Here’s a game that caused quite a stir as it was making it’s way to release. Between the way the map sort of floats into place before you and the promise of a narrator that reacts to you rather then repeating the same tired line as long as necessary till you get past point A B or C, a lot of dungeon crawler fans were watching. While it looked interesting, it wasn’t something I personally was hyped up about. However, as I put down my controller for the last time I have to admit, those guys were really onto something.
Story: The boy awoke in his bed, and the world as he knew it was no longer there. The Calamity had struck and taken the world with it. How he survived, how long it had been, and why he stayed, the game never says. But really, it’s not important. What is far more important is that he is the last human in the city, which is currently floating above the world and held together by an item known as a core. Of course taking that core means running like hell before the kid falls to his death… and at the end of that run is the Bastion and another survivor will narrate the story for you, the player. He also tells the kid that the Bastion can fix the world.
But in order to do that, the kid will need to travel to various locations held afloat by the very cores the kid will need to fix it all. While this sounds straight-forward, it will surprise you as you go along and by the end, you will have to nod to yourself as a video game just told you a pretty damn good story about what happens after the end of the world.
Graphics: Prepare for your jaw to drop. For the first time in what seems like forever, we are looking at a completely 2D sprite based game. There are no 3D backgrounds and no items, enemies, or characters rendered as models. Just lovingly painted backgrounds with equally lovingly painted sprites running around in a bird’s-eye-view that hasn’t been seen like this since companies pretty much decided gamers love 3D things only sometime last decade.
So how does it look? In a word beautiful. The art style is bright, vibrant, and colorful in a way that most games today seem to want to avoid like the plague. The style behind it reminds me a lot of Braid but that could just be the faces of the humans in the game. The characters look bulky, and a little bit cartoony, but they carry their own personalities that also transcend into their behavior on the screen. Add this to supporting most native resolutions available today and perfect frame-rates, and there is literally nothing I can say bad about the look of the game, at all. 2D sprites are an art-form, and here, we can see a few masters at work.
Sound: Just like the graphics, the sound in this game really stands out… and in a good way. Most people will immediately adore the sound track and with good reason: it is simply amazing. From the light guitar-work to the actually sung songs, there is nothing to complain about here. Yes, you heard me right, this is one of the few games where the sound track includes vocals, AND is good enough steam sells it as DLC.
But this is not the real star for your ears in this game. Instead, I give you, the Narrator. As mentioned before, he is a character you will meet early in the game, but his job goes well beyond when you see him on screen. As often as not, he lays out commentary to your actions and the things happening around you like this is his story to tell and you are sitting at the campfire listening to him. If you rolled your eyes as I describe this, I can completely understand, but in this case, you would be completely wrong. The narrator is a great addition to the game, partially because he doesn’t repeat himself… ever. So you never get bored or annoyed of hearing him say the same things over. Furthermore his voice is just about perfect for the job. The only ways this could get better is if it was Morgan Freeman or Patrick Stewart who played the role.
Gameplay: Bastion is a top-down dungeon crawler, and as such carries a lot of the tropes you would expect from the genre. You will run around each of the levels killing enemies and gaining XP while hunting down the cores you need to complete the game. However, if you play these kinds of games looking for loot dropped by the enemies you face, you may be in for some disappointment. No enemy is going to drop anything outside of cash, health potions, and “black tonics,” but we will get back to those in a moment. Instead, everything you find is pretty much in a pre-determined place on the map, making your hunts for loot turn up a little leaner then you would probably like.
That is not to say the game should be avoided though. Combat is action packed, and relies on learning rhythm, both that of your enemies and that of your own weapons, whichever ones you choose at that moment. And you will have a healthy selection to pick from, ranging from hammers and blades to dueling pistols and mortar cannons. Between the variety and the ability to upgrade them with items you find in the levels/buy at the store, there is plenty of variety to choose from. And with each weapon having it’s own mechanics, you are sure to find a combination that suits you well.
That combination will be made up of two weapons and a special technique. Some such techniques will require a specific weapon to work, but others will be completely independent of the weapons you equip. Most of them are very effective, but they each require you to use a black tonic to use, eliminating your ability to rely on them over your main weapons. At first, you will start carrying 3, but considering the game give you your max when you enter any given level and can be very generous with them via drops, this is hardly an issue. This is also how health potions work, so do not be afraid to use what you need.
The only thing I can say against combat is that you should probably play this one with a controller. Yes you can play with a keyboard and mouse, but this game was originally made for the 360. And while it controls well enough on a mouse, small annoyances like your dodge following the direction of your character instead of where the mouse is on the screen will throw off a lot of gamers used to the standards set by the Diablo franchise for mouse control in a dungeon crawler game. You will save yourself a lot of frustration and frankly enjoy the game a lot more if you just plug in a controller and lean back.
Between levels, you will also have the option to do various things at the Bastion, be it upgrade weapons, change weapons, buy things from the lost & found, or even select different spirits from the distillery (to give you bonus effects). These are not all available to you right away, but you will open them up in the order of your choosing as you bring back cores and make the Bastion stronger.
Bugs: Honestly, I never found one while playing this game. It ran perfectly and was a well-tuned piece of software.
Overall: If you like dungeon crawlers, there is no reason not to dig this one up. This is one of the better ones we have seen in a long while, and you will have fun while running around to fix the Bastion… and the world. If you are into old-school action games, you will probably get a lot out of this too, since this is a very action oriented game, complete with the keys to success being to learn the patterns of your enemies. It is a pretty short game, but at $15, this shouldn’t hold you back. It’s worth the price.