“So build that wall, And build it strong, ‘cuz, We’ll be there before too long…”
What is there left to say about Bastion? In true form, I’m about sixty years behind the rest of the cosmos when it comes to playing new games, and I’ve only just finished Supergiant Games’ little diamond in the rough. And, as literally every other sentient life form has already figured out, I found that the game is really, really good!
When the assignment was first handed to me, I was more than eager to draft my opinions. I’m a fan of story in games, and Bastion makes its story the main selling point! But then, I slowly began to realize that I had four-to-five months worth of reviews that had repeatedly beaten me to the punch. And in terms of video game journalism, that’s a long period to not say anything.
In order to keep this review fresh, I’ll use the process of elimination and try to figure out what hasn’t been said by listing everything that has been already:
- The constant narration is a pretty cool device that handles exposition well and provides necessary player feedback.
- The story is deceptively rich, with so much of the story being described through gameplay and level design.
- The visual design is interesting, utilizing a stylized aesthetic that separates it from the rest of the pack, even from other games with anime-ish looks.
- The gameplay is lively, and is variable enough to always keep you on your toes (even for a non-RPG player).
- The music was pretty sick, with an American Western/techno feel that, ironically, did not clash with the visuals, or itself.
That covers the main points pretty well I think. And now that I’ve listed all of them out, I’m having a hard time choosing exactly what new tack I can take for my own review. However, the points deal with what Bastion does, and doesn’t really spend time to tell us what Bastion is: a game with real character.
Do you remember what that was like? I’ve retreated back into the far recesses of my addled memory to remember what games were like before the marketing team told the designers what to do. From all of those memories, I pieced together what it was like to see something that was, literally, unique. I don’t know if it is truly the case, but there seemed to be more of a definite tone in games way back when, and every offering would have a tone unlike anything else on the market.
Now, I’ve seen the gameplay options featured in Bastion before, and they’re not all that new. However, the gameplay and combat systems are so well thought out that it can be easily learned and quickly applied. As the difficulty and learning curves increase, new elements are introduced which help the player to adapt. Everything works well enough, some clustering issues aside, to integrate seamlessly with the level design, visual aesthetics, and story.
Bastion is one of the few games out there (indie, AAA, or otherwise) where writing is both treated as an important part of the game development, and is carried out to its fullest potential in the final product of the game. It was all so thought-through and polished: the narrative, the dialog, the flavor text, and everything you could imagine was so finely tuned as to be staggering.
The character of the Narrator, in particular, had such well-crafted dialog. Listening to his take on in-game events became a treat, no matter how many times I had to replay through an area and sat through them. There is a shocking element of relatability to his voice, which is a credit to both the writing and voice acting. That relatability became important when words like “anklegators” were starting to be thrown around, and helped to make the world of Bastion seem all the more real.
Which isn’t to say that the game is only soft fantasy, mind. As the game gets closer to the end, Bastion begins to deal with themes like total war, disasters (natural or otherwise), imperialism, and genocide with a certain level of gravitas you don’t really see in games which have tried to reflect real instances of tragedy (think of some of the Call of Duty offerings, or Far Cry 2).
Bastion’s story, while rich and complex, also understands the importance of supplementing the gameplay. For example, a dream sequence in Bastion is not just a cutscene, but a new level in which the player can now interact. The player is always the instigator of the action, the force that keeps the story going, and all the while the narrator keeps a catalog of the amazing things you do. Bastion is one of the few games where I feel that I am not just controlling an avatar, but I’m a character in my own right.
All of the good aside, there are some serious shortcomings with Bastion. Enemies spawn based on where the player goes, and a few errant steps can spell the difference between life and death. And even when the combat is balanced, the mouse pointer remains static as the player character moves around, throwing off your focus in the heat of things. Also, there’s no way to re-load save games, so mistakes cannot be corrected and levels cannot be exploited for all of the experience or item grabs once you have exited.
But those are only minor complaints on a technological side, and none of them break the functionality of the game. There is so much good in Bastion, so much novelty and polish, that those shortcomings can be forgiven. And, when you take the time to consider that all of the fellows at Supergiant Games had such an awesome game inside of them that they needed to quit their jobs at EA and Infinity Ward in order to go and make it, that really tells you a lot about the kind of guys that they are, and the sort of game that Bastion is.
I give this game a 9 out of 10.