The Microsoft Summer of Arcade is upon us with its first offering, Bastion. This XBOX Live Arcade action role-playing title published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and developed by Supergiant Games, generated a great deal of buzz from those who saw its trailer at E3 earlier this year. The hype level only grew larger as it approached its launch date and now it’s finally here.
Does Bastion live up to all the expectations? In short, yes, it most definitely does.
In Bastion, you play as “The Kid” and are tasked with rebuilding Caelondia after the “Great Calamity” destroyed it. “The Bastion” itself is a secret gathering place outside of Caelondia for everyone to meet if something bad happens. Unfortunately, after the calamity struck, it seems that The Kid and his trusty compatriot, “The Narrator” were the only ones to make it out alive.
Players must hack and slash their way through the destruction with the purpose of rebuilding their home city and collecting shards in order to unleash the full potential of the Bastion. As the Bastion grows, so do your powers. Eventually, the story brings with it difficult choices that you will have to make, which will affect the final outcome in big ways.
The graphics in Bastion are outstanding. Vibrant colors, well-crafted lighting, and fluid animation make this one of the most aesthetically pleasing XBLA games released thus far. The intricate detail of the world is consistent throughout the entire story, and you will catch yourself at times sitting and admiring the work that went into this. It is a world that you want to be a part of, and observing the distinctive art style is almost reason enough to get the game.
However, its story unfortunately plays second fiddle to the visuals. This is not to say that the storyline is bad, but when comparing the two, it is hard to not be overshadowed by the graphics. Overall though, the story is engaging and you do feel a sense of connection with the characters and your task. Being the one rebuilding the city you are, in part, helping to develop the story itself. This mechanic makes the experience more enjoyable and immersive.
The one aspect of Bastion other than the visuals, that everyone was interested in, was the narration system. As you progress, a narrator articulates what is happening. The narrator is a cool customer with a rugged voice, adding a layer of complexity to the game that would not have been there without him.
In the first few stages, the narration adds greatly to the experience. As the game moves forward though, the narration system starts to lose its novelty, and it seems that the narrator is just describing what you are doing as opposed to being an active participant. But hearing him say the line, “The Kid just rages for a little while” as you destroy everything around you that has no effect on the storyline, makes this narration system a special experience that draws you further into the game.
The setting and progress of Bastion is reminiscent of Super Mario Galaxy, with a central hub being the launching point for your galaxy – hopping adventure. You have the option to continue with the story, or polish your weapon skills through a variety of side stages, using a transportation system called the Skyway. In the Bastion itself, as you progress, new stores become available to build, giving you the ability to upgrade weapons, load up on tonics that give you special powers or buy new secret attacks. This is where the depth shows itself.
During the first play-through, you will get a taste of what is possible, but as you continue your journey after the story finishes, you can really take advantage of all the variety that Supergiant Games brought to the table via its new game plus option. This makes the game’s replayability factor much higher than most XBLA games on the market. We get 8-10 hours of gameplay, alternate endings and a “New Game Plus” mode, which introduces additional content and new ways to play. Trust me, there is a lot of value here.
Progressing through the game and recreating the world that has been destroyed piece by piece, as if by using your imagination, is a surprisingly engrossing experience. It will truly give you a sense of discovery and exploration due in part to the fact that it is being created right in front of your own eyes. This can be be seen as the interactive equivalent of being an artist or architect, gradually adding to a larger work. It alone makes Bastion well worth the $15 price tag.
As for the sound, there is an eclectic mix of various musical genres leading you through the game. This includes smooth acoustic guitars, drum beats, folk and Indian-influenced melodies plus even a few vocal tracks. I would say about three-quarters of the music is catchy and fun, while the other quarter is a bit experimental and overreaching. The sound effects are pretty standard, with nothing in particular standing out.
With regard to the gamplay, it uses a common hack and slash format, but there is surprising amount of depth to be seen as you get further into the game. You are outfitted with two weapons, a shield and a secret attack. There is also an evade button, allowing you to somersault your way out of danger. Enemies vary on what type of weapon they are susceptible to, so having the proper loadout, and using it efficiently is very important.
Weapons include duel pistols, machetes, hammers, muskets, mortars, and even rocket launchers. Secret attacks tend to work in conjunction with your weapons, but there are also plenty that stand alone. Using the shield and evade is paramount to your success as you will find yourself being attacked in all directions, with a large amount of enemies on screen. Retaliating by just swinging your weapon will not get you very far. Your health does tend to run out pretty quickly, so a defensive posture is essential if you do not want to keep restarting stages.
The progress of the game moves at a good pace and the stages are relatively diverse. There are branching paths available, but there is still a lack of freedom in the game considering you are always on a narrow platform with the possibility of falling off always on your mind. Luckily, you do not die when you fall, but you do lose health each time, making it more and more difficult to complete the stage.
At first, I didn’t like the fact that there were no rails to keep you from falling, but as the game progressed, I started to enjoy the sense of awareness you needed to have to keep from falling. It adds urgency and pressure to your task, and keeps you from blindly evading and hacking your opponents, bringing a surprising amount of strategy into your combat equation.
The controls, along with the gameplay, are solid. They are precise and responsive. Once you get used to the control scheme, the layout becomes second nature and using evade in conjunction with both of your weapons becomes a ‘science’ of bobbing and weaving through your enemies. Considering the narrow playing field, the controls needed to be good, and Supergiant Games achieved that. The only qualm I have is that you cannot reconfigure the control scheme, leaving you without the option of switching one of your weapons to the right trigger, something a first-person shooter fan like myself would have liked.
Overall, Bastion has outstanding visuals, an innovative narration system, solid gameplay mechanics, and high replay value. The story is good, but it is overshadowed by the creativity of the game design itself. There really weren’t many things wrong with this one and it’s a fantastic way to kick off the Summer of Arcade. I’d say definitely buy this one, you won’t regret it.
Bastion was released on July 20, 2011.