Typically when a game’s length comes into question, it’s because of triple-digit hours on one save file. However, Bastion is one of those rare flames that petered out too quickly. Whether this complements the strong gameplay and story or serves as a complaint of an unfinished product is up to the reader. I am certain of this, though: some developer somewhere is scribbling down ways to turn Bastion’s novel approach to RPGs into a multi-million dollar project.
Few games can claim that they revolutionized the industry, and when they do, it’s the one simple, novel idea that makes the mark. For Bastion, that’s the velvety narrator who comments on nearly every aspect of gameplay. Fall off the landscape? He’s got something to say about it. Thwart a boss without getting nicked? Expect a new piece of dialogue. Choose any two weapons? Prepare to methodically run through every combination of equipment.
But he does more than simply comment. The narrator tells the story from the perspective of a weathered, rustic old man who’s made mistakes and bears the burden of regret. At the same time, he speaks of The Kid as a champion—someone who can make things right. And that’s where you come in: as The Kid, you have the opportunity to fix a sort of man-made apocalypse called the Calamity. Finding survivors along the way, The Kid has to restore power back to Bastion, the protagonists’ headquarters.
By finding crystals through linearly explored areas, The Kid grants Bastion energy, and buildings for some reason. Players have the illusion of choice when deciding which structure to erect, each of which grants some sort of ability or perk. The Arsenal, for example, allows the player to choose which weapons he’d like to equip, as well as a super power. Alternatively, the Shrine invokes the gods, which can make the game more difficult with a slight boost to experience and money; it’s worth mentioning that the ways in which a player may increase difficulty are creative and keep the game new. However, all aspects of the game maintain a pine-fresh scent.
Initially, Bastion’s quick-paced, action-based gameplay is good, simple fun. Truly, without activating an idol or two, the game is a bit on the easy side. Though, should you falter, you’re granted one reprieve. An additional pratfall results in running the entire level over again. Normally, a lack of checkpoints in extensive stages is a critical game design flaw, but with adjustable difficulty, this is more than fair. For those looking for a challenge and adrenaline rush, the penalty of running some of the longer levels over again can be enticing; however, those who enjoy whimsical hack-n-slashery need just avoid the idols. Although the game gets harder over time even in its vanilla state, leveling up and weapon upgrades maintain one’s interest.
When leveling up and choosing a potion to make The Kid stronger, players have several choices to make. Do I want more mobility when holding up my shield, or do I want to have a slight increase to critical chance? Another shop allows players to purchase gods for the Shrine, potions for leveling up perks, and even special powers for the Arsenal. Other buildings include achievements and weapon upgrading with customization.
Although Bastion egregiously offers pseudo-choices the way so many other games of its ilk do, the customization, challenges, and achievements are well thought out. Valve and Kongregate will tell you with firsthand experience that easy, medium, and hard difficulty achievements are necessary if goal-setting is going to motivate players even a bit; Bastion has this covered. I completed certain auxiliary objectives without even knowing about them, while others took conscious effort and practice.
Thankfully, customization makes challenges easier. In this way, some of the side missions can be thought of more as puzzles with an element of skill, but others will require finesse, alacrity, and accuracy to conquer. However, I didn’t find any Excalibur equivalents, and even if I thought I did, my brother glanced over at my screen and asked me how the heck I was using that weapon combination and special power; the sentiments were reciprocated. And isn’t this the goal of any designer who includes gameplay options?
As alluded to in the beginning of the review, Bastion is more than just gameplay and a novel plot: it’s an experience. For those who’ve read my King’s Bounty reviews, you’re probably well-aware of my love of color. Modern gaming can be so monochrome and drab that when a game as vibrant as Bastion comes along, the appeal is two-fold; not only is color in itself enticing, but we’re so starved for it that our love for it is accentuated. Additionally, not only has Bastion been graced by daubs of the palette, it’s extremely busy. While clutter can certainly reach a threshold, Bastion never oversteps its bounds. The developers made sure to keep the minds and eyes of its consumers occupied while not getting in their way. Another marvel of the layout is just how intuitive foreground breakables are. Many other games leave questions as to what can be examined and destroyed, and what is meant to be left alone in the background. Some may complain that foreground pillars and structures can get in the way, but this reviewer perceives that as a necessary evil given how beautiful the game is.
But what would a game be without music to match the visuals? Although most of the music is forgettable, some of the tunes have lasting power. Keeping with the atmosphere of a western, the occasional acoustic guitar and harmonica make for some innovative RPG music. However, the aural highlights of Bastion lie in its vocal numbers. Simple instrumentation matched with truly melodious voices grants us serene, wistful songs. Couple this with intelligent lyrics, and Bastion leaves an imprint on anyone with a love of music or beating heart.
Typically, voice acting hurts or helps in a humble way. To my knowledge, never has a game been recommended purely because of the voice acting, but Bastion might be the first. Sure, we play games to enjoy deep, fun gameplay and funny or immersive storytelling. However, what if the defining feature was its narrator, and how that story was told? Take away Bastion’s voice, and that leaves a pretty good game with fun combat in a slightly unique take on a post-apocalyptic world. With the voice, Bastion isn’t just a great game, it’s a work of art. Never before had I anticipated a person’s name in the credits of a game, just so I could seek them out online and see what they’ve done and what they will do. I would be absolutely astonished and floored if this is the last we hear of Logan Cunningham.
Finally, the controls are what you would expect of a game of this caliber. Nigh-perfect in its intuitive rolling and hit detection, the only complaints I can make are in its auto-targeting mechanism. Due to Bastion’s archaic take on defending, players may steer clear of the shield due to its unreliability. When defending, The Kid automatically faces the nearest target, which makes sense on paper. However, if a hippity-hop of doom is Blaster Mastering its way towards you while a far-off cannon launches generic pellets, The Kid won’t turn his shield toward the more immediate threat but instead focus his energy on the slow moving frog. Though, aside from this flaw, the controls are satisfying and fluid.
When I close a good, long book, I always feel a little sad, as if I had just said good bye to an old friend. I want to know what happens to the characters that I grew to love, but I have to accept the end and move on. Bastion is a short game, which will run most people around five or six hours. Nevertheless, I feel that same kind of loss. Although I truly believe that Bastion could have doubled its length in terms of gameplay, I’m glad that the story didn’t risk imploding on itself. Don’t let anyone tell you this is a Diablo clone—that would cheapen Bastion; it needs to be heard to be believed.