Reviewed: July 19, 2011
Released: July 20, 2011
Xbox Live Summer of Arcade is quickly becoming an annual tradition. Last year we were dazzled with Limbo and Lara Croft and this year we kick off a new summer of casual gaming with Bastion. Chances are you’ve already heard some buzz on this game. It’s been winning awards and receiving high praise from just about everyone who has seen the game since it was first shown at last year’s PAX Prime.|
Bastion is a self-proclaimed action-RPG title, although I found as much role-playing as I would in a typical game of Call of Duty. The RPG moniker is getting a lot of abuse these days, being assigned to any game that offers any nuance of customization. Role-playing is about assuming a role and developing a character that you become emotionally attached to. Bastion is pure arcade action, and I would venture to say it is more like a one player version of Gauntlet, but rather than change characters, you change weapons.
Bastion begins with you, a white-haired youth known as the Kid, waking up after a great Calamity has destroyed the entire world. You find yourself on a floating land mass that slowly expands as you move around, with bits and pieces rising up and falling down to reconstruct the world around you in real-time. As you explore this colorful isometric world you will discover new items, locations, and even some survivors. You’ll also encounter hordes of evil creatures and a few old friends who didn’t survive the Calamity.
Bastion is a button-mashing combat game, and again I must reference Gauntlet. You can either hack and slash with melee weapons or keep your foes at bay with a ranged bow or throwing machete. You have a shield that can deflect incoming fire, sometimes right back at the enemy if you’re lucky, and of course all of these weapons can be modified and upgraded as you venture deeper into the Bastion.
There are 30 areas to explore, some story driven and others merely arena challenges where you try to defeat several waves of various enemies in decreasing amounts of time to earn various ranks and rewards. All of these worlds are accessed from a central hub area that you unlock a few minutes into the main game. This hub area is slowly restored as you find various artifacts and gems to feed the central monument. Once the land is restored, you are free to build various buildings such as a Forge or Distillery or a Temple. You can then visit these structures between missions to customize you character and even tweak the game.
The Armory allows you to equip two weapons and a special attack, with the latter being specific to one of the weapons or perhaps the shield. You can visit the Forge to upgrade your weapons with various items you’ll find while exploring the world. Once you purchase a specific level of customization you still have two options per level you can configure for that weapon before heading out. The Distillery allows you to equip various beverages (one per character level) that act as passive modifiers to the Kid, increasing his hit points or perhaps acting as a magnet for the numerous shards you’ll be collecting throughout the game. The Lost and Found lets you purchase things you might not have found in the world while the Temple lets you modify the difficulty of the game by activating various idols. One nice feature is that if you die with idols turned on the game offers you the chance to turn them off when restarting.
There are also a dozen or so Vigils that serve as the game’s own internal achievement system. These require you to kill so many enemies with a certain weapon or restore all the missing pieces of the world or some other ongoing quest. Most can be completed during a single pass of the game, but a few might require you to venture into the New Game Plus mode which unlocks when you finish the game. This mode adds new content and new ways to play.
Most of the game is fairly active with you moving around linear levels killing everything that moves as the world slowly reassembles around you. You’ll have moving targets, land targets, aerial targets, turrets, and even stationary turrets and deadly plants that shoot at you and frequent boss fights. There is a surprising amount of strategy involved in figuring out what works best against each type of enemy, and it gets even harder when they start mixing up the enemy types in the larger attacks.
Bastion is a visual masterpiece, both in its art style and the constant animation, as the world is being built around you, almost like cel-shaded LEGO’s. There is even a bit of vertigo with the tangible world suspended over these gorgeous painted horizons. This game would rock in 3D. The enemy creatures are original and delightful to watch with all their subtle animations. I only wish you could zoom the camera in a bit closer. Even on my 58” HDTV, the Kid is a jumble of pixels with a puff of white on top. Then there would be times when the camera would zoom in when he picked up an item and I’d see all this extra detail and facial features – I just wanted to see that all the time. The menus and all the customization screens for the various buildings were eloquent and intuitive with great icons and visual design.
Okay, I know you’ve been waiting the entire review for me to talk about the sound; specifically the narration, since that is the big hook for Bastion. First off, kudos to Logan Cunningham, the voice of the Stranger, who narrates your adventure in uncanny real-time. He manages to blend a smooth and sexy New Orleans jazz club vibe that could easily be mistaken for Keith David. I was knocking back extra energy drinks just to counteract his hypnotic tone. At first, the narration is directly tied to your actions. You stand up and the narrator says, “He gets up”. You run around smashing everything in sight and the narrators says, “…and then the kid rages for a while.”
But later in the game the narration is put to even more effective use by weaving in an engaging backstory as well as providing subtle hints as to what to do next. You might be lost and the narrator will say something like, “the Kid knows the only way back is where it all began”, leading you to the conclusion you need to return to the start of the level. He’ll also give you tips on the various monsters or just asks rhetorical questions that make you think. It truly is a masterful bit of technology that adds immensely to the narrated storybook theme of the game.
For only 1200 MS Points ($15) you are going to experience one of the more original XBLA titles I’ve played on the Xbox 360 in quite some time. From the charming graphics to the smooth vibes of the narrator perfectly blended with a magical soundtrack, and the 10-12 hours of action-packed exploration and combat, Bastion is a great way to kick off the Summer of Arcade. And with so many ways to customize the various parts of the game, as well as the clever difficulty vs. reward modifiers (idols) and the New Game Plus mode, you might find yourself playing Bastion long after the summer has ended.