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At its base, Bastion is a classic isometric hack-and-slash adventure with a rather linear progression. Bits of the old world spring up at the Kid’s feet, but don’t go thinking you can save the world with an extended jog – they are fragments, memories of old sidewalks and narrow trestles, just enough to guide you to your next destination. The world can only be repaired through the Bastion, which itself must be repaired through the use of cores that you gather from the various levels. I was clumsy with the controls at first, and I fell off the world – a lot. A minor setback, though, as falling off platforms simply cause the Kid to be plopped back onto the platform with a small damage penalty.
As you improve the Bastion, you create buildings that allow you to upgrade the Kid’s items, weapons, and even tweak the game’s difficulty level, making the experience fantastically customizable. Build the forge, and make upgrades to your weapons that, once unlocked, can be swapped at will. Build the distillery, and have your pick of ‘spirits’ that give the Kid different perks (as you level up, the number of spirits you can carry at a time increases). Build the temple, and you can invoke various gods, earning higher XP and money accrual for taking on extra challenges, like stronger enemies or scarcer health potions. Effects are stackable, so you could make your game a walk in the park, a living nightmare of difficulty, or anything in between.
There’s a wide variety of distinctive weapons, each with advantages in different areas. Acquiring a new weapon unlocks an accompanying “Proving Ground” at which you can practice your skills in competitions to win prizes – upgrade materials or special weapon skills. Story levels and proving grounds, once completed, cannot be returned to; but, if you still find yourself wanting more practice before advancing the story, there are additional bonus levels that eventually unlock within the Bastion itself, which can be played as many times as you like. Beware, these are long – survive 20 waves of enemies to win – and I recall yelling unkind things at the screen about the virtues of checkpoints after dying on the 19th round once or twice. But they shouldn’t be missed, as they contain some revealing backstory on the Kid and his companions.
Bastion’s Gameplay gets a 5 out of 5
When I say that Bastion is art, I mean it’s art. This is a game that proves Roger Ebert wrong. This is where Bastion rises above the standard hack-and-slash, and I ain’t just talkin’ about pretty pictures.
But the pictures are pretty, make no mistake. The graphic style of Bastion has an almost watercolor look, and the inhabitants…well, I originally thought “cartoony”, but I realized that’s not the right word. Illustrative, perhaps. Brightly colored and fanciful, the world looks like illustrations out right out of a children’s storybook, adding an even greater sense of wonder.
Even the nomenclature of the game is artistic. In keeping with the rustic narration, creatures of the world sound like they were named by the locals – you’ll dodge flocks of Peckers, fight Gasbags from the mines, and watch your step in tall grass to avoid the Anklegators. If you wanna upgrade your your weapons, you better get your hands on Something Heavy, or perhaps Something Pointy. Need a boost? A swig of Werewhiskey might just hit the spot.
In Caelondia, you're old enough to drink if you can reach the shelf.
And the music…the music is exquisite. Darren Korb’s soundtrack is easily the best game music I’ve heard in years. The style is described by the composer as “acoustic frontier triphop” – clearly a description of his own invention, but it hits the mark. The music combines old with new, fantasy and science fiction and Wild West. Remember how you felt when the “Serenity” theme would play at the beginning of each episode of Firefly? Yeah. Like that. Sometimes twanging, sometimes pulsing, always with a keen feeling of lonesome blues and loss. But don’t run over to the website to listen just yet – trust me. Part of the beauty is discovering each piece as it is introduced, perfectly enhancing the tone of each segment of the game. It may not fully grab you at first. But as you experience the music with the story, it will seep into you. Some of the game’s characters even have their own beautiful theme songs with vocals…and when they eventually blended together into one haunting ending theme over the credits, I got goosebumps, I really did. (In fact, I bought the soundtrack, and I never buy video game soundtracks.)
Bastion’s Graphics / Music gets a 5 out of 5
I wanted to dig up some complaints about this game and give it a 4/5 on sheer principle. Spare the snark, spoil the studio, you know? But in the end, I just can’t do it. I may have gotten frustrated over some difficult battles, or fallen off the world a few (dozen) times, but even my minor complaints melted away with just a little practice. At about 10-15 hours of gameplay, you’re just not going to spend a better fifteen bucks on entertainment this year.
Overall Bastion gets a 5 out of 5
Buy this game. You’ll be supporting a promising up-and-comer (did I mention that Supergiant Games is currently a handful of friends working out of someone’s house?), and you’ll be upgrading your game collection with Something Special.