If you have not played Bastion, stop reading this, go get your 360, PC, Mac, or tablet, and buy this game (or check your Humble Indie Bundle collection: it’s been on several of them), and play it. Bastion is one of my favorite games, period, and the perfect blend of gameplay and games as art. Supergiant Games’ hit game was like Limbo in a way: it came out during a Summer of Arcade promotion, it was in stark contrast to the other titles it was grouped with, it starred a young boy as a protagonist, was set in a harsh uncaring world, and it was the biggest hit out of that collection. Yet, instead of using noire-style visuals and a highly vulnerable protagonist, Supergiant Games used a broad palate of colors and The Kid.
The tale of Bastion and The Kid is almost more about how it is told rather than what the tale contains. While at first glance the plot is a straightforward hack-n-slash with a “find the shards” plot, Bastion has a surprising amount of depth. A large part of this is the narrator, Rucks, one of the features Bastion is best known for, as the entire game is told in retrospect with the only speaking character being Rucks, who reveals the backstory of Caelondia, Bastion, and the characters you run into. While there are a number of games that play with having an active narrator whose dialogue changes based on your actions (see The Stanley Parable or Thomas Was Alone), Rucks is used in a very interesting way. Not only does his gravelly, hard-life voice make everything he says sound profound, but you soon become dependent on the way he speaks about the plot in retrospect: so when you reach the present and Rucks stops talking, it’s chilling. Then of course, there’s the moment when you realize Rucks is (SPOILER) actually talking to another character (END OF SPOILERS), a twist that seems so minor but packs a huge punch to the gut.
Then there’s the shattered world you explore. Not only is the game one of the most gorgeous isometric games I’ve ever seen, with lush vegetation and a color palate that is heart-breakingly varied and vibrant, but it is amazing to look at. The ground literally rises up to meet your feet as you traverse it and the enemies and fauna you encounter are all dangerous and creatively designed. It says something when most of the enemies are just maintenance crews gone rampant and they still evoke a since of wonder when you see them. Then there is Bastion itself, where you can build it up as you want with all of the features and buildings placed where you wish.
This world is accented by the remarkable, award-winning soundtrack by Darren Korb, who recorded the entire album in his closet. The tracks incorporate an eclectic mixture of percussion, strings, and electric. The soundtrack works in sounds of clockwork mechanisms and can have its mood switch between intense battle-themes, mysterious sounds of exploration, as well as some of the most melancholic tracks I’ve ever heard–tracks that still bring me to tears. Just for a sample, here’s the award-winning “Build That Wall.”
As a final note, this is the soundtrack which got my parents to understand why I treat games as works of art.
All of these features turn Bastion into a living world that is utterly fascinating to explore and makes each triumph feel tangible. So when you finally get all of the shops, pets, and portals to “Who Knows Where,” it feels like you’ve really accomplished something and when (SPOILERS) Bastion and your pets are attacked (END OF SPOILERS), it feels like you’ve had something ripped away from you. These feelings culminate in the game’s ungodly excellent finale. The final scene with (SPOILERS) Zulf and the Ura (END OF SPOILERS) is heartbreaking, no matter your decision. The last hour is one of the most intense gaming experiences I’ve ever experienced and a testament to Bastion’s narrative.
That’s not to say the gameplay isn’t a blast though. This is a game which gives you a lot of weapons, makes the controls intuitive and smooth, and keeps the action engaging every second you’re on the field (though don’t be surprised if a lot of that time is spent rolling around like Sonic the Hedgehog so you can dodge attacks). Not to mention there is a huge amount of content for Bastion, whether you want to beat all of the proving grounds, take on challenges while calling upon gods to curse you, or just playing through New game + so you can see both endings or the extra “Who Knows Where” segments.
Allow me to share one more anecdote: when I played Bastion for the first time, I wasn’t expecting much. I had heard jokes about how game developers would leave conferences and industry parties so they could get a few more minutes to play Bastion, but I thought it just looked like a good time-killer. I sat through the game from start to finish on my Xbox 360 in one sitting. Bastion is fantastic and I implore you to play this game.
You can find more articles in our 25-in-25 series over here, and stay tuned tomorrow for another look at a great Xbox 360 title!