Unique and Outstanding
The Kid wakes up.
Few games do as many things as well as Supergiant Games’s Bastion. In this small, downloadable title is some of the best gameplay, most stunning art, and most inventive presentation I have ever seen in a video game. It does what only the best games are capable of doing, which is immerse you in a world and make you want to experience all of it.
Up front, the first thing people probably notice about Bastion is its stunning art style. The bright, vivid, and varied color palette is a treat for the eyes in a video game market seemingly glutted with drab earth-tones. The style itself is cartoonish and looks a bit cell-shaded but unlike other games in that style it is much more reminiscent of a bright watercolor. The style and particularly the backgrounds also remind me quite a bit of Japanese painting. There’s quite a bit of variety and the game never stopped looking incredible. There has been a trend in recent years of downloadable games getting lost in their own art style and not having it complement, or even worse having it get in the way of the gameplay. Bastion deftly avoids this pitfall.
This is a shot of somebody playing this game, not a piece of concept art.
All of this great artwork and visual style would be for not if the game were a chore to play. Thankfully, this is far from the case with Bastion. The controls are some of the tightest I have ever seen in an action game. The game even lets you cancel out of some actions like a fighting game. You’ll need this level of preciseness to get through the game’s combat, which can be challenging even on the normal difficulty setting. There is great variety both in enemy types and weapons that can be used by the player, and just when I thought I had found the weapon that I was sure I would want to use for the rest of the game, I would find something else I wanted to try. If you’d rather be entertained than challenged, the developers put in a “no sweat” mode in which you can continue a level as many times as you want. This is a really smart inclusion, which I wish more games would adopt because it means that anyone can finish your game. What’s the point in using a medium to tell a rich story if a large number of the people who might like it can’t experience it because they aren’t an experienced video game player?
This type of enemy shoots projectiles at you and shrinks as it takes damage.
There have been games before Bastion that have had a great art style and engaging gameplay. Where Bastion differentiates itself is in the storytelling. Throughout your adventures as The Kid, your every move is narrated by Rucks, another character in the game. The narration is contextual. Rucks will say different things depending on where you, the player, go and what you do. The narration isn’t simple blow-by-blow commentary though, it is also used as foreshadowing and to provide backstory into the world and the characters. There is a staggering amount of this narration. I played through much of the game more than once, and rarely noticed repeating lines. Few games are able to tie storytelling so tightly to gameplay, creating an experience that can only be found in this medium. This is an area in which Bastion excels.
This is also one of the few games in which music is integrated seamlessly into the gameplay in a way that is memorable and bears mentioning here. When certain songs and pieces of music play in Bastion, they are able not only elicit a great deal of pathos, but they hit the perfect notes of strangeness and familiarity at the right times to immerse you in the experience.
The Kid admires the view
If there’s one weak point in Bastion, it would be the story itself. This isn’t to say the story is bad, by any means, it just doesn’t stand out from the crowd as much as the other elements of the game. I found it to be engaging, if a bit predictable. I certainly wanted to see the game through to the end, although when you get to the end, neither of two possible endings brings a good deal of closure.
Ultimately, though, few things can detract from this outstanding game. About a year out from its release, it’s pretty cheap and it’s on a multitude of platforms (even Google Chrome). It took me roughly five hours to finish Bastion, so there’s a lot of value there for your money. No matter what your skill with games, or preferences in the medium, if you like finely crafted experiences, you have to give Bastion a try. It is one of the best games in recent memory.