Review: Bastion for XBLA

The kid wakes up and the whole world has changed.  The calamity has struck and much of what was there before is there no more.  He races through the ruins of the city, picking up his trusted hammer along the way, making his way towards The Bastion; the place they all agreed they’d meet when things went bad.  Only when he gets there, he only finds the stranger; it seems no one else has survived. Piece by piece The Kid must travel the winds collecting the cores so that they can be brought back, and the Bastion can be finished.

So the story of Bastion unfolds.  The Kid, who’s age is not quite clear, is apparently able to sleep through just about everything as he awakes to find his floating city in ruins and the inhabitants turned to stone and dust.  The city literally rises back into place as he makes his way forward, attempting to find the pieces of the Bastion and some idea as to just what the Calamity was.  All the while, his exploits are narrated by, well let’s just call him the narrator.

In terms of visuals and game style what you find in Bastion is probably best compared to Torchlight (at least most recently).  You are effectively “crawling” through dungeons and fighting through monsters/creatures on your way to a core, a shard or even simply an exit.  You upgrade your weapons and gain new abilities as you level up and you will smash everything looking for “shards” of the old world – a form of currency in Bastion.  The game is far more colorful and the floating cities that seem to re-build themselves with every step forward is a definite upgrade visually from Torchlight; Bastion is kind of like a painting come to life.  The combat is far from identical as well, but I still found myself drawing comparisons along the way.  Namely, like Torchlight, Bastion is a simplified RPG. Oh, and the soundtrack, while deceptively simple is in fact, simply perfect for the game.

Combat is basic but engaging.  X and B do most of the work, with the game defaulting to a projectile weapon in the X spot and a melee weapon in the B spot but this can be changed as you unlock more weapons.  Many projectile weapons have a “charged” attack, where firing at just the right moment will allow for a “power shot.”  Every weapon can have several upgrades added to it (requiring both shards and certain objects found in the world) that will drastically improve their devastation and even add some new moves.  In typical fashion, some weapons will work better than others for certain enemies and the right combo can be very powerful.

The real game of Bastion isn’t in the combat, hell it isn’t even in the incredibly engaging visuals.  I would say it is the story, but that is a half-truth.  The true awesomeness of Bastion comes in the presentation.  The way the story is all wrapped up within a number of fantastic things.  Solid game play, beautiful visuals, but most of all; the Narrator.  I know, that may seem like such an odd statement to make and at first I was skeptical of the sales pitch.  The Narrator is activated like any other form on situational dialogue in game; meaning that sometimes when The Kid falls off a cliff The Narrator comments on it.  When The Kid takes out a batch of Squirts The Narrator has something to say.   There are even entire areas of the game where The Kid is seemingly battling through one of the character’s story of hardship manifested in wave after wave of creatures that want to kill you.  It is really something different.

The Narrator is honestly one of the cleverer and more interesting aspects added to a game of this type that I’ve seen.  Despite my early skepticism I have been totally impressed.  Not only is the voice talent flat out amazing (he could make buttering toast sound sufficiently bad-ass), but its’ implementation is outstanding.  Never once did I hear dialogue repeat (except when I died in a “Reflections level” and had to repeat it, which is the character’s story part I mentioned above).  It wasn’t like every time I killed a group of Windbags it said, “He made short work of those Windbags.”  Rather the narration felt intuitive and spaced out just enough that the lines never sounded rushed or on top of each other; as if he was actually telling you the story first hand.  While the rest of the game is solid, I’m not sure I would feel so inclined to revel in this game’s accomplishments had it not been for this simple yet perfectly executed feature.

Bastion does have a few issues, but they are very minor.  The game is a bit repetitive, like all games that can be described as a dungeon crawler.  There isn’t much enemy variance; you seem to be fighting much of the same creatures over and over again (but the selection that is there is solid).  There are also some issues with targeting and navigating the floating walkways.  More than once I was surprised to see that apparently I had been that close to the edge.  As for targeting, when facing large amounts of enemies I occasionally found myself blocking towards an enemy on the far side of the screen and more importantly not blocking an enemy attacking me from behind.  You can use the right stick to manually block in any direction but it isn’t nearly as effective.  These were not overwhelming issues, in fact the average gamer would possibly look right over some of these as nothing more than minor annoyances.

Summer of Arcade has started off with a bang. Bastion is a great example of how just a little idea can really take a tried and true type of game and make it go from good to great.  It is evidence of the strength in indie game developers, trying something different that might or might not work.  In the case of Bastion, it works, and it works well.  You’ll fight your way through the colorful world presented here and every step of the way you’ll desperately want to know more of the story.  Great visuals, solid game play, and an absolutely fantastic style of storytelling make this one of the best experiences on XBLA.

Final Rating: 9.5/10

CBR Break Down:
Console Played On: Xbox 360
Gamer Score Earned: 50/200
Price Bought at: N/A – Furnished by Supergiant Games
Current Price: 1200 Microsoft Points ($15)
Recommend Purchase Price: Worth full price, do not pass up a sale

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