block by block and piece by piece. When at a crossroads with more than one option you’re never handheld and told which way to go, so it’s impossible not to be drawn in by your surroundings. I was most impressed with the visual design of the whole game, resembling some sort of organically fluid, fantasy tinged anime cartoon. Simply put, it’s beautiful. At many points in the game I was struck by how calm and serene the presentation was, as if it was intended to be the visual representation of the tone set by The Storyteller. The only downside is that there isn’t the sort of level diversity that you might expect from an adventure game like this.

The Storyteller, voiced by Logan Cunningham, isn’t the only standout in the audio department, even if he is the only voice. The soundtrack is absolutely outstanding, blending various western tones with world music. Supergiant Games pulls certain themes in and out as the game progresses, so there are some constants that will have you humming along in no time. The consistency is shocking considering the mish-mash of sounds on offer – but it’s thrilling. Surely, this will be many people’s favorite soundtrack when it comes to voting time at the end of the year.

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