Sunday, July 24, 2011

Review: Bastion (XBLA)

Who wants to kill some scumbags? No, you read that right.  I'm not even talking about Nazis or terrorists either.  Scumbags, Squirts, and Windbags, to name a few.  They all can be battled in Xbox Summer Arcade's first offering, Bastion.  Bastion is a 2D action RPG with hand-painted artwork, that is the product of Supergiant Games (their first game, but have some former Infinity Ward and EA's Command and Conquer vets on the team) and published by Warner Bros. (who appropriately tailored their logo to fit the art style of the game---a good sign that they were supporting this game).  

The game begins with the game's protagonist, The Kid, rolling out of bed and finding that something called The Calamity, has thrown his and the whole world into disarray.  This is ascertained through the raspy utterances of The Stranger, whose narration follows The Kid's actions.  If you start destroying things looking for hidden items, he'll tell you if you're wasting your time or not.  You fall or lose a life, he'll have some sardonic comment about your plight.  I kept waiting for the comments to start becoming repetitive, but surprisingly, they didn't.  At least not through my first playthrough, which is understandable, as Supergiant claims to have recorded around 3,000 lines of narration for Bastion.

Every hero needs a quest, and The Kid's is to rebuild the destroyed Bastion and return it to it's glory days.  This is accomplished through visiting different places, defeating enemies and collecting bits of shards and cores, which are then placed on The Monument, which leads to the reconstruction of the Bastion.  When this occurs, buildings can be placed and later upgraded, to aid in the quest for total rebuilding and progressing more easily through the story.  The story is purposely vague at the outset, and each level or area, adds a bit more to the legend.  Is the art style complemented with solid gameplay or is it just style or substance?

If you've heard the phrase 'may the road rise up to meet you,' you'll get a sense of how navigating through the levels works in Bastion.  The majority of the gameplay takes place on floating pockets of land, but when The Kid starts walking the correct route, the terrain magically appears out of thin air.  If no ground appears, that's not the way to go to get to shard and to the end of the level.  I did find that it wasn't always perfectly clear where I could and couldn't go, as I would see an enemy and try to melee them, only to find out that it wasn't accessible because of my tumbling death.

Armed with his trusty shield and a two weapons, our white-haired hero sets off to right what has been wronged.  I liked that there were only two weapons available at a time, as it added some strategy.  Sometimes, I really didn't have the best weapons for that particular level, so I either had to head back to The Bastion or see if I could find an in-level Armory.  Additionally, one special skill could be equipped that would give a weapon some special potency.  Weapons also varied from swords and staffs, for a more close combat effect, or ranged weapons such as guns and bows.  Since The Kid cannot run, rolling needs to be used effectively, in order to survive many situations.

Initially, I thought I would just be fighting the same enemies over and over until  had collected all I needed to collect,  but there is quite a bit of variety of enemy types, as well as in the environments traveled, covering all of the archetypes: flying, poison-spewing, charging, etc..  Just heading in to a herd of enemies and button mashing, usually lead to a quick loss of health, or even death.  Your shield could also be used to deflect unwanted advances, but only did damage to your opponent if you timed it just right.  I also preferred that the enemy's health was not shown in the prototypical bar above their heads, but a more modern wheel, around the creatures that would lose pieces when damaged.  Weapons, of course, could be upgraded (up to five times) for maximum effect, when certain items were found or challenges met on the Proving Grounds.

There are a couple of specific areas that are added in, to give you more exposure with certain weapons, as well as practice with different weapon combinations.  The Proving Grounds are areas specific to one weapon.  You can only use that weapon noted, although you can use any upgrades you've purchased.  If certain conditions are met (time-specific or number of enemies conquered), you earn a special token, depending on whether you earned third, second, or first prize, that is useful later on.  Initially, I thought that just getting third place was sufficient, but finding out the specific tactic that earns you first prize, is usually beneficial in the game levels.  There is also a place called Who Knows Where, in which wave after wave of differing combinations of enemies you've met come after you.  Not only do you earn experience points to help you level up, and some of the game's currency, but you also get a good sense of which weapon loadout works best for your style, and the types of enemies you'll be facing.

Bastion is a graphically enriched game.  The colors are vibrant and lush, yet still manage to remain appropriate for this wasteland of a world.  Jen Zee deserves any accolades she earns by bringing the team's vision of Bastion to life.  There were many times I wished the characters were larger so I could see them better in more detail.  The variety of creatures and the details in areas are amazing.  I would see that it was time to stop playing, but would want to see what kind of creatures I would come across, if I experienced just 'one more level,'

As was previously mentioned, the narrator's Tom Waits/Clint Eastwood voice, coupled with his instinctive comments, really add to the game.  When he's not giving a play by play of your actions (I would still chuckle, even when I had played over 5 hours into the game), the snippets of the backstory he's divulging are a nice touch.  Typically I tend to block out a lot of the extraneous chatter from game announcers/narrators, but you really do have to pay attention to what he's saying while you're playing.  The narrator pushes Bastion over the edge from your basic RPG.

Replay Value
The main game most likely will take somewhere between 8-10 hours of your time, which seems reasonable for a game with this price.  I rarely had it feel tedious, but I didn't sit for long periods and play.  it was more like an hour here and an hour there.  Once the main game is finished, there is a new game + mode, if you're interested in continuing your adventure with The Kid.


I'm not a fan of the trend of more and more Xbox Arcade games breaking the 800 MSP barrier, but Bastion is treading that fine line.  While it's most likely worthy of my $15, I think my score would have been a bit higher, if it had stayed at that 800 MSP line.  Overall, though, a fun adventure with outstanding art direction, and an innovation narration system, which is certainly worthy of your time, kind of like if The Legend of Zelda games had stayed 2D

Bastion for Xbox 360 Arcade is priced at 1200 Microsoft Points ($15) and is available now.

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