Sunday, November 20, 2011

Forty Three - Bastion

If it seems like a short time between now and last time, it's because I played a short game between now and last time. Am I deliberately seeking out shorter games to help me complete this quest of mine? ...Maybe. Anyhow, the new game is Bastion and it was quite good.

Bastion is an indie game that strives to be unique, but it also has high production values and a tightness to its gameplay that offsets some of the negative connotations of the phrase "indie videogame." You're a kid, known as The Kid, who wakes up one day to find that most of his world has been erased by something known as The Calamity. The Kid can restore the world by restoring the broken ruins, on the way collecting energy cores and shards that can expand Bastion, a floating island protected from The Calamity. Meeting The Kid in Bastion is The Stranger, an elderly gentleman that is very knowledgeable about the world and serves as the game's narrator.

This narrator is kind of important, because he narrates The Kid's every action. If you kill every Windbag (a type of enemy) in an area, he might say something like "The Kid didn't let any Windbags by him that day, but that wasn't the last of them, neither." The Narrator speaks with a folksy drawl and a gravelly, textured baritone; it makes me think of a Western movie, probably starring someone like Sam Elliott. The narration serves to provide exposition to each area The Kid visits, to move the story along by describing what's going on behind the scenes in Bastion, and to add a little flavor and identity to the game itself. I liked it. It works.

The gameplay is basically a typical hack-and-slash not unlike Diablo or even Deathspank. What's special about it is the surprisingly good amount of customization. The Kid has eleven weapons he can use, which range from a giant hammer to blades to a bow and arrows to a shotgun. You get the game's final weapon in the second-to-last dungeon, and you obtain new weapons at a steady pace throughout the story. In addition to weapons, items that upgrade weapons, and the game's MacGuffins (Cores and Shards), The Kid can pick up fragments that are used as currency, scrolls that teach him Specials, and mementos of the world pre-Calamity that can unlock things in Bastion.

The Kid can equip two weapons at once and one Special at once - Specials are secret moves that are performed by using the kid's "magic meter" and many of them can only be equipped along with a certain weapon. On top of this, each weapon can be upgraded up to five times, and each upgrade has two branches that can be switched between one another. My favorite combination in the mid-game was to forgo melee weapons, equip the game's shotgun with the spray set as wide as possible and the knockback as strong as possible, and then to pick off enemies with whatever long-range weapon I had was the strongest (usually the bow and arrow, but not at game's end, oh no....). Bastion feels like a Diablo clone when it comes down to the nitty-gritty, but does not ever feel dull or samey due to the variety injected into The Kid's moveset. Really, I'm impressed that this game's character feels so versatile with so little.

One weakness in the action was in the basic mouse+keyboard interface. Weapon attacks are governed by mouse clicks. When you use a weapon, it will always aim in the direction of the mouse target icon. This is just fine for ranged weapons, but for melee weapons it can get confusing; melee attacks won't track to enemies you're right next to. Dodging, on the other hand, will always occur in the direction The Kid is facing, which led to many a tumble off a cliff in my playthrough. Still, this is one small qualm and not a deal-breaker.

Visually, the game is stunning. It feels like a post-apocalyptic version of Oz or Wonderland, with its rainbow-colored tiles and varied environments. As The Kid walks around, the path ahead will be restored and new blocks, tiles, and props will fly from the emptiness beneath the floor. It's a pretty cool visual effect that manages not to wear out its welcome. The sprites and isometric field are all clean and well-animated, and the game is constantly introducing new stages, enemies, and gimmicks to its gameplay. Bastion's only real weakness in that regard is that it's so short that it doesn't get a chance to give you very many.

Bastion is short. Longer than inFamous: Festival of Blood, but shorter than Torchlight or even Cthulhu Saves the World. There are only 14-16 stages in the main game, and some of them can be completed in 15 minutes or so. The game's 5-hour playtime is very well-paced and the difficulty curve is reasonable, but I would have been happier if it had been longer.

Once you finish the main game in Bastion, there is still reason to keep playing. Bastion has at least two endings (possibly more, because there are two world-changing decisions made by the player at the end), and there is a New Game+ feature to reach that second ending faster. There are twelve challenge stages (one for each weapon and one for your shield) that unlock Specials and upgrade materials, plus three long-form horde stages where you can fight waves of enemies for money. It wouldn't be hard to artificially inflate the playtime of this game by indulging in its endgame content, but I have a quest to finish. Maybe next year, Bastion, but for now you're just a four-hour game to me. At least it was good while it lasted.

Games Beaten: 2011 Edition

1. Mario vs. Donkey Kong
2. Primal Rage
3. Torchlight Hat Trick
4. Ghost Trick
5. Flower
6. Batman: Arkham Asylum
7. Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus
8. Sly 2: Band of Thieves
9. Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves
10. Tales of Eternia
11. Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds
12. Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII
13. 999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors
14. Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation
15. Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime
16. Dragon Age: Origins
17. Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky
18. inFamous Evil Finish
20. inFamous 2 Good Finish
21. Big Bang Mini
22. Final Fight: Double Impact
23. Breath of Death VII: The Beginning
24. Cthulhu Saves the World
25. Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword
26. Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening
27. Disgaea Infinite
28. X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse
29. Jeanne d'Arc
30. Dragon Age II
31. Jade Empire
32. Cthulhu's Angels
33. DeathSpank: Orphans of Justice
34. Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten
35. Marvel: Ultimate Alliance
36. Trine
37. Prince of Persia '08
38. Final Fantasy IV: Anniversary Edition
39. Professor Layton and the Last Specter
40. inFamous: Festival of Blood
41. Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
42. Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
43. Bastion


Next up will probably be one of my unplayed PS3 games, but I'm not sure which one yet. I know what my final four or five games in this quest will be (or at least what I'll try to have them be), but for now it's a little unclear. I'll probably fire something new up tonight.

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