Xbox Live’s annual “Summer of Arcade” has begun once again and first up his year comes Bastion, by Supergiant Games. Bastion is an action-RPG set in an original universe where an event called the “Calamity” has wiped out most of the people in the world. The player plays as the Kid, who seems to be the sole survivor of the Calamity and must fight to the Bastion to find out what has happened.
Does the Kid make it to the Bastion? Is there any hope for his people? Why does the Kid fall everywhere? Find out after the jump.
The story is told in a very linear fashion. The Kid needs to find parts to help rebuild the Bastion, which is the central hub of the game. The Kid uses the Skyway, which is some sort of aerial highway that is the main means of transportation in the world. Bad news is, though, that because of the Calamity, it doesn’t work so well so instead of putting the player down gingerly, the Kid has to endure constant falls from the sky. Every time the player brings back a piece for the monument to the Calamity, more of the Bastion is rebuilt and allows players to buy and upgrade weapons and abilities. Every step of the way, you’ll also be led by a mysterious man with a gravely voice who narrates the journey. From the player rolling off the side of the map to the dreams and backstory of the Kid, this narration helps keep the game from stagnating during the linear path that the player must take through the story. Each level is about 15-30 minutes of gameplay so each narration is like a collection of novellas or episodes in a TV show that keep following the same train track until the end.
Above all, the music and art set this game apart from most XBLA, let alone retail titles. The art design is made up of very thick stylized brush strokes. As the player progresses through the environment, the surroundings literally lift up and are put together while the player moves. For example, there are many hidden paths that can be activated by walking towards the side of a platform and seeing that more scenery is being erected as the player gets closer to the hidden area. Even certain kinds of enemies can knock out the floor underneath the Kid, thereby making the levels more treacherous. From the enemies to the set pieces, the game feels like a storybook coming to life. The music helps this storybook feeling by always setting the mood of the moment without feeling overpowering. Certain story points revolve around music motifs which are beautifully put together along with the rest of the western cowboy movie-like soundtrack.
The RPG elements are integrated through a leveling system that allows players to choose more and more “spirits” that act like perks and passive abilities that help a player make it through the different levels. There are also vigils and weapons challenges that unlock more upgrades and abilities for the Kid as the player progresses and defeats them. For an added challenge, players can invoke certain deities to raise the difficulty. For instance, one of the deities causes defeated enemies to drop small explosives when killed but also grants an XP bonus to the player. The deities add a nice twist to the gameplay since they can be turned off between levels and levels can be restarted without them on. Think of them like the Skulls from the Halo series – gameplay modifiers that add extra challenge.
Combat is fairly simple and is reminiscent of Torchlight on XBLA. Players can use two weapons (not duel-wielding, however) plus a special ability that requires tonics that players can pick up. Players start out with a hammer and rapid-fire dart gun and will eventually find machetes, dueling pistols, carbines, an several more. Each weapon can be upgraded several times, and the upgrades can stack with each other, giving big bonuses to things like critical hits. A great part of the upgrading system is that once players choose an initial upgrade, the other options in that row can be swapped out for no cost. This helps the weapons maintain versatility while not locking players out of any one particular path. If I want to be more concerned with dealing extra damage instead of criticals, I can change my gear accordingly.
Problems? To be honest, the only major malfunction of the game is the lack of save points. When the player falls off the platforms, the Kid falls back onto the map and takes a hit to their health rather than die outright. If a player’s health hits zero then he or she gets to revive right there once per level. While being able to revive on the spot with little penalty is nice, it can be difficult to get out of a mess but also equally painful to restart a level. A minor annoyance that I have run into only a few times is that due to the camera angle and nature of the levels, sometimes it can be a bit hard to tell where the edge is and players can just fall off. I also wish that I could go back an replay a level after completing it but I can live without that feature since there is a New Game+ feature available after beating the game.
Overall, Bastion is simply phenomenal. This game is a prime example of quality indie work and that it does not take a team of 200 to make an amazing game. Oh, and if I told you whether or not there was any hope, then I would just be spoiling the story…
Bastion was released on July 20th, 2011 for Xbox 360, and will be released on August 16th, 2011 for PC. Review is based on the Xbox 360 version.