“Proper review’s supposed to start at the beginning. Ain’t so simple with this one.”
That’s a play on the first line from Bastion, the first XBLA title from developer Supergiant Games. I just had to work that in here somehow. However my review is straightforward enough that I can start from the beginning. But does it live up to all the hype? Read on to find out more about my journey with the Kid as he seeks out the Bastion to find out what caused the Calamity.
Bastion had been on my watch list ever since I first saw it revealed. The quality of the art and the fact that it featured a real-time narrator caught my eye. Apparently I wasn’t the only one, as the game has already been nominated for awards and accolades.
Bastion looks gorgeous. I don’t think anyone could quibble over that point. The game features a hand-painted art style that’s breathtaking and highly reminiscent of Vanillaware’s Odin Sphere or Muramasa: The Demon Blade. The environments aren’t just static pieces of art though. The ground springs up in front of your character and sometimes crumbles behind him. There’s always something popping into existence – in a good way, not like a game with terrible draw distance.
Bastion tells the story of the Kid as he wakes up to find his world and the sprawling city of Caelondia crumbling beneath his feet due to a disaster called the Calamity. But hope isn’t lost! Caelondia constructed the Bastion, a safe haven to protect its citizens from the Calamity. You’re guided by a reactive narrator in real-time as the Kid attempts to power up the Bastion and save the world from the Calamity.
So how does the game play? You might think that as an indie developer Supergiant Games spent too much time and effort on the graphics and narrator (more on him later) to really focus on gameplay. Well you’d be wrong then.
Combat in Bastion is an action heavy affair for the most part. The Kid possesses a rolling dodge move that’s critical if you want to stay alive. Trust me. You’ll be rolling around a lot. You start out with your trusty hammer and a Fang Repeater – basically a machine gun-type weapon – but you encounter others throughout the course of the game. In fact, it seems like you find a new weapon in every major new area.
While constantly finding new weapons keeps the sense of discovery alive, it also hampers gameplay somewhat. You can change the Kid’s loadout while at the Bastion and at certain places in some levels, but every time you discover a new weapon it replaces your previous one in that slot. On the one hand this forces you to experience all the weapons the game has to offer, but on the other it completely messes with your set load out.
By the end of the game I wasn’t looking forward to the new weapons because I’d already found a combination that worked great for me. In addition, since you acquire these weapons later on, you have less time to get accustomed to them. This is especially apparent in the last levels of the game. Your weapons do carry over to New Game+, but that only partially mitigates the problem. The fact that you spend more time with certain weapons than others makes the game feel a tiny bit front-loaded. Sadly this feeling also applies to the environments and enemies.
Bastion oozes charm when it comes to its first few environments. Like I said before, the artwork is amazing, but then after a few levels everything starts to blend together. There are multiple levels where you’re wandering around very similar (still gorgeous) looking pathways.
It’s only later in the game that you get to experience different areas: forests, bogs, and then even crystalline caverns. However, you don’t spend nearly as much time with those places and thus their impact is lessened.
Same holds true with the enemies. I personally loved how the narrator called the earlier enemies Gasfellas, Windbags, Scumbags, and Squirts. It went perfectly with Bastion’s charm. You see these types of enemies during the first “section” of levels, but when you venture out to the forests, bogs, etc., they disappear.
The rest of the enemies don’t have the same amount of charm. At one point in the game I was just fighting different types of flowers that shot “bullets” at me. I wish that the same charm from the beginning was consistent throughout.
Bastion’s story is an interesting one. By the end of the game you’ll understand what the Calamity is and how it happened, but you’ll still feel like there are some gaps in your knowledge of Bastion’s world. It saddened me that I had to learn things, really interesting tidbits about Caelondia’s history, from loading screens rather than through the gameplay. Still there were some surprises I didn’t see coming, and I stepped away from Bastion satisfied. It took me around eight hours to complete the story, and there is optional content and a New Game+ mode to keep you coming back for more.
Despite some tiny missteps with the story, I can’t praise Logan Cunningham’s performance as the narrator enough. His voice fits perfectly with the game’s vibe. His bio on Supergiant Games’ website says it perfectly: “Logan not only delivers the game’s story but also gives it its humanity.” It was a joy to listen to him tell me what I was doing as I was doing it. The narrator is definitely one of Bastion’s biggest highlights.
For a first game from a new studio (though the folks at Supergiant Games aren’t without industry experience) Bastion is an impressive title. While there are some missteps when it comes to pacing and how weapons are doled out, they’re minor enough to not damper the overall experience. The reactive narrator and art style really help set this game head and shoulders above its competitors. Download Bastion and join the Kid as he unravels the mystery of the Calamity and Caelondia’s fall. You won’t be disappointed.