By Ben Alford on July 29th, 2011 (17 comments)
Bastion (Xbox 360, PC)
Developer: Supergiant Games
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Released: July 20, 2011 (PC at a later date)
Bastion’s narrative wonders whether to forgive or forget; to labor in the past or embrace the future. It is not a cheap moral dilemma either, it is made genuine by what it has set up throughout. The omnipresent narrator tells the Kid’s story, his history woven throughout play, with flourishes modified by it. Narration can be frowned upon, but here it is the way of operating, it is a constant that is punctuated by its silence and idle conversations that retain its mysticism. It is a resounding success in game storytelling that rarely, if ever, brushes up against any kind of dissonance with the play.
That play is finely tuned and layered: a deluge of weaponry and their numerous permutations of combinations; special skills that enhance a weapon’s effectiveness or provide an alternate ability; spirits that provide passive level up “perks”; weapon upgrade trees that trade off different attributes; religious idols that notably modify difficulty, and increase rewards, by modifying enemy attributes.
Every layer of Bastion is intertwined with another. There are some weapons that will work best when paired with others, that will work best with certain spirits, that will work best with certain weapon upgrade paths, that will work best against certain enemies, that will work best with certain idols turned on. To be successful is to keep a delicate balance between each layer. The narrator is there too, commenting on these choices, always giving a subtle, filtered window into the world that was.
That world is aesthetically pleasing, though, often middling in structural design, mostly alternating between fairly straightforward paths and open arenas. Pieces of the location literally fall into place with frequent gaps and newly formed dead ends. It is imbued with a collapsed vividness that plays perfectly into the infinite loop that occurs if the Kid rolls off the edge into the colorful mist below.
Even this loop plays into everything else: the narrator will quip about it, a spirit transforms this trip over the edge into a tactic. Bastion has a unified sense of who it wants to be, how it wants to do that and it does so without compartmentalizing a thing.
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