Review: Bastion (XBLA)

The team at Supergiant Games may be small, but their first title, an RPG called Bastion, has been making all sorts of waves including over 15 ‘best of’ awards and nominations at E3 this year. The main problem is that to fully appreciate Bastion, one must see it in action (we will come back to “why” later on).

Whilst a fair few RPGs start off in a bright and cheery village, things are very different in Bastion. The world has been ravaged by an event known as ‘The Calamity’, and you (“the kid”) awake alone in a pile of rubble. You need to head to a place called the ‘Bastion’, where your people were supposed to go in case anything ever went wrong. When you arrive there all you find is an old man, the narrator of this tale, who believes he can fix everything that’s happened, but he needs your help. You must go and find pieces of the Bastion’s core, which are necessary to restore it to full power… but what is its true purpose?

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I’m going to be totally honest; I am struggling to find the words to convey how fantastic I think Bastion is. The problem is that whilst the game has some great features, when you try and put them into words they actually sound quite boring. Bear with me, though, because the game is anything but boring.

[videoyoutube]One of the unique selling points of Bastion is its narration. The game dynamically narrates what you’re doing and forms it into part of the story. Smash a group of market stalls and the narrator will comment on how the kid needed to blow off some steam. The first time you fall off a level you get the comment “and then, he falls to his death”, before you respawn, to which he continues “I’m just foolin'”. Rather than multiple cutscenes, or a wall of text, the narration provides you with all the story information you need, as you need it.

It works so well, mainly because Logan Cunningham, the voice of the narrator (the same voice as in the trailer below), does an absolutely flawless job of drawing you into the world of Bastion. His voice is like gravel dipped in honey, and I could listen to it all day long. What makes his performance all the more impressive is the fact that this is his first stint at videogame voice work. Couple Logan’s performance with a fantastic script, made up of 3000 lines of dialogue, and what you get is something very special.

Visually the game goes for a hand painted, 2D look with an isometric viewpoint. It’s gorgeous, possibly the nicest looking XBLA game out there, and evokes memories of RPGs of the SNES era, albeit with a massively shiny coat of paint. Another interesting point is the fact that levels build around you as you walk, which is a unique experience.

The music is also completely spot on. Labelled as ‘acoustic frontier trip-hop’, the first thing many people will think of is the TV series ‘Firefly’. Whatever you want to call it, there’s no denying how effective it is with some immensely catchy, and in some instances moving, pieces of music. I can’t even tell you what tune is my favourite, for fear of ruining plot points, but I would happily buy the soundtrack if it ever got released (hint hint, Supergiant).

Although labelled as an RPG, there is far more action than stat-grinding. Battles take place in real time, and can be over in seconds if you attack hard enough. The kid can carry two weapons at once, as well as a shield and a secret move. The weapons you find scattered throughout all handle differently; from hammer to flamethrower, machete to spear, it’s worth taking the time to find your favourite combination. You may favour the speed of the machete coupled with the slow but powerful mortar, or the strong but slow spear matched with the dual pistols. All your weapons can be upgraded, too, with each upgrade offering you the choice of two options, normally focusing on either power or speed. The combat is actually pretty basic stuff, but the rate at which new weapons are introduced makes up for this.

[drop]Throughout the game the Bastion acts as your hub, and every time you return with a piece of the core you are allowed to construct one building to help you on your way. It’s here where you will find the distillery. Earn enough XP and you’ll level up, which allows you to assign yourself a spirit from the distillery. Each spirit has a different effect, such as giving a 1% chance of avoiding a fatal attack, and you can equip a fair few as long as you have unlocked the required level. They make a difference, too, and have gotten me out a trouble a number of times. There are other types of building, but I’ll let you find out about them for yourself.

When the game starts the difficultly is set to easy, but rather than offer an additional normal and hard mode, Bastion has something rather novel up its sleeve. Entering a shrine will see you presented with a number of Gods, as long as you have unlocked them. Each God has a different ability, and if you select one their ability will have an immediate impact on the world. An example of this would be making it so that enemies hit harder, and have a faster strike rate. To offset this you may be granted a bonus, such as more XP. It’s a good system as the game is fairly easy bar one or two places.

Unfortunately, despite a claim of an 8-10 hour initial play length, I got through Bastion much faster than that. I didn’t time it exactly, but it can’t have been more than 5-6 hours. I did miss a couple of optional missions, but certainly not enough to explain the difference. There is plenty of incentive to play through again, though, with a New Game+ mode opening up and a second ending to see.

Pros

  • The narration is a genius idea.
  • Looks stunning.
  • Fantastic soundtrack.
  • Variety of weapons.
  • The shrine is a clever idea.

Cons

  • Combat may be too simplistic for some.
  • Initial story length was disappointing.

Bastion is an absolutely fantastic game. The narration, the visuals, and the audio are all done to a standard one might expect from a studio ten times the size. Whilst the combat is simplistic, it matches the fast paced nature of the game perfectly. Ironically the things that make the game stand out might be what puts off a lot of people (some YouTube comments on the narration have been less than polite), but all I can say is try out the demo and decide for yourself. As for me…well, I’m heading back to the Bastion. Can’t expect the kid to do it all by himself…

Score: 10/10

Bastion will be heading to PC later this year. A PS3 version has not been ruled out.

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30 Comments

  1. DO WANT!

  2. I didn read the full review yet. But the art style strongly reminds me of Braid. Although the gameplay isn’t anything close to that.
    It certainly looks like a great title, and not just because of the 10/10 at the bottom.

  3. HYPE OVERLOAD. Need this, now.

  4. Now the only question is: Will it take 6 or 12 Months before it comes to PSN?

    • They’re focusing on the PC version next. Then I reckon it will be PS3 time. Within a year I’d guess.

      • I’ll buy the PC version and then the PS3 version, I reckon.
        Maybe they might throw a little goodness the way of the Vita?

        Looks amazing! I don’t know how I haven’t heard of this before, but between the review and the trailer, this has shot way up on my most wanted list!

      • Sounds great. PS3 version please…

  5. This game looks great! I saw a trailer for it during E3 and i had high expectations! So i looked into a release date and such, to only find out it wasn’t coming to PS3! :( I really hope it does in future!

  6. Wow, looks and sounds brilliant, you’ve really sold it…
    …but I’m not sure if it’s the kind of game I want to play right now. I’ll get it on PC if it comes to Steam.

  7. Not hugely into RPGs but this looks lush, lovely crisp HD art style.

  8. Sounds pretty great. Think I’ll have to pick that up soon!

  9. Sounds great. Don’t see how 5-6 hours is disappointing for a downloadable title though?

    • It’s short for a downloadable RPG.

  10. sounds great, and looks it too.

    i actually like the idea of the narration.
    as somebody who never managed to get into D&D, not knowing anybody who plays was a problem, i like the idea of the game having narration.
    it would be interesting to see other games do something similar.

    i just watched a gameplay video from december last year and the producer, or director, said they were making xbla, psn and pc versions.
    so hopefully we’ll see this on psn sooner rather than later.

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