Indie games are often experimental in nature. Small overheads and low distribution costs allow these indie developers to explore possibilities that are not even considered when creating AAA games. Basically they can take risks and, as with all risks, sometimes they pay off and sometimes they don’t. This leads us to Bastion from Supergiant Games and if their goal was to reinvent the way a story is told, they have succeeded admirably.
Bastion opens with a small boy (simply referred to as “The Kid”) waking in a room. As he leaves his room, The Narrator begins to speak about your journey. The narrator is one of Bastion’s unique innovations. He quite accurately comments on what is happening on the screen at any time. Make The Kid smash a few crates and The Narrator will observe that “The Kid’s rage got the better of him” or “The Kid needed to let of some steam”. This running commentary is wonderful in its implementation and adds to the fairy tale vibe that the developers were clearly aiming for.
The story is a simple one, The Kid wakes to find his world destroyed (the game calls this the Calamity) and must make it to a safe haven called the Bastion. Once there, the Bastion has the power to restore his world as long as The Kid can find enough power shards to kick it into action. What sets this story apart however is not only the unique perspective given by the Narrator but how it very closely links in with the game. Every action seems to have a purpose and it is this very real feeling of consequence that involves the player in the story better than almost any other game.
The look of Bastion is also worth mentioning. A sharp hand-drawn style with a large helping of personality means the characters would not look out of place in a Disney cartoon. The levels themselves are also vibrant and intoxicating. One of the great stylistic choices the developer has made is that as you progress through the level, more of the scenery appears, giving the effect of the environment being built as you make your way through it. Bastion is full of these touches that really give it a strong personality, making it stand out from the increasingly crowded indie offerings on Xbox Live.
This has unfortunately led to one of the game’s major problems, the level design. While they look amazing, playing through them can be a frustrating task. Pathways are quite thin leading to accidently falling off quite often. There is only a small penalty for this but it does break up the flow of the game and can happen repeatedly when facing enemies that have knockback attacks, even if you are blocking. Levels are also very linear in nature. It is very much a case of getting from A to B with little in the way of exploration or puzzles to break up this formula.
The flow on effect of this is monotony. This is not helped by the gameplay itself. This is a very simple game with a ranged attack, a melee attack, a block and an evasive move the only options for battle. There are no combos and no real strategy. You also get one special attack, which is effective but limited in its use, meaning you will spend most of the game shooting enemies until they get close enough to whack with your sword/hammer/spear. The boredom is alleviated somewhat by a large selection of weapons that can be upgraded in the Bastion, but once a winning combination is found there is little reason to switch your weapon load out.
At its normal difficulty Bastion is quite easy, taking only about four hours to complete. To add a little extra time to the experience, the game gives you the option to increase the challenge by invoking curses from the Gods, giving the enemies bonuses like regenerating health or extra shielding. As a prize for challenging yourself you receive a bonus percentage of the game’s currency to spend on weapon upgrades and potions which offer stat boosts for as long as they are equipped. Once the game is completed you are also able to restart the campaign with all of the equipment, experience and money earned in your previous play through.
In the end, it comes down to how much you value story and style in your games. If these things are at the top of your want list then Bastion ticks all of the boxes. The plot is told in an original manner and the game simply oozes style. However if you are the type of gamer that appreciates diversity of play and interesting combat then you will probably be left feeling a little disappointed. Bastion is a game to be experienced by everyone but not everyone will want to come back for a second dose of what it is serving.