The build up to the release of Bastion from Supergiant Games has generated a buzz so thick you could cut it with a proverbial knife. With the action-RPG genre becoming a rather crowded market of late, the question is whether it does enough to fill the hyperbole-lined shoes it’s been forced into?
Bastion follows the adventure of the otherwise nameless `Kid`, one of the very few survivors of an event known as the Calamity which has torn the world asunder. This devastation is a key part of Bastion’s presentation – with a rich and varied palette that almost oozes colour out of your screen, the heavily stylised isometric world populates itself in front of your eyes as you move around. Floor tiles, structures and other items rise up out of the nothingness, bringing with them plenty of enemies to destroy and objects to smash for rewards.
The use of this constantly populating world is certainly a rather unique approach, which works well in the context of the backstory. Thankfully it’s handled well too, since the player can fall off the edges of the map it would have been easy to have gotten it wrong and have them blundering to their death, unsure of what direction will spawn more ground underfoot to progress. Thankfully the way forward is usually pretty well signposted, although exploration of just out of reach areas for extra treats does feel a little bit trial and error on times. Insta-death is not generally a concern though, as taking a tumble simply causes you to face plant back on solid ground, minus some health.
Picking his way through what remains of the world, The Kid arrives at the Bastion and, guided by a mysterious old man, sets about rebuilding the central hub world and trying to figure out exactly what happened. This old man is actually a pivotal part of the game, even before you meet him, as he serves to constantly narrate the story in real time. In this age where videogames try to make a big deal of their interactive storytelling prowess, Bastion’s approach is one of the few that actually manages to capture the feel of being told a story in a traditional manner. Used not only to deliver plot points and key story moment, the narrator also chimes in with little updates on the player’s status or actions. These asides are undeniably a nice touch, but after a couple of hours the constant babble may wear a little thin with some and it could be argued that the length to which it uses this novelty is slightly superfluous on times.
Combat is an essential element of the game and it quickly starts to throw different weapons and skills at you to allow you to take on the hoard of enemies. There are ranged and melee weapons to get to grips with and gathering up power cores and crystals allows you to expand the Bastion’s hub and then spend time upgrading your weapons and skills. Key to defending yourself is the shield which helps you deflect enemy attacks, essential when used with good timing to inflict some counter-damage on your aggressors.
There’s also a wealth of tonics which can be purchased and put in a limited number of available slots which unlock as you level up. Introducing extra offensive or defensive skills, some others grant handy abilities such as attracting crystals like a magnet to help you scoop them up. Just like upgrades, once unlocked these can be swapped on a whim back at the Bastion, so the player can always go back a re-tool themselves for a section if it’s giving them too much trouble. In the other direction of making things more challenging, the use of shrines causes enemies to become tougher or more numerous, with the increased risk giving more rewards from their defeat. So, all in all, there’s enough to tinker with around the periphery to make sure that Bastion earns its RPG-lite hat.
Alongside the main story there are also a number of leaderboard enabled challenges which allow you to demonstrate your proficiency with the weapons. These range from hitting a set number of targets, to dispatching a specific number of enemies and should keep people interested if they’re after a more competitive aspect. RPG fans will also be thrilled with the option for a New Game+ which tries to temp them back in for increased longevity, even offering an Achievement for their extended efforts.
Bastion’s mechanics certainly aren’t anything that hasn’t been seen in countless other games and XBLA users who have recently played the likes of Torchlight will certainly find all of this more than a bit familiar. However, what should propel Bastion right on to your radar is that it does it all with an exceptional flare for presentation. While it’s core themes might sometimes feel like a mishmash of styles, visually it’s always treat to behold and there’s also a cracking soundtrack to wrap your ears around, used to good effect in places.
That isn’t to say the game isn’t without its faults – or rather minor irritations. There’s a slight element of slow down on times, the loading screens can seem a little too frequent if flitting back and forth areas, and there’s also a section encountered by this reviewer where a large difficulty spike was produced by the way the game funnels you into it. This mean if you aren’t careful in your choices up to that point, you can find yourself massively underpowered, however this simply requires more effort on the player’s part to upgrade before trying again.
All these negative points serve as distraction rather than game breaking. What’s left with Bastion is a solid title that, while not as innovative as you might have been led to believe, is presented in a style that you can tell has been slaved over with great dedication by the small development team. The end result is an extremely well put together game which is unique enough to warrant a large chunk of anyone’s time and money.