In case anyone is wondering, no, I didn’t play Bastion when it first released in 2011. Hence, please save your, “I knew this game was awesome four years ago; where the hell have you been?” comments. Now that Supergiant’s fantastic action/RPG is available on PS4, I finally gave it a try and I came away suitably impressed. Excellently paced, wonderfully presented, and always charming, Bastion is a game that enraptures. When I sit down to play, I do so with a smile on my face. The modern gamer is blessed with having such a vast, diverse array of interactive experiences, and this is a perfect example of a game that simply pulls you in and keeps you involved.
It’s the art design and overall visual prowess that struck me from the outset. Exceedingly colorful and impregnated with rich, vibrant hues throughout, the cornucopia of colors and shades is downright intoxicating. Just about everything, from the silky smooth animations to the gorgeous backdrops, is a testament to the developer’s passion and talent. Very occasionally, visibility becomes a minor issue (during particularly frantic moments of action) but it’s to be expected in such games. There’s just so much going on and the striking visual nature of the production always takes center-stage; you just want to see everything all the time. The playful character and enemy designs are another big highlight.
In most cases, a game is propelled by intense sound effects or a gripping, emotional soundtrack. While Bastion has quality effects and a great score, I found that it was the narrator’s gravelly, vaguely Western-toned style that cemented the experience. At first, I thought his input would become increasingly tiresome and intrusive but in fact, I started to look forward to his storytelling. It gives the game a real sense of adventure, in that it feels like you’re traversing a folklore story of sorts, one that will be retold to generations of eager listeners. The effects are top-notch, too, and the music puts its own stamp on each engaging level. The balancing of all these audio elements is quite impressive as well.
Perhaps one of the most ironic and intriguing parts of this game is the thematic contrast: The world has suffered a terrible tragedy, which the omnipresent narrator refers to as “The Calamity.” However, despite the darkness and confusion into which humanity has been plunged, the colorful environment keeps us in good spirits. Considering the premise, one might assume we’d get a stark, harsh background that is more forbidding. Instead, while only pieces of the world – apparently floating in space – remain, it seems much of life’s most attractive features have withstood “The Calamity.” It really can be a very pretty place, even when you’re set upon by various demons and unholy denizens.
You will traverse a variety of levels, each of which is situated on one of the aforementioned pieces of floating land. They’re short, compact levels that drive you forward with a compelling sense of urgency. For instance, at first, you’re trying to find all the necessary cores to complete the expansion of the Bastion. The latter is your headquarters; it’s what you build to assist your character’s expansion. This is where you can change equipment and special abilities, equip special Spirits that give you a stat boost or buff of some kind, and check out some unique challenges. This is your new home and as such, you’ll always return here to get your bearings. You will also encounter a few lingering souls along your way and they can tell you more about the story.
Control is just about right. You move easily and smoothly, although it can be frustrating to fall. Thing is, you can indeed fall off those floating land masses (doing so only means you lose a little health) but sometimes, you’re not sure where you can step. There are many times when the land begins to fall away beneath your feet – like when you’re engaged in a pitched battle, for example – and it gets a little confusing. One minute, I magically run across a gap and the next, I fall through it. I think maybe dodge-rolling makes you immune to falling in those gaps…? It’s hard to say. I just know this could’ve been a little better defined. Otherwise, movement is easy as pie; you just have to master the controller.
I say this because you end up using just about every button. And you have to use many of them quickly and effectively, as there isn’t usually a lot of time to think. Press Circle to use your primary weapon, press Square to use your secondary weapon, X dodge-rolls, Triangle heals, L2 brings out the shield, R2 executes your special ability, etc. There are times when you get a little muddled; i.e., you press the wrong button. But the game isn’t so demanding that you’re brutally punished for such missteps. And of course, the more you play the fewer mistakes you make. Again, I think visibility can be somewhat hampered given the static camera view and how small your character sometimes appears, but it’s a minor drawback.
Above all else, the game is ridiculously fun. It’s the combination of a surprisingly compelling narrative and an extremely well-paced quest. There’s a substantial challenge if you look for it; in other words, if you wish to earn all the rewards for each weapon, you have to pass a series of trials. But there’s nothing especially taxing about the standard gameplay difficulty, which is part of why the game flows so well. Plus, continually experimenting with weapons and abilities keeps the adventure fresh, and the distinct RPG vibe comes into play quite often. In a lot of ways, I think this is the epitome of the “action/RPG” simply because it pulls significantly from both genres. There’s plenty of twitch-related action and a healthy dose of depth via role-playing goodness.
With every step, you’re uncovering something new. You’re conquering a new piece of the recently destroyed world, discovering different pieces of the story that led to the fall of humanity, and powering up. You’re constantly in the flow of things; you’re always moving forward, you’re always collecting and experimenting, and you’re always having a blast. You won’t encounter infuriating moments when you died a cheap death, nor will you grow bored due to extra leniency. The game features a near-perfect blend and balance of gameplay, atmosphere, story, and depth. This isn’t easy to do and it’s especially impressive in an indie production. You don’t get this kind of attention to detail and meticulous care in many of the AAA titles.
Bastion is a joy. It’s a game that has all the pieces in place. The key to the game’s immense entertainment value is how unbelievably well each piece marries to the next; the result is a smorgasbord of color and action, and one you will undoubtedly appreciate. There are a few small shortcomings but by and large, Supergiant smashed this one out of the park. It should come as no surprise that they also produced the excellent Transistor, which was one of last year’s better digital offerings. For a robust, highly enjoyable game with enough charm and charisma to last for months, you’ve got to check out Bastion.
The Good: Beautiful, eye-catching visual presentation. Excellent narration throughout. Story is solid without being intrusive or erratic. Top-notch control. Fantastic balancing, in terms of both technical and gameplay elements. Difficulty feels just about right. Always fun and even addictive.
The Bad: Visibility can occasionally be an issue.
The Ugly: “At this point, I’m not sure Supergiant can make anything that’s ‘ugly.’”
4/27/2015 Ben Dutka