Bastion: review

“Proper story’s supposed to start at the beginning,” rumbles the narrator, as Bastion’s albino-haired hero slumbers on a chunk of rock in the sky. “Ain’t so simple with this one.”

The opening lines ring true, and odds are you’ve never played a game like this before. The Kid (it’s the only name he’s got) picks himself up and takes a good look around.

It’s a beautiful land, torn apart as it is. Crumbling stone and twisting plants join with scarcely recognisable ruins to hang suspended in the air, coloured with a palette that reeks of mystery and a touch of old beauty. Some great disaster known as the Calamity did a real number on the place. The ground appears before the Kid’s feet as he walks, which sometimes goes awry when he gets unfairly stranded somewhere with nothing but death to save him. Still, taking the overhead camera into consideration, it’s not a bad way to keep him on track.

No joke, that kid can sleep through anything.

Before long he stumbles upon a long-lost hammer and starts smashing things straight away.

“It’s a touching reunion,” remarks the narrator with a voice of superb gravel and bass.

See, everything the Kid does is told by this narrator in a story-like fashion. Take a swing at a gasfella – one of the violent survivors of the Calamity – and he’ll relate some of their tragic situation. Lose a chunk of health in the fight and he’ll mention the Kid’s scrapes and bruises. Never overbearing (let alone unwelcome), the narrator tells the whole tale top to bottom. It’s a straight-up fascinating way to spin a video game yarn and lends Bastion its standout feature.

So the narrator does his thing while the Kid does his own; namely, fighting. The effect isn’t unlike a typical top-down RPG: weapon in hand, he strikes and dodges in quick spurts, timing a damaging counter with his shield every now and then. You’d be pardoned to mistake the combat as simple – even shallow – but you’d also be wrong. It takes wits and strategy to keep up the pace, and the Kid has to contend with dropping floor panels, screaming swamp beasts, and treacherous airship rides. It’s not especially punishing, but it’s no walk in the park either.

In a world this broken, it only makes sense to break it some more.

Of course, the Kid doesn’t stop with hammers; a repeater is found soon enough, which opens up a world of long-range tactics. This particular weapon won’t let him move an inch while firing, but it unloads a round like you wouldn’t believe. Bunches of other weapons can be snatched up too, including the sure-shot breaker’s bow and a vicious war machete, and they’re each as unique as they are effective. The Kid manages to lug around two at a time; choosing the rights ones can be a matter of life or death.

But at the end of the day, it’s not about the bloodshed; it’s about the Bastion. If it can be fixed, so can this whole mess. The Kid returns to the safe haven after every mission, constructing useful buildings when he has the chance. The Arsenal lets him pick through his weapon collection, the Forge powers up said weapons using supplies found along the road, the Distillery offers spirits to grant secret skills, and a handful of other places are worth checking out in their own right. The Kid’ll need money for all this grandeur, so keeping an eye out for shiny bits of currency isn’t a half bad idea.

It's safe up here on the Bastion, but how long can that last?

Tying this cracked world together is a story far beyond its downloadable peers. Always subtle and complimented by the narrator’s brusque commentary, the Kid’s tale is mournful and wide open to interpretation. It’s liable to move you somewhere deep inside; those of a less manly disposition may shed a tear come its close. The music, described by its own creator as acoustic frontier trip-hop, fits the tale like a comfy glove and deserves to be heard time and time again.

In fact, the game deserves the same treatment, so it’s fortunate nobody will be left out in the cold when the end pops up. Creative challenges tempt the Kid with fancy prizes and a New Game Plus mode lets him start afresh with all those precious weapons and skills in tow. Yes indeed, boredom will have a nasty time coming out on top in this brawl.

Breaking down garbage in a time limit has more strategy to it than you may imagine.

Above all, Bastion is one of those games you just can’t forget. It does things never before tried and does them well. Strong and deceptively deep action props up a story that thrives in a rich setting. It’s a bold start for Supergiant Games, who’ve managed to do a lot with a little. So go on and give the Kid a hand with putting his world back together; it’s a trip you won’t regret taking.


 

 


 

 

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Written by Stephen K

A lover of video games in general, Stephen will happily play just about any sort of game on just about any sort of system, especially if it's a platformer or an RPG. Except sports games. Sports games are boring.

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