Bastion is quite simply one of the best games ever made.
A lot of times as a game reviewer you wonder what kind of game people like us would make. Certainly being exposed to decades of games both good and bad, popular and obscure that you would know what works and what doesn't, and most importantly whats good about a game and whats bad about a game. It might seem like common sense but so many games even with 70 million dollar budgets still get it wrong. A lot of games still don't know how to explain stories well, and fewer know how to present all the elements of sound, graphics, and story in a well orchestrated harmony, and some even don't get the fundamentals of gameplay combat right. Perhaps then it's not surprising then that Bastion is capable of doing all these things where most games fail and the best ones only do at most two of these things. Make no mistake, this game certainly was a team effort but it's easy to see a lot of the elements in Bastion that made it from a great game to a superb one, was inspired by a lot of games that Greg Kasavin was very fond of.
In Bastion you play a silent protagonist named “The Kid”. And after waking up in bed, you come to see that the entire world around you has basically shattered in an event called “The Calamity”, and you must head to the Bastion which is the place to be if anything bad happened. You come to see the Bastion unfinished, and the only way to fix it is to go out and search for these “cores” that will help build The Bastion one structure at a time. Advice from a mysterious stranger that doubles as the narrator, explains in the beginning in a simple way that building the bastion will fix the calamity. It sounds like an incredibly simple premise and wouldn't have that much in the way of depth, but you'd be surprised by the level of detail into the background and lore of the world. Later on you start to learn about the city that used to be, The Bastion itself, and the conflict that led to The Calamity. But the thing is that it never feels overwhelming because Bastion is so well paced, the introduction doesn't tell you all this information until you grasped the basics of your world and the objectives set before you. At the same time when they do tell you this extra background information it's not in an excessive amount of detail. The writing is done in a way that it's like a good book, it gives you a very clear idea of what the world looks like and the conflict, but not an excessive amount of detail that would lead it to be long winded and monotonous. When you get to the end, Bastion comes off as very heart felt and an emotionally personal journey for the people involved, and just very few games are able to pull that off.
The story though wouldn't be much good if there wasn't a way to carry it along, and Bastion does so, using a narrator that explains The Kid's actions and situations wherever he is. This isn't an entirely innovative concept, birthing from Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, but it's a concept that most people never use and you finish Bastion coming off the fact wondering why people don't use it more often. There's no objective way of telling you why the writing or the voice work is fantastic, much like Portal's dialog and writing, attempting to explain it would probably be both incorrect and would ruin the magic of why it works. The best I could do is to say that the narrator adds a personal touch to the story, and helps build the depth of the story without resorting to 15 minute cut-scenes. It's by using this narrator that the game and the story aren’t locked into two separate rooms, but coexisting together to help build on one another.
The gameplay is much like the story but pulling the same feat of making gameplay accessible but deep enough has always been a tall task for a lot of game developers, and games that have both are generally relegated to puzzle games like Tetris, or simple games like Pac-Man. Coming off playing games like Devil May Cry 3, and Ninja Gaiden it would be hard to believe that an action RPG that's accessible and easy enough to get into for most people, would be involving and challenging enough for someone who played those devilishly hard games, fortunately the person who made this game also played those two games and it shows. The combat is quiet simple in concept, you can equip two weapons at any given time and a special ability like a whirlwind or rapid fire shots that's limited by how many black potions you carry. Attacking is simple, you basically hit the button which is associated with that weapon and you attack. So there doesn't seem to be a lot to sink your teeth into but combats actually a lot more complex than the mechanics make it seem. First off there are 10 different weapons in the game and each of them very distinctive, and with two weapon slots it gives you the ability to use them in combination in a Devil May Cry 3 style. None of the weapons also feel terribly unbalanced either, In message boards you can see many people who used different combinations of weapons to beat the game because that’s what they felt they were best at. Compounding this is an upgrade system for each of the weapons which improve them in aspects like damage, reload time, and speed. So a weapon that you didn't like when you picked it up, could potentially be your favorite by the end of the game. When your actually fighting enemies, what makes it deep and involving is that each of the enemy has a distinct pattern that you can look for in their attacks, and this is matched by a shield you also gain that in the right timing you can counter an enemies attack and reflect damage back to him. That and with the two weapons you wield and many enemies onto the field, it becomes a very strategic action game where depending on your weapons you judge when to attack, what to attack with, when to dodge, and when to counter. It takes the very best mechanics and concepts of some of the action games like Devil May Cry 3 and Ninja Gaiden without the brutal punishment aspects. Bastion is not that hard, but God idols reminiscent of Halo 3 Skulls can be activated so The Kid gains more experience and shards which are the games money, at a cost of making the opponents foes harder. Turn on most of the idols and it's more than a challenge for the hardened action gamer.
Graphically what is there to say. Take one good look at Bastion and you can see what makes it so special from an artistic standpoint. The presentation of style that it shows as the pieces of the world are falling from the sky to create the path ahead of you is so distinct and unique. There's also many diverse environments to heavenly hanging gardens, winter wonderlands, hot and humid forests, and other environments unique to Bastion. The textures and art are unbelievably detailed and colorful, reflecting that hand-painted style the game has. Gameplay wise the art handles everything very well, making all the enemies look very distinct from the environment and making objectives and where to go very clear. The graphics like many other aspects of this game meld beautifully into the actual gameplay itself while never getting in the way.
The sound design is just some of the best in the industry, even from a small team like this, it's easy to compare it to the highly accomplished like Martin O’Donnell and the Halo series. The soundtrack perfectly fits each of the environments and situations, whether it be a railroad like in the 1800s accompanied by a song reminiscent of those old cowboy westerns, or a dream like sequence accompanied by a hazy melody. That’s what some of the best in the industry do with their soundtrack, the music invokes the emotion of the situation of a game and builds on top of the story and the environment. Needless to say, you're probably going to get the soundtrack after the games done.
You may have noticed I haven't exactly said anything bad about Bastion, but that's because I'm really struggling to. It's really a combination of a lot of the best aspects of many games and putting them together into something that feels inspired but not derivative. And what more could you ask for? Maybe co-op would be a nice addition since the combat is so good, but it may have detracted from the story aspects of the game and at the same time that's a extremely minor thing to hit about the game. This isn't amazing for an indie game, it doesn't need that excuse. It's just down right amazing and with a price of $15, it deserves to be played by anyone who enjoys games for almost any reason.
Note: Played on PC with 360 Controller