Bastion Supergiant Games Xbox 360, PC (reviewed), mobile, Playstation 4, Playstation Vita Released in 2011
The first entry for our biweekly review series celebrating indie games is Bastion by Supergiant Games, a hit game that was adopted by Warner Bros. midway through the game’s development and was eventually released in late 2011. There is a lot to say about this game, so let’s dive right into the review.
The fallen world
Players take on the role of “The Kid” a soldier from a city known as Caelondia that wakes up one day and discovers the world has been destroyed. An event referred to as the “Calamity” occurred and wiped out most of Caelondia in an instant. The power sources of the city, shining crystals known as “cores”, are all that is keeping the place somewhat together for now. Following the evacuation plan, The Kid heads for “The Bastion” a safe haven for the city, only to find he and an old man are the only ones still around.
From there The Kid goes on a quest to recover the cores from the districts of Caelondia, sending many of them collapsing as he goes, and return them to The Bastion. You see, The Bastion is more than just a safe spot; according to the old man it can also be used to undo the effects of the Calamity, though he will not tell you exactly how, only that it requires these power sources. On the way he meets what little survivors are left and the nature of the Calamity slowly becomes apparent through the mementos and people he finds.
Describing the plot like that hardly does it justice. I found that Bastion was an emotional ride from beginning to end, as you scour the remnants of a once mighty city and each step you take is accompanied by commentary about how lovely it used to be. It was pretty shocking for me to see the former residents turned into statues of ash and have the commentator tell me their names and little back-stories about them. It elevates Caelondia beyond a simple city and makes it feel like a real place where people lived and socialized with each other.
That’s right, a commentator. The entirety of Bastion is narrated to you by the lovely voice of the old man that you meet in the Bastion. He tells you all about Caelondia as you go and it feels like realistic storytelling as his personality shines through in every line of dialogue and he sometimes lets his own opinion on matters be heard. He even acknowledges your interactions with the world, such as when you fall of platforms or when you spread the ashes of the deceased citizens. It’s a great way to tackle a game with as much lore as this without having to continuously halt the gameplay. You can even tackle optional missions where you defeat waves of enemies and the narrator reveals the story behind The Kid and the other surviving characters after each round.
Bastion has all the right elements: it has a world rich with history, an interesting mystery in the form of what the Calamity was and how the cores will even resolve it, and good characters to back that all up. It hits the right emotional strings without laying it on too thick and you can still discover new commentary after replaying it multiple times.
Story score: 10/10
Break everything and everyone!
Bastion is an isometric action-RPG in which you traverse small levels filled with enemies and obstacles. The Kid can wield a wide array of melee and ranged weapons, including bows, pistols, rifles, a hammer, and much more. You’ll fight various wildlife and creatures from the underbelly of Caelondia. To do this you beat them up with the two weapons you have equipped while dodging around their attacks or blocking with your shield. You can also equip special moves that costs “tonics” to use, which you find spread across the levels, or heal yourself with your limited supply of potions. Naturally, you can never be equipped to deal with everything, each weapons has advantages and disadvantages that makes it ideal to deal with some foes, but horrible against others.
Combat in Bastion can be as tactical as you want to. There is a ‘no-sweat mode’ in which you have unlimited continues and you can just enjoy the story without taking combat too seriously, but playing the game normally isn’t too hard either aside from a few tricky sections. Early on in the game you then unlock a shrine where you can enable various challenges that increase the amount of currency you get, that can then be spend on upgrades. These challenges make the game a lot harder and as you activate more of them they stack in nasty ways. If you go that route it becomes essential to learn techniques like countering and dodge rolling. Of course it then also becomes much more necessary to manage your arsenal properly and bring the right tools to each mission.
The enemies are nicely varied and all have interesting attack patterns that combine well with each other. You’ll see everything from the ghost-like Gasfellas that have various reskins with different attacks to monstrous plants that fire needles or the peckers that flock together and attack from multiple sides. Defeating them earns you experience points that accumulate quite slowly and your level maxes out at 10. This has no real relation to how much damage you do and instead unlocks more options for you to customize your play-style.
One such way in which you can modify your experience with Bastion is with the distillery where you can enable buffs that affect The Kid in the form of alcoholic drinks. These can improve your critical hit chance, provide you with more health, or provide more specific bonuses to your play-style. As I just explained, you only get one slot for a drink per level, so it’s always great when you level up and realize you can grab another beverage. All weapons can also be upgraded at the cost of currency, and these too have different paths to choose from. Suffice it to say, it’s a point in the game’s favor that you can change it up so much.
The levels themselves are pretty short and tend to be over remarkably quickly. They all look great and have their own atmosphere and challenges to overcome, yet you usually find the core you are after much quicker than you’d think. Personally I feel this is great because it lends the game a quick pace. Levels are also filled to the brim with breakable objects and it’s satisfying to break all of these, which the game encourages by giving you currency for it. The only downside to the levels is that it’s often unclear what you can and can’t walk on. I often fell right through terrain I was pretty sure I could stand on and it was somewhat infuriating that sometimes a hole in the ground was no problem, but other, similarly sized holes were death pits.
Gameplay score: 10/10
Art that moves
Bastion is a beautiful game in every sense of the word. Its use of color is excellent and turns the city of Caelondia into a beautiful world for you to explore. Likewise the enemies that now roam this city are excellently designed and full of character. I totally recommend taking your time as you play the game and appreciate just how pretty of a world Supergiant Games has created here.
The nicest visual effect in the game, and the one thing everybody remembers about it, is that terrain forms as you move along. Thanks to the crest on The Kid’s back the city restores itself around him, so you see colorful floor tiles fly up to become the path you walk on and collapse away underneath you if the core in that area is taken. It’s an iconic feature that even now retains its appeal.
The music is also great and goes much further than even some triple-A games go. How? By featuring multiple songs with lyrics that aren’t just licensed pieces with some relevance to the game. The songs are done entirely for Bastion and their meaning is deeply rooted in the game’s lore. Even hearing it out of context these are beautiful pieces and I feel the same about many of the other tracks. In fact, listening to them outside of the game is much better since during gameplay I am going to be occupied with dodging Gasfellas and projectiles all the time, so even great music tends to fade into the background at that point. It’s beautiful stuff, and I am saying that even though electronic music isn’t exactly my preferred genre.
And, of course, there is Logan Cunningham, the narrator with a voice as smooth as butter. Listening to this guy for an entire 6-hour RPG is completely fine, even when it’s all in one sitting. Even if you don’t usually enjoy games like these, turn on the ‘no-sweat mode’ and just chill out with a great interactive story and Logan’s narration.
Presentation score: 10/10
Go at it again and again
I have replayed Bastion many times and there are many reasons to do so. When playing it for the first time you’ll naturally find a combination of weapons and power-ups that works best for you and stick with those, which leaves many interesting weapons left unexplored. Even if you felt the game was pretty spicy you can head into new game+ and get head start by retaining your existing levels and upgrades, making it easier to experiment. For example: it can be fun to fully upgrade weapons you didn’t like before and discover how much different they are when at their full potential.
Of course you can also choose to make the game tougher by invoking more Gods at the shrine. There are event achievements for doing so when tackling the enemy waves in the optional parts of the game. You can also head into the weapon challenges where you get new materials and special moves by displaying your finesse with each weapon in the game, even including the shield. These are tough, but really force you to learn how each weapon works.
There are also multiple endings to get and I must admit that, even though I replayed it multiple times, I have only ever gotten one of them until just a few days ago. It all depends on two actions you perform in the final mission of the game and it’s a great choice moment that doesn’t judge you for picking what you do. It’s entirely up to you.
Extras score: 10/10
We have gold here, perfect 10’s across the board and I didn’t even purposefully set it up that way. There are some small downsides to Bastion such as the wonky perspective, but that is so irrelevant when compared to the rest of the game. It’s an indie game you owe yourself to play and it even provides you with the option to play a mode where you can’t die, so even those who aren’t used to games like these can at least enjoy the story.
I am completely confident in my decision to give this game a perfect score. Please go play it if you can.