2011 Video Game of the Year Nominee: Bastion | Giant Fire Breathing Robot

2011 Video Game of the Year Nominee: Bastion

Likeness: WB and Supergiant Games, Art: Darthvid, GFBRobot.com

(I’m posting this entry on behalf of Robbie “El Nobodor”, one of our regular cohosts on the GFBR video games podcast, Pyro’s Arcade. For more from Robbie, check the podcast feed or stay tuned here for future articles. – Conor)

Supergiant Games is a small start-up of seven, that’s right seven, artists, programmers, and developers that spent two years working out of a single family home in San Jose, CA for the entire production run of Bastion. Now, when seven people set out to create a project that would normally require a larger collective of minds, every single person is saddled with a disproportionate amount of work and responsibility. Therefore, when I say that Darren Korb did audio and music, or Jen Zee did art, I mean they did ALL of the audio and music, or all of the art. Never you mind the proofers, bean counters, and marketing monkeys at WB Interactive who published the game; were it not for these seven creative minds, there would be no Bastion.

Now to the game. As I referenced in my earlier foray into narrative vernacular, the gravelly, regretful, and wistful tone of Rucks, Bastion’s narrator, just draws you into his world like a moth to the flames of the Calamity. This is only the first of the many qualities that make Bastion the easy choice for this year’s Indie Game of the Year award: fantastic story development. Along with a compelling narrative, you will also find that Bastion offers a fluid, yet challenging, gameplay, visual design that never ceases to amaze, and a soundtrack that is almost as enthralling out of the game as it is within it. I did mention that this entire game came from only seven people, right?

Rucks says it best at the opening of the game: “Proper story’s s’posed to start at the beginning…” So we’ll start with the story. The game doesn’t open up with some lengthy, Tolkien-esque recounting of the world’s history, nor does it even give you any idea of what the climate is in which your character wakes up. You simply stand up, stumble forward across whatever debris floats up under your feet, and become quickly aware of your first mission: survive.

As you progress, you are treated to the voiceover work of Logan Cunningham as Rucks, the sage guide who impeccably helps the story fall into place as you simultaneously progress towards the Bastion’s completion and put together the pieces of the predicament that landed you in the middle of the ruins of your home city. He is at times dryly humorous, yet he maintains the feeling of sorrow that one can only imagine is invoked when you wake up to find your world in tatters. Every level that he guides you through is like a story unto itself, illustrating a complete arc of your surroundings and what the implications of your visit there are for the world as a whole. These arcs, much like the story of the whole game, are sometimes uplifting and sometimes heart-wrenching.  They always build up so vastly and smoothly that you are irrevocably enticed to keep pounding away at the gasfellas and windbags that stand between you and the only possible salvation for your ill-fated people.

Besides an alluring storyline that beckons you to come along as it unfolds, the game play is fluid, diverse, and full of options to keep you hacking and slashing away. While many RPG’s struggle to create a realistic mechanical learning curve without reducing the game’s progression to a snail’s pace, this game wastes no time in putting you in peril’s way and letting you handle it competently. Almost as quickly as you find your first weapon, you are forced to put it to the test.

Oh, and on the topic of weapons, your character’s progression is primarily customized via said weapons. First as you find them during your journey, then when you decide which of them to upgrade, and, lastly, how exactly you choose to upgrade their abilities. Unlike many other RPGs, however, you are free to switch between your weapons and upgrades with ease, adding comfort to what often has the potential to be a rather condemning dynamic. In addition, your character’s defensive moves are so natural and easy to use that you never fear having to dive into the fray of combat.

While the casual gamer will find themselves at ease with the game’s learning curve, elite veterans have no need to fear a loss of interest as the game goes on, because you are able to unlock various “idols” that give you the option to increase the game’s difficulty by tweaking enemy damage, speed, defense, and other abilities in exchange for progression-based rewards and achievements. For instance, your enemies may leave ticking time bombs upon their death or they might randomly phase out of existence just as you swing for the fences. With ten idols to imbue your enemies with unique abilities, you will be hard-pressed to exhaust all the challenging possibilities.

Finally, the game’s reward schedule is very evenly paced. You are given new items and abilities to try against new enemies of increasing difficulty and new fighting dynamics, but in a very controlled-yet-organic manner. Just enough is made available with each level you gain and each new area you uncover to keep you chomping at the bit all the way to the finish…and maybe even through a second play-through.

I’d be remiss for for failing to mention that the game brings a level of artistic vision that can be described in so many more words than vibrant, consuming, meticulous, devastating. Yet no words seem to fully describe the discreet rapturing of your mind, soul, and free time. Vivid and colorful images emblazon themselves on the back of your eyeballs and torque your heart as you visually uncover the marvelous disaster that befell the citizens of Caelondia. All of this is greatly enhanced by the soundtrack that overlays the gameplay. Perfectly timed and truly inspired, the tunes of this game spur you on in the face of adversity, yet stoke a pensive flame under the tragic atmosphere that permeates throughout the story’s progression. With nominations for best individual song (two from the Spike Awards alone) and best score, it is clear that sole-composter Darren Korb poured his entire self into this project.

So there ya have it, kid. When you put all the pieces together, the bigger picture becomes all too clear. But then again, if you’ve already played your way clear through to the other side of the calamity, I s’pose that I’m just sittin’ here, wasting my breath. There ain’t no combination of words that my tired ol’ mind can put together to do it justice. I guess “Game of the Year” will have to suffice.

There are 2 comments.

  1. darthvid said on December 11, 2011 at 5:12 pm

    I know I’m in the minority here, but, setting the story aside, around when does the combat mechanics get interesting? I love the aesthetics, but I’m having problems getting into combat, even when I do have to switch between weapons mid battle. I’m not sure yet if it’s because The Kid feels a bit heavy to control, or if it’s just the early stages of enemies and enemy composition.

  2. Conor said on January 2, 2012 at 9:41 am

    I noticed some of that stickiness but as you get more used to the dodging mechanics and the enemies get harder, it gets pretty solid.

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