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Bastion

Score: 95%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Supergiant Games
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ RPG


Graphics & Sound:

When you really stop to think about it, the one feature that sets Bastion apart from other games and gives it a unique edge is also the one element that, by description, sounds like it would be its most annoying aspect.

There's no denying Bastion is a great looking game. Its watercolor images are vibrant, imaginative and a joy to sit and watch. There's nothing obviously out of place about any of its visual elements. Everything spans into place and works. However, visuals play second fiddle to the audio. A grizzly narrator relates your entire adventure. He doesn't offer blow-by-blow commentary, but instead paints large strokes about what you're doing. If you equip a weapon, he'll mention it; the same goes for tonics, abilities or what you decide to do in a level.

The narrator is a cool addition. Rather than watch cutscenes or read about story elements, the narrator tells you what you need to know, all the while offering bits of color to the tale, as well as some interesting philosophical questions. It's always fun to see what the narrator has to say and, since his comments are dynamic based on what you're doing, it is even more fun to see what he'll comment on and what he won't. Once, I decided to sit in a room and hit walls, prompting the narrator to muse, "So The Kid decided to rage for a bit..."


Gameplay:

The Kid's adventure is framed by the aforementioned narration. Like any good story, you begin Bastion wrapped in mystery with no clear-cut direction of where to go. The world literally builds itself around The Kid as he runs through each level in search of shards that will help revive the Bastion, a sort of fallout shelter for the end of the world. The idea is fantastic and works great, though it also introduces a few gameplay issues.

The most notable problem is cheap damage from tumbling over the edge of the level. Your path isn't always clear, and even though enough visual cues are given to help you figure out where to go next, there are a couple of red herrings that will throw you on to the wrong path. After a couple of falls, paranoia set in, causing me to carefully step through areas. While I like the idea, it also felt it was counter-productive to the idea. I like having the story build around me without worrying I'll make a wrong step.

I've seen comparisons between Bastion and Zelda's gameplay, and while the two could be distantly-related cousins, Bastion reminded me more of Landstalker on the Genesis. Action takes place from an isometric angle and has you fighting off groups of enemies. Along the way, you'll acquire new gear and abilities. It's incredibly straightforward in design, yet you can't sleepwalk through the game. Combat forces you to think on your feet, plus you need to keep an eye out for hidden treasures that can help further enhance the Bastion and your experience.

Even after one play, you'll want to return to Bastion for another go. There's a New Game+ option that lets you carry over all of your gear and experience. The second play offers the opportunity to check out alternate decisions, and was the only way I was able to complete the three "Memories." These are unlocked during the game and offer tiered fights overlaid with narrated backstory. They're a neat addition, plus they're a good way to learn different weapon strategies.


Difficulty:

Nothing about Bastion is particularly hard, though it will challenge the hell out of you. Even simple missions will knock you on your you-know-what if you aren't careful. Though an action game, you have to watch what you're doing. There's the whole falling off the world problem, though you'll need to keep an eye on enemy attacks to make sure you don't take unnecessary damage - something Bastion is happy to hand out.

You can roll out of the way of attacks or, preferably, use your shield to block attacks. If you can time the block right, it is possible to deal counter-attack damage. Although you'll find some combination of weapons that works for you, Bastion actively encourages using other weapons. The best example is Weapon Trials, timed missions where you're asked to complete a task using a specific weapon. Trials are a great example of Bastion's difficulty curve at play. Some tasks seem impossible, but with the right strategy, you can achieve anything.

If, for whatever reason, Bastion seems too easy, you can play with Idols equipped. Idols give normal enemies abilities, like enhanced strength or resistance to certain attack types, though some are a bit more unique. For instance, one equips all enemies with an explosive that drops once they're dead. Idols make the game harder, but also boost the amount of rewards you get from killing enemies - so they're worth the gamble.


Game Mechanics:

Bastion offers a number of weapons ranging from giant hammers to a sword to a rifle. At one point, you'll even unlock a mortar cannon... so there's no real limit to what you'll find yourself wielding at any one time. Each weapon offers a completely different play style. Even the ranged weapons fill completely different roles. For example, one rifle is a long-range, precision weapon while the other is more like a musket. Combat is kept to single-button presses, though each handles differently. For instance, the long-range rifle has two lines that need to match up if you want to get a precise shot, while the hammer's damage output differs based on whether you're still or moving.

Your main goal is to rebuild Bastion using shards, which allow you to drop buildings into slots on the floating island. Each building plays a major role in how the game progresses, requiring a bit of decision-making. Do you bring in the Forge so you can upgrade your weapons quickly, or a Saloon so you can equip perk-bestowing brews? There's never a major penalty for your decision, so there isn't as big a payoff/ risk-reward system, but some choice is usually better than no choice.

Once you unlock the Forge, you can upgrade your weapons as long as you have enough money and an upgrade part, one of the aforementioned "hidden treasures" you need to keep an eye for. The upgrade system is cool. Rather than purchase one augmentation, you purchase a tier with two enhancements. One may offer a damage boost, while the other enhances accuracy. You'll undoubtedly find a setup that works for you, though some fights may be easier with certain augmentations equipped. This is true for the "Memories" fights as well as the Trials.

Bastion is a true hallmark game. The idea may not sound like a big deal, yet there was something about Bastion that kept me engrossed. There are few games that I instantly restart after the credits role (the last was Dragon Age), but I did that here. Bastion is a wonderful experience that needs to be experienced to truly appreciate.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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