It is not very often that a game would be able to utilize tried-and-true gameplay designs and still appear fresh and worthwhile to play. However, Bastion is one such game, thanks to fluid gameplay which gives the player a lot of control (though not necessarily a lot of options). More importantly, with its memorable writing, artwork and music, Bastion set the par for the presentation seen in indie games.
Bastion does not start itself with a prolonged narrative. The prologue would not bewilder the player to the point of confusion, but he/she would be wondering what is going on too.
Eventually, the narrator of the story sets up the premise, bit by bit. He starts with the protagonist, who is simply called “The Kid” (for the entirety of the game). The Kid wakes up to some kind of disaster, roaming around on ruins which are somehow floating above what appears to be a blasted landscape.
Such an intro raises a lot of questions, but the pacing of the game and the narration would eventually flesh out the story. Understanding the story should not be too much of a problem, given the game’s rather splendid presentation and the story’s adherence to known (though not too clichéd) tropes.
Soon enough, the Kid reaches the titular Bastion, which would become his base of operations and a (relatively) safe haven for a few other memorable characters. From the Bastion, he would set out to salvage particularly valuable objects from the ruins of the once-prosperous city of Caelondia.
There is an option in the main menu which helpfully explains the gameplay fundamentals of Bastion. It does lack illustration, but what is written should seem concise and clear to those who have the temperament to read.
At the time of this game, it was rare indeed that indie games would provide in-game documentation. Therefore, this is welcome.
Supergiant Games is staffed by programmers who are no strangers to designing games for the computer platform. Therefore, it is not a surprise that they would accommodate the use of the keyboard and mouse. This is in addition to control schemes which use analog-stick controllers.
There is even a control scheme that is completely dedicated to the use of the mouse. This may come as a pleasant surprise to veterans of hack-and-slash games like Diablo and its ilk.
It has to be said here that the player who had played the game before on Steam cannot exactly wipe the slate clean. The game appears to be either keeping data files somewhere outside of its Steam directory or it puts data about itself into Steam users’ accounts.
This can result in oddities such as being able to start a new playthrough in “New Game Plus” mode even though the aforementioned player has not completed another playthrough on “Normal” mode yet. This can occur despite having wiped local content off his/her computer.
SINGLE SAVE SLOT:
For whatever reason, the player is only allowed one save-game, specifically that for the player’s current playthrough.
This can be an issue, because the player can only complete each level only once in any game mode other than Score Attack. In these other games, he/she cannot return to a completed level to collect anything which he/she has missed.
The most that the player could do to re-visit a level is to avoid taking its exit. By going to the Bastion instead (an act which can be done at any time during an attempt at a level), the player can re-visit the level afterwards. However, a level, once completed, is completely off-limits in the playthrough henceforth (except in Score Attack mode).
Considering that each level does have some collectible trinkets off the beaten path, this restriction can seem punishing to a less-than-thorough player.
The first thing which the player would learn to do in a playthrough is to move the Kid around. The Kid doesn’t tire easily (for reasons which the narrator would mention later), so the player can have him huffing all over the place.
Speaking of the places where he would huff all over, these are composed of tiles of ground and masonry which float up onto his level whenever he moves about. Sometimes, walkways only appear when he moves onto what appears to be a dead-end.
The Kid is also capable of doing a roll. His rolling animations do not have invincibility frames, however. Therefore, unless the player has him rolling out of the way of incoming attacks, rolling around is not a sure-fire way of keeping him alive.
However, he can seem to roll across small gaps in the tiles which come up. The game does not inform the player about this, so this may be a glitch that may or may not have been deliberately overlooked.
Rolling happens to damage any breakable objects and enemies in the Kid’s way. The game does mention this, thankfully.
(Incidentally, the player’s observations of the nuances of rolling would be rewarded in one of the Proving Ground challenges; more on these later.)
It would not be long before the player is introduced to what the Kid does best – fighting. The reasons for why he is so accustomed to fighting would be made clear later – if his usually-dour face and scars are not indicative enough already.
The Kid cannot fight without any weapons equipped, but never once in the game would he be caught unarmed when facing enemies. Speaking of arms, he can carry along at least two weapons of any kind, which he keeps somewhere on his person where it is not depicted.
In the case of the control schemes which use the mouse, the mouse cursor indicates where he is directing his attacks. If the Kid is using melee attacks, he hits any enemies which are caught in the arcs of his swings (if the weapon has to be swung). However, he does not hit environmental objects so well.
Rolling is also a part of combat. In fact, it can be used to transition out of long animations.
To help the player gauge the progress of a fight, there are rings which appear underneath the sprites of enemies. These rings diminish as the Kid inflicts damage on them, thus indicating that they are closer to death.
However, these rings can be a bit difficult to see, especially when enemies mingle with each other. Supergiant Games has at least thought of colouring the rings blue, a colour which contrasts with most backgrounds. However, the rings turn a deep red when enemies are near death; this red sometimes blend into the background, especially for the case of enemies which float above the red abyss below.
The Kid is skilled at the use of many weapons – or at least he appears to be, considering that his techniques are brutish but otherwise effective.
He starts off with the trusty Cael Hammer, a powerful close-combat weapon. While using it, the player may notice that the Cael Hammer has a few variations to its attack animations. The Kid may do a quick swipe, a wide but slightly slower swing or an overhead slam. There does not appear to be any noticeable combo transitions between them.
If there is any certainty to be had with the Hammer, it is that having the Kid stand still increases its damage output.
It may not seem to be the most consistent in what it does, but the observant player may realize that the Cael Hammer is a general-purpose weapon. It is not too slow as to be unwieldy for heated situations, and it has upgrades which allow for focused attacks against individual targets.
Later, the player is introduced to the first of ranged weapons in the game: a macabre-looking gun which fires sharp bones (i.e. fangs). It is a gun which requires the Kid to stand still, which is not always desirable. However, it compensates by having a considerable rate of fire.
Supergiant has designed the other weapons with similar policies: they function substantially different from the previous weapon which was introduced. If they have a drawback, it is usually compensated by an advantage which is unique to itself. For example, the Scrap Musket is a slow-firing gun, but it comes with considerable spread, which makes it ideal for dealing with flocks of small Peckers.
Perhaps with the exception of the reliable Cael Hammer, the player can have the Kid carry any pair of weapons without being too disadvantaged in any fight.
Early on in the game, the player is introduced to the mechanism of upgrading weapons. This is done through a facility in the titular Bastion.
To upgrade weapons, the player must collect peculiar items; their names generally have the word “Something” in them. (Their naming is amusingly odd, but perhaps the writer Kasavin did not intend to come up with some completely – and typically - fantastical names for them.) These items are usually found off the paths which the Kid has to take.
Alternatively, they could be bought off another facility in the Bastion, the Lost-and-Found. (The Lost-and-Found is practically a typical item shop, if it is to be considered from a pure gameplay perspective.)
Upgrading a weapon generally makes it more powerful and versatile. Some upgrade options are the usual improvements to their statistics, such as straight damage upgrades. Others are more exotic, such as an upgrade which grants the Breaker’s Bow venomous attacks.
Interestingly, upgrades come in the form of mutually exclusive pairs of options, yet upgrades are not irreversibly applied. This is very convenient. Notably, it is also a rare game design.
HEALTH & HEALING:
The Kid is a tough fighter, being able to take many injuries without being slowed down. However, he can only take so much damage, so the player may want to learn how to keep his health topped up.
Firstly, he can heal simply by chugging down on water from fountains. Made wise by his ordeals, he carries along a few bottles of water as well, presumably from the fountains.
By default, any bottle which he dunks heals him to full. Furthermore, the player can cancel the otherwise-long drinking animation by having him roll; the amount of healing is not affected by this.
This may seem to make the game seem a bit easy, but there are ways to diminish the benefits of healing if only to increase the challenge. They will be described later.
Secondly, he can somehow heal by running over what appears to be food. Food objects do not heal much. However, being able to heal by rolling into food during a fight is rather satisfying.
If there is any issue with the health system, it is that the edges of the screen is tinted increasingly red and sound effects are subdued when the Kid is close to being knocked out. This is a counter-productive visual indicator, even more so if one considers that it has typically been in video games for a long time.
Fortunately, a skilled player would not have the Kid too close to incapacitation all the time.
“Secret techniques” are special powers which the Kid can activate in order to gain a temporary edge in battle.
Some of these are associated with specific weapons. As such, they can only be equipped if the Kid is wielding their associated weapons too. Some other techniques are not associated with any weapons and can be freely equipped, such as Squirt Lure and Hand Grenades.
Secret techniques cannot be used willy-nilly; they do not operate on cool-down timers either. Instead, the Kid, for whatever reason, has to consume black tonics in order to use them. If the player is not careful, he/she can blow off all of the Kid’s black tonics. These are limited in supply when the Kid is out hunting for salvage.
If there is any issue with secret techniques, it is that most of them have very short-term benefits. They are more useful if the player is playing without difficulty options enabled (more on these later). Yet, if the player is enabling a lot of them, the value of secret techniques is greatly diminished.
RESOURCE MANAGEMENT IN COMBAT:
Having described water bottles and black tonics, the next lesson which the player would learn is how to manage the Kid’s supplies of these.
When he is rampaging around the remains of Caelondia and the lands around it, water bottles and black tonics would land somewhere close by. Of even more convenience is their looks; they have sprites which stand out from the rest of the screen. Enemies also sometimes drop these, but these occurrences are less frequent, fortunately (for the sake of gameplay balance).
Managing these consumables becomes an important skill when the player is engaging in the Who Knows Where challenges. In these, the consumables are noticeably scarcer, considering that the Kid would face wave after wave of enemies.
Early in the game, the Kid comes across another trusty piece of gear: the Bull’s-head Shield. Like the Kid’s other gear, it is not clear where he keeps it on his person. This is an amusing gap in logic, especially considering that the shield is large enough to completely obscure him from the front.
Anyway, the shield is the main way with which the Kid can avoid damage from incoming attacks. Considering the state of the levels which he will fight in, he won’t able to dodge attacks as often as the player would like.
There are very few attacks which the Shield cannot block. Enemies who resort to close-combat will dash themselves against the shield, dazing them momentarily and opening themselves to retaliation. As for enemies who use ranged attacks, their best chance of actually hurting the Kid when he has his shield up is to hit him on his back.
Furthermore, if the player can time the raising of his shield, the Kid can severely damage any enemy trying to hit him in melee.
However, there are a few enemies with attacks which bypass the shield. It is usually clear which ones these are, e.g. humongous enemies. There are also enemies who taint the ground which the Kid is standing on; the Shield cannot block damage from these.
For better or worse, the control input for raising the Kid’s shield is also used for locking onto targets. There will be more elaboration on this shortly.
AIMING & AIM-LOCKING:
If a weapon has ranged attacks of any kind (usually either shots or thrown projectiles), the player can have the Kid aiming at where he/she wants him to direct them to. In the case of the mouse-using control schemes, this is as simple as pointing the mouse cursor at these locations.
In most cases, using the mouse cursor is more preferable, mainly because it allows the player to lead targets. After all the projectiles shot by most weapons do not travel instantaneously to where the Kid is aiming at.
Alternatively, the player can use the auto-aim feature when using aimed weapons. However, this shares the same control input as raising the shield.
By default, if the Kid is not charging up any ranged weapon, he would have his shield up. He will also be facing his currently locked-onto target. Charging up weapons and locking onto a target puts the shield away, however.
Skilful players may learn to rapidly alternate between charging a weapon and raising the shield. These players may realize that switching back to the shield also allows for well-timed blocks too.
Knowledge about these nuances will come in very handy in dealing with some of the optional challenges in the game; these will be described later.
One of the easiest ways for a game to provide the impression that the player is making some progress is to implement a typical “experience” system which is associated with combat. Bastion is no different.
As the Kid slays enemies, he gains experience points, as depicted by the purple numbers which pop out of slain enemies. When he gathers enough of these, he gains a level and does a pose.
Gaining a level increases his maximum health, as well as reset his health to full; this is obviously of use during a fight. Levelling up also increases the amount of water bottles which he can bring along.
However, the main benefit of gaining a level is that he gains access to one more “slot” of tonics. Tonics will be described later.
The Bastion has been mentioned a few times already in this review. It is a floating platform of sorts, which supposedly can remake certain structures using esoteric means. (These means are more or less described when the player reaches the mines where Caelondia gets its exotic minerals from.)
Anyway, the Kid is charged with looking for floating crystals, which can be installed into the Bastion to make it more versatile. Obtaining each of these crystals is mandatory to progress in a playthrough.
Fortunately, Bastion does not feed the “But Thou Must!” trope too much. The crystalline artifacts, once retrieved, allows the player to introduce facilities into the Bastion and subsequently upgrade them.
Most of the facilities are intended as preparation for any foray into the ruins of Caelondia and the regions around it. The player changes the Kid’s load-out of equipment, usually at the Forge and Arsenal (which are associated with the Kid’s weapons). Afterwards, opportunities to switch out his gear are preciously less.
DISTILLERY & TONICS:
The Kid certainly does drink. Remarks about his amusingly ambiguous age aside, the Kid can bring along tonics from the Distillery at the Bastion. The tonics act as virtually ever-present modifiers to his capabilities. (That these drinks can somehow do so is also an eyebrow-raising amusement.)
Some of these are straight buffs, such as the Bastion Bourbon (which lets the Kid carry two more water bottles). Others are trade-offs.
For example, the Leechade grants the Kid a health-stealing buff to any damage which he inflicts (including even damage from damage-over-time attacks). However, it severely reduces the effectiveness of water bottles.
The permutations of weapons and secret techniques are rather limited. In contrast, there are a lot of mixtures to be had from tonics. Indeed, there can be combinations which are more suitable for specific situations.
Interestingly, the Kid’s level determines the number of tonics which he can bring along. As the Kid levels up, the player will have to reconfigure his tonic combination to suit the places where he would go to. This can be sophisticated enough to provide some measure of immersion.
Bastion is not a game which would pass up on tried-and-true game designs. Another of these is a currency system which pushes the player to do some resource management.
The currency system in Bastion makes use of “fragments”, though not as a medium of exchange from a thematic perspective.
Greg Kasavin has never made clear what “fragments” are. They appear to be intricately-shaped crystalline objects which appear to come out of many things, such as the grandest structures of Caelondia and even animal bones. What is clear though is that their value is so great that even wild animals hoard them.
Perhaps Kasavin intended this to be a poke at the story-telling tropes of Unobtainium or the Philosopher’s Stone.
Anyway, many things in Bastion release fragments when they are obliterated, including most of the environment. The player will be using these to fund weapon upgrades, as well as purchase items from the Lost-&-Found facility once it is built.
At other times, fragments are provided as rewards for completing challenges. They drop into the level as a huge orb, which the Kid typically has to break apart in order to harvest the fragments.
DIFFICULTY OPTIONS A.K.A. THE PANTHEON:
Interestingly, difficulty settings are worked into the canon of the game, much like almost every other gameplay design in Bastion.
After the Shrine has been built in the Bastion, the player can ‘invoke’ the gods. Far from being mere passive observers, the gods will do something when this happens, and they are not nice. They subject the Kid to greater trials, typically in the form of increases in the capabilities of the enemies which he would face.
Narrative aside, the Shrine is practically a menu of difficulty settings which the player can toggle on or off before having the Kid set off on another romp.
Interestingly, the player is rewarded for choosing to increase the challenge. The reward is in the form of additional experience and fragments whenever either is awarded to the player for whatever reason.
Kasavin and his colleagues wrote a lot of lore for Bastion. However, not all of them can be presented naturally through the gameplay, at least not without having the narrator sound long-winded.
The bits of lore which are too clumsy to be presented elsewhere are presented through the optional mechanism of ‘vigils’.
Vigils are practically grinding-heavy and/or situational challenges which the player overcomes in order to earn some fragments. On the player’s first playthrough, it can be difficult to have enough fragments to purchase the upgrades or items which the player wants without completing at least a handful of vigils.
The less boring reward from completing vigils is the description of various aspects of the now-destroyed Caelondia. After completing a Vigil, the narrator would describe an aspect of Caelondia which is associated with that vigil.
For example, completing the Vigil which is associated with the Cael Hammer would have the narrator describing the role of the Masons, who are the builders of Caelondia.
The progression of any playthrough in Bastion is linear. This is depicted through the ‘Skyway’ screen, which is practically a level selection menu.
This menu would have been just as dull as the level selection screens in other games which have them, if not for the bit of writing and narration for each of them.
These are just minor touches in the designs of Bastion, of course, but it might entertain players who go into the minutia.
After the Kid has obtained a new weapon, a training range of sorts which is associated with it appears. For the most part, this is just an optional challenge.
However, its value lies in the tips which it gives to the player whenever the player re-attempts it. The tips are provided through the loading screens for the weapons.
For example, the challenge which is associated with the Breaker’s Bow has hints which mention that the bow’s arrow can pass through at least one piece of cover. (Thus, the player can actually shoot through cover at enemies on the other side.)
Of course, particularly lucky players or players who had already studied guides for the game may well overlook them, if they score all of the prizes for completing that challenge in their very first attempt.
Anyway, completing the challenges grants the player rewards in the form of crafting materials and additional secret techniques. Incidentally, the player will not be able to obtain enough materials to fully upgrade all weapons in the first playthrough without fully conquering the challenges.
There are several categories of enemies in the game; a certain vigil in the Memorial building in the Bastion happens to indicate how many.
Interestingly, most of the enemies which the Kid would face are described as sentient creatures which are semi-intelligent. However, the Calamity has forced to adopt sudden behavioural changes in order to survive.
The genus of partly humanoid and floating creatures known as the Windbags is the first to be introduced. The narrator does not make it clear whether they are actually civilized creatures or not, but they are implied to be part of the labour force of Caelondia, albeit with some kind of socioeconomic agreement between them and the humans.
The Calamity tore this agreement apart of course. The Kid will have to fight the Windbags in order to reclaim salvage from the ruins of the city, which they are occupying.
Curiously, the game’s designs for these enemies portray the entirety of the Windbags’ lifecycle. Each phase poses a different challenge. The infantile Windbags, which are known as Squirts, resort to great numbers to overwhelm their target. The adult Gazfellas make slow but powerful attacks with their pickaxes. The old Scumbags shuffle about or slide on their poisonous excrement, but cannot float like their younger brethren.
The diversity in the types of enemies does not stop at just these. There are wild beasts which wear tough egg shells, making them invulnerable from the front. There are feral birds with convincing flock-like mentality. There are also killer plants.
If there are any common designs among them, they are their movement methods. Many enemies float and fly, obviously making them immune to falling hazards. Others make sudden transitions; for example, Lunkheads hop and Ura warriors flash-step. Then, there are of course static enemies, such as most plants and turrets.
Learning their idiosyncrasies can be quite fun, though they may not seem entirely original to experienced players. For example, sliding Scumbags can be duped into falling off platforms.
However, learning these is made a bit difficult by the fact that the game resorts to a lot of palette swapping. For example, there are two types of Scumbags which differ in the way that they attack. Yet, their sprites are very similar to each other, so the player can only know which is which after they attack.
As mentioned earlier, the difficulty options alter the capabilities of enemies or add new ones. However, their behaviour patterns generally remain the same, meaning that their habits can still be exploited. There could have been a difficulty option which changes their behaviour, but perhaps that may be too much to ask of Supergiant.
WHO KNOWS WHERE:
The Kid goes to sleep rather easily, as the player would found out when objects like a sleeping bag and a smoking pipe appear in the Bastion. His dreams would be used for another game mechanic, namely the arena.
When the Kid goes to one of his (rather limited permutation of) dreams, he still does what he does best: fight. In these dream battles, enemies pop out of nowhere. To progress in these arena battles, all of them have to be slain. This is not easy, considering that enemies can spawn almost anywhere.
The player’s rewards for putting up with these slogs are fragments and experience which come at the end of every round (called “reflection” in-game); the enemies which are slain in these sequences do not drop either.
To a player who has played many games with arena sequences, these rewards would seem typical – perhaps even too little.
The more satisfying rewards are the narrator’s disclosure on the pasts of the human characters. The writing for their pasts is nothing new, but the narrator’s presentation is remarkable enough to make even the most jaded player forget this.
Outside of Score Attack Mode (more on this shortly), the Who Knows Where scenarios are the only ones which can be re-attempted over and over, regardless of whether the player has been successful or not. This may not be a good use of time though, because the player can gather more fragments and experience through playing the regular levels in the same amount of time.
Firstly, it has to be mentioned here that Bastion’s level designs are nothing new. The player character moves along corridors, plazas and other platforms to get to where he needs to go. The player also has to be mindful of hazards placed in the Kid’s way, as well as enemies which may just drop nearby or appear out of nowhere.
However, the levels in Bastion do have some peculiar, if not rare, designs.
The most noticeable of these is the pervasiveness of falling hazards. Any enemy which cannot float is at risk of falling off into the hellish landscape below if they are forced near the edges of levels. The Kid is immune to such a fate, thanks to the Caelondian crest on his back. However, he still loses some health, which is an acceptable trade-off.
The places which the Kid will go to are after all already decimated places. They merely have been cobbled together by the power of the Kid’s crest. They are not exactly very stable constructs either; in some scenarios, they fall off piece by piece, usually after the Kid has retrieved something which held them up in the first place.
Therefore, there might possibly be a situation where the Kid falls into the abyss and is placed back onto a tile, only for that tile to fall off too. Fortunately, the game does have scripts to prevent such a frustrating occurrence from happening. Instead of being placed at the nearest tile which has yet to fall off, the Kid will be placed somewhere further down where he is supposed to go.
It is also worth noting here that in the first scenario where there are falling tiles, there are very narrow paths which do not fall into the abyss below. Perhaps these are intended to give the impression of a smooth difficulty increment as the playthrough progresses.
There are other dangers besides falling. When tiles come up to form paths for the Kid, other things come with them too, in addition to enemies.
Most of them are seemingly innocuous detritus, but they do block the Kid’s path. This is of course not desirable if the player needs to have the Kid stay away from his enemies (especially if the difficulty option of letting enemies inflict damage on contact is turned on), or run away from collapsing paths.
Then, there are sharp, pokey hazards. These begin to appear when the player reaches into the Wilds around Caelondia.
The problem with these hazards is that their hitboxes are not entirely clear. Sometimes, the Kid can come very close to them and not get hurt at all. Of course, their appearances, and the Narrator’s remarks, should be enough to inform the player that he/she shouldn’t be letting the Kid get too close in the first place.
Poisonous enemies tend to be a staple in any combat-oriented game with fantastical settings. Bastion would not diverge away from this trope. In this game, poisonous dangers take on three forms.
The first is splashes of chemicals on the ground, which act as area denial. The second is clouds which also act as area denial weapons, except that they can drift for a while. Finally, there are the usual damage-over-time de-buffs. Poison does come with additional afflictions though: the player’s view of the action blurs considerably.
Perhaps the least welcome level design is the switch. Whereas other objects in the many levels in the game are described by the narrator as having a role of sorts, switches appear to be rarely remarked on. Consequently, they feel a lot like padding, especially if one considers that switches can only be turned on, but not turned off.
In some levels, there are smaller versions of the Arsenal facility tucked away in nooks. The player who cares to check them is given the opportunity to change the Kid’s load-out. Incidentally, these mini-Arsenals occur some distance into the levels which they are in. Therefore, the observant player might change the Kid’s weapons to a combination which is more effective against enemies in the current level.
This is a splendid convenience, and one which is rationalized in the writing too. This also means that the player would not be seeing mini-distilleries in levels; they would have been convenient, but perhaps having distilleries in mines and jungles would have been too far-fetched.
The launch version of Bastion only had two game modes: the regular one, and “New Game Plus”. “New Game Plus” typically allows the player to start another playthrough but keep what he/she has obtained from the previous one.
Sometime later, “No-Sweat” mode was added. This is practically “easy” mode. To elaborate, the player is only given a few chances in the other game modes to revive the Kid after he has been knocked out. In “No-Sweat”, the player has unlimited chances. This is probably of value to players who only want to experience the game’s story.
Finally, there is Score Attack Mode. This was also added sometime after launch. It is likely targeted at players who want to have some measure of their finesse in the game. To elaborate, in this game mode, the player is given a score counter; the player’s goal is to accumulate as many points as possible.
Incidentally, chaining together multiple kills in quick succession without being hit leads to even more points. Of course, this can only be done by a particularly skilful player.
Such is the solid design of Bastion’s combat-oriented gameplay that this game mode would not feel too out of place. This is so even though the game is seemingly designed to mainly deliver a well-presented story.
If there is any disappointment to be had with the game modes, it is that there is not much additional story to be had from them after the completion of the first playthrough. There are a few additional lines which the Narrator says in “New Game Plus”, but they are all there is.
The presentation of the characters in Bastion is one of the most limited seen in video games, yet it is delivered quite effectively, mainly due to the surprisingly emphatic narration of Logan Cunningham.
It is limited, because most of the voice-overs in the game are delivered by Cunningham alone. Yet, his voice-acting is put to unexpectedly good use, specifically in describing the pasts and thoughts of the characters, including the Narrator’s.
This is ultimately an opinion of course. Yet, it would be very difficult to fault Cunningham’s performance in delivering the lines which are supposed to flesh out the personalities of the characters.
As for the character’s themselves, most of them have troubled pasts. The most notable of them is the Kid’s; he should have a lot of baggage, considering what he has been through. Yet, he is the most stoic character in the game, expressed all the more effectively through the fact that he is never heard talking in the game. Neither was he ever named.
The two characters other than the Kid and the Narrator are noticeably used as plot devices to advance the story with. They do not have much to do with the gameplay, but they do inject a lot of (generally effective) drama into the experience of the first playthrough.
Interestingly, the tertiary characters, such as the wildlife and the Windbags, are given plenty of attention in the writing too. They are depicted as quite intelligent, if a lot more vicious after the Calamity.There is also the fact that all of the human characters are designed with the super-deformed style – one which Supergiant has yet to repeat.
Bastion’s highly stylized artwork is almost apparent right from the main menu. To cite some of the more noticeable art designs, Supergiant’s artists have made use of discrete hues for shadows, but resort to blurred transitions for portraying different textures.
The visual designs of Caelondian culture are also noteworthy. At first glance, it looks ancient West (or South) Asian, mainly due to the looks of the artifice and construction of the Caelondian people. Yet, the people themselves dress like Southwestern Americans do during the transition to the twentieth century. It is a very peculiar fusion.
Next, there is the pervasiveness of floating platforms and tiles, as mentioned earlier. These are intended to show the majesty of what was once whole before the Calamity, as the Narrator would point out. It also makes a good impression that the places which the player would go to are not stable (and this is certainly the case).
If there are any noticeable issues with the visual designs, they are mostly associated with the animations and sprite transitions.
Firstly, the player may notice that the Kid has the most animated sprite. Everyone and everything else is more or less static, especially the other human characters (some of whom just stand around in the Bastion).
The game also resorts to a lot of stretching and re-scaling of sprites to give the impression of motion. For example, enemies who fall off into the abyss have their sprites spin while shrinking in size. There are also a lot of sliding sprites, especially the human enemies who appear late into the game.
As mentioned earlier, Logan Cunningham provides the bulk of the legible voice-overs in the game. Fortunately, he makes a splendid job of doing so. However, he would over-shadow anyone else who provided voice-overs.
The Kid (possibly voiced by Darren Korb) does utter a few things, but these are mostly grunts. Ashley Lynn Barrett, who is one of the vocalists for the songs in the game, does eventually deliver a few lines. However, after having listened to Cunningham for a long time, it would be a rare player indeed who thinks that the others are just as good.
However, what the others do well, they do so excellently. They happen to be the vocalists of two songs in the game. At first, these songs sound a lot like American country music, but they are a lot more melancholic. More importantly, they fit the bittersweet themes of the story.
The music in the game is composed by Darren Korb, whose profile would be raised by this game. Much of the music is composed of string instrument, but there is enough electronic to give it a more current vibe. The music which is associated with combat is particularly memorable, if only because they fit the thrill of the situation.
The sound effects heard in the game are intended to notify the player of incoming danger, in addition to setting up the atmosphere. To cite some examples, wild-life enemies have distinct noises, which help inform the player that they are around. There is also the amusing noise of small tiles clacking together to form platforms, which also help the player know that a path would be laid out for the Kid to walk over.
Bastion does not do many things which are terrifically new, if one is hesitant about giving the game and Supergiant more kudos than they deserve. Yet, if what it does has been done before already, then it is a great example of doing it so well as to provide a memorably worthwhile and stirring experience.