In an era where games are increasingly defined by what you can download, certain titles are rising to the forefront to define the new revolution. Supergiant Games’ Bastion is one of those titles. But is Bastion’s trademark dynamic narrative and lush visuals enough to make it stand out in the annals of gaming history? On the one hand, this level based action RPG is an affordable and engaging post-apocalyptic romp. On the other hand, it lacks anything that would make it a genre changing game to be written into the history books.
The game begins when the main character, a silent protagonist known only as The Kid, wakes in the midst of a world torn apart by the Calamity. In the wake of this catastrophic series of events Kid heads off to the Bastion – a safe-haven for the people of Caeldonia during troubled times – only to find that it too lays in ruin. Here he meets his mentor and the game’s narrator, Ruks, a grizzled old man who sounds like something out of a classic old-timey western. He informs Kid that the only way he can save the kingdom is to rebuild the Bastion by collecting various shards from throughout the City, the Wild Unknown, and eventually the Ura homelands.
The gameplay is simple. The Kid navigates levels filled with vibrant vegetation and colorful monsters to collect the cores required to rebuild the world. As players traverse these fantasy-themed environments they collect a variety of weapons, materials used to upgrade these weapons, and experience to gain levels. Once the cores are collected, the player uses these to upgrade various parts of the Bastion. Just a few of the buildings players unlock include a forge to upgrade weapons and a shop to buy items. In essence, the structure of the game itself can be described as a series of fetch-quests. Go forth into the world, Kid, and collect cores!
Between levels players can fine-tune their weapons’ skills by visiting training courses that were once used by the city’s weaponmasters. Each weapon has a unique mini-game that offers three-tiered prizes upon completion. For example, the hammer (the first weapon players find) has a challenge course where players need to destroy so many objects within a certain amount of time. Or, in the fire bellows challenge, the Kid needs to torch so many fleeing birds as quickly as possible. Some of the other challenges include hitting targets with as few shots as possible and navigating mazes filled with missile-shooting plants. Some of these mini-games prove to be far more difficult than the main storyline levels.
In reality, Bastion is not a particularly challenging game. The only constant challenge the players are presented with is the tendency for the controls to send the Kid plummeting off the level. As Ruks was quick to point out to one reviewer during her first steps into this magnificent water-colored world, a plummet to the depths mercifully does not mean death. Still, the game makes up for this in allowing the player to activate various religious totems that increase the game’s difficulty and offer bonus experience. The more totems that are active the more difficult the game becomes. If players run into a sticky situation, they can return to the Bastion to de-activate the idols to temporarily lower difficulty.
One of the most appealing features in 2D games is the artistry, and artistry is the one thing that Bastion presents in abundance. For a world that is on the brink of ending, it sure is damned beautiful. Everything from the levels, to the cut-scenes, right down to the character models feels as though it has been hand painted by the most loving of hands. It has been said before, but this game feels less like a game and more like an interactive picture book. A graphic novel brought to life in the form of a game. Much like Frozenbyte’s Trine, this Bastion is less about genre-breaking gameplay developments and more about showcasing just how visually stimulating a gaming experience can be. Bastion is a work of art first and a game second.
Like many current generation games, Bastion is short. In less than ten hours players can complete all the levels and challenge courses that make up the game. The levels are short enough that the casual player can settle in for a few minutes of fun, but someone looking to invest more time can set up for a marathon play. This game is well worth the $15 price tag and a must-have for people interested in not only a hack-and-slash adventure game, but a work of art.