Friday, July 29, 2011

Review - Bastion


I've blogged a bit about Supergiant Games' Bastion previously, and discussed most of its most prominent features; for those who still don't know much about this Xbox Live Arcade downloadable, well, let's just say it's an action RPG infused with style, atmosphere, and just enough poignancy to make the trip feel worth both your time and your hard-earned dollar. If there is only one XBLA downloadable game you get this year, you can bet Bastion should be one of your top choices.


The game is set in a post-apocalyptic fantasy world, brought to its knees by what's referred to as "the Calamity." Your character, "the Kid" must navigate through a world filled with crumbling infrastructure and hostile humans and monsters alike. Along the way, you pick up remnants of the old world and unlock levels that provide you with a backstory to the Calamity's survivors. Between each level, you return to your home base, called the Bastion, a sanctuary of sorts that houses its own unique mystery.

Hope the kid doesn't roll around while he sleeps...
The story isn't told through cutscenes or cinematic movies; rather, your tale is told through the haunting baritone of a mysterious narrator that you meet within the game. It's a unique concept, and while there was a potential for this gimmick to become annoying rather than enlightening, Supergiant Games has done a truly stellar job in its implementation of the narration. The narrator will comment on almost everything you do, much of it to sarcastic and witty effect. Falling off ledges, slaughtering enemies, just pounding the destructible environment, and main plot events are all told to you with dramatic bravado. Even better, the story is integrated almost seamlessly into the gameplay; you'll never be forced to slog through long-winded paragraphs of tiny text.


Bastion is an action-RPG, a rarity on the XBLA market. You control the "Kid" throughout the entire game, stabbing, shooting, flame-throwering, or blasting the multitude of enemies that appear to impede your path. You're also equipped with a shield that -if timed correctly- allows you to counter attacks. When you're surrounded, the Kid can perform a handy somersault to leap out of harm's way, or use a special skill activated by the right trigger that generally does damage in a wide radius. The controls are smooth for the most part (though some of the ranged attacks are hard to target and the auto-lock on feature leaves a little to be desired). Along the way, you'll gain experience and collect spirits with which you can upgrade your arsenal of weapons. Level ups provide passive bonuses that afford you such improvements as additional potion slots, or increase your critical chance or damage.

Dogs may be man's best friend, but this shield is definitely the Kid's.
Your weapon selection is one of the best parts of Bastion. The game features around a dozen unique weapons - each that plays distinctly from the others. Unfortunately, you can only hold two weapons at a time, and when you discover a new weapon, one of your selections is automatically overridden with the new item. Still, this is a minor annoyance at worst. It's fun to experiment with all the different types of weapons. On top of that, as you progress through the game, unlockable challenges for each weapon also become available, rewarding you with different bonuses depending on your performance with said weapon.

I found the game to host just the right amount of challenge - not so hard that you feel frustrated for dying, but not so easy that your accomplishments don't feel satisfying either. When you successfully clear a mission or attain the high score on one of the weapon challenge levels, you'll know that it was your skill and perseverance that paid off, rather than simple button mashing. If this level of challenge is still too easy for your liking, however, you'll find that the game integrates additional difficulties smoothly into the actual game. During the story mode you'll eventually gain access to a Shrine within the Bastion, and by invoking the collectible totems of different deities, you can ease or ramp up the difficulty to your liking. Different totems have different effects (such as increased health for enemies, enemies that do more damage, or causing enemies to explode upon death). With each invocation, you also increase your XP rewards; just be careful you don't kill yourself. I learned it the hard way not to invoke too many totems at the same time.

Slash people to ribbons with the Kid's machete ...

There's also a treat for players who beat the game; completing the final mission gives you access to the coveted "New Game+" mode, allowing you to carryover experience, weapon upgrades, and unlocked items, easily making the game quite replayable.

Graphics & Sound

Despite its cartoonish theme, Bastion features some of the most gorgeously drawn sprites and backdrops I've seen. Style permeates the entire game, and the environments feel organic thanks to some nice particle effects and just a generally high level of detail and polish. The animations are not always the most sophisticated, but that doesn't prevent the gameplay from being fun, and in no way detracts from the astounding level of atmosphere.

... or blast them to smithereens with his shotgun!

Working in tandem with the art style, the sound quality is undeniably impressive. The narrator was well cast, his voice work some of the best I have heard in any game, let alone on XBLA. Ambient sound and music all serve to further draw you into the game's post-apocalyptic realm, simultaneously bringing you a sense of wonder and danger. The soundtrack is phenomenal. If Supergiant Games releases it, I would not hesitate to pick it up. The three tracks with vocals are particularly poignant.

Final Thoughts

Bastion is Supergiant Games' first release ever, but if its any indication of this fledgling developer's work quality, we can expect some great things in the future. Bastion is an action-RPG that does not disappoint in any sense, and the 10+ hours you can spend on the game is well worth its pricetag of 1200 Microsoft Points. Get it! Play it! Love it!

Recommended For:
+ Action RPG fans
+ Fans of games with style
+ Fans of immersive, story-based games
+ Anybody with an Xbox360

Not Recommended For:
- People with no souls.

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