Video Game Review: Bastion

It’s somewhat hard for me to talk about video games on this blog. They require a much larger time investment than say a movie or a TV show (depending on the length of said show), especially when you don’t play FPS’s that only have a 5 hour single player campaign. My problems with the current video game industry aside, this is easily one of the best games of the year and probably one of the best in this current generation of consoles: Bastion.

Bastion‘s story is rather hard to talk about, as you really can’t tell anything beyond the basic premise without going into some serious spoiler territory. The story follows the Kid who survived a massive Calamity that destroyed most of the world and what was left was thrust into the sky. He meets a Stranger who lives on what seems to be the last bit of safe land left on the planet, a massive floating city called the Bastion. The Kid must go out into the ruins and wilds surrounding the Bastion in order to collect crystals to rebuild both the Bastion and the world. I literally cannot tell you anything more about the story, but it is much deeper than that blurb would lead you to believe and is actually very depressing and bleak through most of it. There is a very large amount of intrigue within the story as the game is told to you by the Stranger, so there is definitely a level of unreliable narrator present in the delivery. Bastion also has three different survival levels that tell you the individual stories of the main characters and all of them end in sorrow. If you haven’t gotten it by this point, beneath the gorgeous graphics and relatively cartoon-y look of the game, it is definitely a tragedy at heart.

The narration by the Stranger is what really sets this game apart from everything else. The creators of Bastion, SuperGiant Games, created what they refer to as a reactive narrator for the game. Essentially, when you do things in the game, the narrator narrates accordingly. When you choose your weapons, he comments about each weapon and how they work together, or when you choose a tonic, he tells you about where the tonic came from and what it does. If you stand around and destroy everything, he comments on it. The Stranger speculates how the other characters are feeling He tells you the story without having to rely on cutscenes, text, or really even dialog. If you wanted to, you could actually completely ignore the story. SuperGiant Games even uses music as narration in one area, creating one of the most hauntingly beautiful levels ever played in a game.

Gameplay starts out as simply as the story does, but branches out into a much deeper and richer experience through the seemingly simple gameplay mechanics that hide a more involved battle system. Bastion is the kind of game where it is very easy to learn, but much harder to master. Each weapon seems to be very simple to use, but there is a challenge for each weapon that shows you really how to use the weapon, and actually finishing all of the challenges for some of the weapons is harder than the end of the game. Throughout games, people usually find the weapon they like and never really branch out unless absolutely forced to, but while playing Bastion, figuring out the differences in each weapon becomes one of the driving forces for going through the levels. Each weapon is distinctive from every other weapon and it is made better by the fact that along with the ability to equip 2 different weapons, you can equip a special ability that is tied to one of the equipped weapons that help to branch out the combat possibilities.

On top of those customization possibilities, the game also gives you access to a number of different tonics that give you passive abilities like whenever you get hit, needles shoot out of your body, or raising your attack when you are under 33% HP. Each of the weapons have 5 upgrade levels, but each level has two different upgrades. The best thing about these levels, though, is that when you buy a level, you get both upgrades and can toggle the effect at will. Each of these changes are inherently different and can actively change how you use the weapon.

The art in Bastion is absolutely gorgeous (hey SuperGiant Games, if you were to release an art book, I would totally buy one). The watercolour backgrounds are used to great effect in enhancing the mood that you are supposed to be feeling in any particular scene or level. The graphics are exceptionally charming, harkening back to a previous generation of gaming while displaying it in incredibly detailed and high resolution character models. Environments in the game put everything to shame, though, as they take the level of detail found in the characters and up that by a massive amount, and then on top of that, the levels look like they are forming in front of you as you maneuver your way through their winding paths, giving the game a very distinctive graphical hook.

Bastion is not a very hard game (not every game can be Super Meat Boy, which is a good and a bad thing), but one of the best things about it is the ability to use idols. Think of them as the skulls from Halo, but they actually give you something along with making the game harder. Within the game, there are a number of gods that are referenced and the idols are the representations of the entire pantheon within the world of Bastion. Each one has a different effect that makes the game harder like having enemies drop a bomb when they die, to having them randomly become transparent and immune to damage for a short period of time, to having the ability to reflect projectiles at will. They make the game harder, but make it so that you get more experience and money when using them, and the helpful effects stack on top of each other.

Bastion is a game that combines old with new flawlessly. It’s an dungeon-crawler style of game with the customization and depth of a modern action game. It has a story that is reminiscent of a game from the NES era, but has hidden depth and tells you the story like in a similar way as Half-Life. Bastion is a game that everyone needs to play, and now that it is available on Steam, all of you people who don’t have an XBox can also play.

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