No Kidding, Stranger! Bastion is Almost Flawless
Monday, September 26, 2011 at 12:08PM
Ernie in bastion, pc, reviews, steam, supergiant games, xbla, xbox360

I was raised in an age where games didn't need hyper-realistic graphics, bathtubs full of blood, or the London Philharmonic Orchestra to make an impact. Gameplay trumps all. Bastion is a neat little digitally distributed title that is rooted deep in this old-school-of-thought, providing classic 32-bit action, with a helping of beautiful hand drawn art and a quite literal take on the narrative.

As soon as you fire up Bastion, it's fairly obvious that you are in for an experience that is more a rarity than commonplace these days. The story follows a nameless adventurer known only as The Kid, who is wrought on discovering the truth behind a cataclysmic event that has left his known world in shambles. In the vein of just about every console role-playing game I played in the 1990s, the narrative begins with The Kid rising from his bed. Unlike those titles of the past, he isn't greeted by his parents, or heralded by the town elder as a hero. The Kid is jarred from sleep by a world that has quite literally crumbled under his feet. This sets the stage for a melancholic tale that belies the vibrant life of Bastion's art and illustration.

Each step The Kid takes is accompanied by the dulcet tones of The Stranger, who dynamically speaks over your every action. This narration effectively tells the story as you play, whether you're in the midst of a boss fight or just having fun raging on a couple of innocent boxes, the incredible writing permeates every moment of your experience, regardless of how epic or mundane your actions may be. Much like RPG heroes of decades past, The Kid is devoid of voice, so the word of The Stranger is all you know. Fortunately, The Stranger never grows tiring and the script never falls flat, so you'll find yourself looking forward to his next line each time he pauses to catch his breath. And not only because his voice is so rich and soothing, but because you'll want to hear more of the surprisingly deep story.

The shockingly small team which comprises Supergiant Games have created a well thought out and fully realized world around the solid play mechanics of Bastion. Any and every bit of interest that can be found in the lovely Calamity of Caelondia is backed by a good chunk of lore, spun in proper turn by The Stranger. The game's namesake is a sort of saftey net for the failed world, a Noah's Ark that The Kid intends to populate with survivors, friendly beasts, and useful structures. The variety of stages to visit, friends and enemies to meet, items to collect, and weapons to master means there is a ton of genuinely interesting backstory to uncover.

O, the selection of weapons could make even the most exotic of collectors blush. In all, there are a total of eleven weapons to collect, and each can be upgraded five times, with two options for each upgrade. None of this is set in stone, so if you figure one set of upgrades to be better suited for a particular task than what you've already allotted, head back to the forge and reassign those passive abilities, Kid! You can assign any two weapons at once, with all the combinations available, it's damn near impossible to be ill-fitted for any challenge thrown your way. Machete and flamer for the ultimate in close range. Carbine and pistols for precise long-range punch. Mortar and launcher for you siege types. Experiment with each combination for the best compliment to your playstyle, as well as The Stranger's slick assessment of your loadout.

In addition to the wealth of weapons that can be tweaked to your obsessive compulsory spec in the forge, there are other buildings to be erected in the Bastion, including a Distillery, where The Kid can assign himself cleverly named spirits which provide passive combat bonuses regardless of which weapons he has chosen to sortie with. Without question, the best (or worst) of these buildings is the shrine, where you can activate enemy modifiers, styled after Idols, which will make the relatively breezy combat of Bastion much more difficult. The risk does not come without reward though, as each modifier grants you percentage increases of experience and money. Living on the razor's edge is worth it, trust me.

Outside of The Stranger's voice, most of the world's sound effects seem to lack any thump or weight, almost as if they originate from inside a tin can. This is a trivial complaint though, as most times I was too busy enjoying combat or salivating over the art to really let the sound bother me. Besides, Bastion's incredible soundtrack more than makes up for any other sonic shortcomings. Composer Darren Korb has crafted a powerful and varied mix of melodies that spans everything from trip hop to Middle Eastern fusion, settling in between on a self-reflective, Western inspired boom bap. The soundtrack is perfect in the context of the game, but it's just as good to listen to on its own, and can fortunately be found on Spotify as a free stream and Bandcamp for you audiophiles who can't shut the FLAC up.

I could sit here for days and discuss how brilliant Bastion is, but the bottom line is that you must play it for yourself to understand. Much like a 32-bit Fable without the murkiness of a modern Molyneux, Bastion shines for its ease of play, incredible art, wonderfully composed music, and engrossing, tragic tinged tale. The welcome addition of a New Game+ after your first campaign completion should be tackled with most or all of the shrine's idols activated, to assure a stiff challenge for those of you brave enough to chase level 10. At only $15, Fans of pre-PSX era isometric action should find Bastion on XBLA or Steam post-haste. Likewise, fans of ridiculously complete gaming experiences should probably do the same. 

The Score: 10 outta 10 Blasters! Congrats to Bastion for attaining OBG's first perfect score!

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