Xbox Live’s Summer of Arcade has always been a spotlight for the service. I will be completely honest that this year didn’t spark the same interest as past iterations for me, and in fact, I was only mildly excited about two of the games announced. Up first was Bastion; a game I had not heard or seen much of and honestly didn’t think would really spark my interest. Thankfully, after two long sessions and completing the game, I realized that I might have just played the best downloadable game released this year. Developer Supergiant Games has truly crafted one incredible experience that I urge everyone to give a whirl.
Bastion follows the story of The Kid as he wakes up after the events of the Calamity. He then makes his way to the Bastion, an area designated as a meeting place in times of trouble. Upon arrival, he sees that the Bastion has been destroyed and he embarks to restore it piece by piece. The entire story is narrated by the Old Man you meet in the destroyed Bastion, and you hang onto every word he mutters as the story unfolds. It is an interesting dynamic that truly engages you in the world. Combined with the colorful visuals and outstanding soundtrack, the immersion factor is incredible.
What I enjoyed most about the narrator, besides his dulcet tones, is the way he dynamically calls the action. Sure, it is scripted, and there are instances where it misses the mark, but when it works, it truly feels engaging. All the way to the end, I was interested in what was being said and what was going on. I like having choices towards the end of the game that affect the entire world, but was sad that once I embarked on my final run, there was no going back; until New Game Plus, that is.
The game is built around a lot of videogame staples that show the developers’ passion for the medium. The Bastion serves as a sort of hub where you can choose your weapon loadout, buy new upgrades and check challenges within the world. You can then travel to various destinations on the world map to collect new cores and, later, shards to rebuild the dying Bastion. What I love about the game is the immense amount of variety in both enemies and weapons. No two levels feel the same, and enemies all require new tactics to overcome. It is the traditional formula that feels fresh, because so few games use it anymore.
As you reach new levels, new weapons are added to your repertoire, in turn offering up new skills. The Kid can equip two main weapons, as well as a special skill, and these run the gamut of tradition with both ranged and melee offerings. There is also a selection of proving grounds on the world map that serve as specific weapon challenges. Completing them opens up a tier of rewards based on your performance. The game also has its own tracker for in-game accomplishments that award you fragments, which are used as currency within the game. Leveling up adds more health, obviously, but also each level unlocks a new perk to add to your character, such as getting an extra continue if you die or dealing more damage when your health is low.
The gameplay is a mixture of classic ideas mixed with a bit of style. You assign weapons to either the X or B button and special moves are handled with the right trigger. You can dodge and evade using the A button and block using the left trigger. All of these things become vital, as enemies will attack from all angles, and each one has a unique offense that you must learn to overcome. The enemy diversity is fantastic, showcasing many types of creatures and some truly cool boss fights. I love how the game is constantly keeping you on your toes, yet never feels cheap or unfair. In fact, most of my woes came from falling off the world due to the isometric point of view the game utilizes.
As far as replay value goes, Bastion does contain quite a bit. Outside of the aforementioned New Game Plus, there are the Proving Grounds, tons of challenges in the Shrine and a survival mode where The Kid faces off against wave after wave of enemies while collecting fragments and more of the story, told by the narrator. There are also leaderboards that track all your in-game accomplishments including story progression and Proving Grounds collectibles. The game has legs, but I promise you won’t have a hard time dragging yourself back into this wonderful little world.
Visually, the game is a treat with a diverse color palette that lights up an HD screen like Times Square during the holidays. The art style is, by far, the star of the show featuring some breathtaking locales and unique enemy designs. The soundtrack is the kind of collection that demands a purchase. I wanted to continue listening to the music constantly, which you can do once you collect an item in the Bastion. The voice work is one single man for most of the game (there is a brief dialogue from another towards the end), but he handles it with stride. I hung onto every word he said, and his tones really carry the story well.
Bastion is the epitome of why XBLA alone is worth owning an Xbox 360 for. The game defines what passionate developers can accomplish on the platform, and if you appreciate old-school design with a modern twist, not playing this game could be considered a crime. It has so much to love and is one of the few games I was not ready to be over when the credits rolled. The Summer of Arcade starts off with a massive bang, and I suggest everyone give this one a go when it lands this week.
Review copy provided by publisher.