Bastion's clever design and addictive role playing elements make it an unforgettable adventure.
The Bad: Environmental hazards are occasionally hidden by the environment itself.
Just because a game sits on a shelf in a store doesn't make it any better than one you can download straight to your console for a quarter of the price. Bastion is a perfect example of this, because it has more polish and heart than most of the so-called, "big budget games" that you'll find on a disc.
You play as a nameless hero dubbed "The Kid," who is a survivor of an incident known as the Calamity; a destructive power that causes the land to split into pieces while turning the citizens of Caelondia into statues of ash. After acquiring a few weapons, The Kid runs to the Bastion, a safe haven where everyone agreed to go in case of emergency. It's here where he meets Rucks, a fellow survivor who informs The Kid that no one else made it to safety. Undeterred, The Kid seeks out cores that are scattered throughout the broken world in order to piece together the Bastion. The story is well told thanks to the omnipresent narrator (the aforementioned Rucks) who comments on your every move. This unique brand of storytelling feels almost perfect for a game like Bastion, whose main protagonist doesn't speak a word. Because of the constant narration the story is free to continually develop even when you're in the heat of battle or rolling through a harsh environment. The fact that you'll sometimes hear the narrator talk about specific actions that you're performing (such as obsessive somersaulting or the constant destruction of various structures) is incredibly cool.
Bastion can be thought of as an action role-playing game with a surprising emphasis on the gathering of new weapons. Though you can and will level up, you won't be paying much attention to the experience that you garner from defeating enemies. Rather, Bastion is all about acquiring different weapons and abilities to utilize and upgrade. You're free to carry two weapons at one time plus one special ability. Each weapon can be upgraded several times with a single upgrade yielding two benefits. While only one of these benefits can be used at a time, you're free to switch back and forth between them in specific areas. Once you've gathered enough cores to power the Bastion, you're able to build a variety of establishments to help aid you in your quest such as the Arsenal (which allows you to mix and mash weapon combinations and special abilities) and the Forge (which allows you to upgrade weapons). The Distillery contains passive buffs (such as an upgrade to max health or an extra life) that can be administered based on your current level, while the Shrine allows you to invoke different gods; making the game more difficult, but giving you more experience and money.
Combat in Bastion is very engaging thanks to the various ways it can be approached. Due to the fact that you're frequently given new weapons and abilities, you'll undoubtedly find some combinations to suit your play style. Like long range dueling? Equip a pair of six shooters and a long-reaching pike to keep enemies at bay. Or are you more of a close-range fighter? Make use of the fast and dangerous machete while you take out multiple targets with a musket. Optional levels give you a specific item, like the Cael Hammer or the Fang Repeater, and challenge you to complete different goals depending on which weapon you're given. These challenge levels are usually pretty interesting, and you're rewarded with some useful items or a new ability pertaining to that particular weapon if you do well enough. The possibilities are quite numerous in Bastion, and the battle system even rewards you for good timing with some weapons; resulting in more damage or devastating counters. Rolling allows you to stay light on your feet while a giant shield can cater to more defensive players. Needless to say, the battle system in Bastion is incredibly well done.
Traveling to each area is always an interesting experience, mainly because each stage plays quite differently. One moment you'll be traversing a muddy swamp; the next, you're on a small floating ship attempting to defend yourself against a barrage of enemies. They all manage to feel different and exciting, and each level is so tightly focused and designed that you can play in short bursts and still feel like you're making progress. The variety in the level design is definitely welcome, especially when you're given each area's background by the narrator. His explanations of these areas before the Calamity make you wonder what kind of place Caelondia was before it was destroyed.
The beautiful hand drawn environments will continue to impress you long after you've finished your first playthrough. Animation is generally good, and the overall look of the game is particularly fitting. Creature design in particular is outstandingly well done. However, the music will most likely impress you the most. Incredible songs such as "Setting Sail, Coming Home" have even made their way onto my iPod…which is no small feat for a video game. The fantastic compositions by Darren Korb really have a powerful feel to them. In fact, it's when you listen to some of these songs that you realize how much Supergiant Games poured their heart and soul into this project. Going the extra mile with memorable music is definitely a plus in my book.
If you're feeling competitive, or simply would like to know more about The Kid and his ties to Caelondia before the Calamity, there are a few dream sequences that can be accessed fairly early in the game. Your goal is to survive numerous waves of enemies; each wave being more difficult than the last. Between these waves, the narrator provides some much needed exposition to the world of Bastion and Caelondia. Though generally entertaining, and fairly difficult depending on what gods you invoke, you won't exactly find yourself competing with friends on the leaderboards very often. Still, it's a nice diversion that gives you more information on what you're fighting for and how things came to be.
When you finish Bastion, you're given a "New Game +" option, starting you at the beginning with all of your weapons and upgrades intact. It's definitely worth a second playthrough. It's easily worth fifteen dollars, and if you have yet to pick it up, I really hope this review will change your mind. It's these types of games that prove that a small indie developer can do amazing things when given the time and talent that they need to get the job done. Bastion is a game that takes risks and is praised for doing so. I look forward to Supergiant Game's next project, because Bastion is one game that's very hard not to like.