I do wonder how much introduction Bastion needs. It is the first title made by Supergiant Games and one I enjoyed enough to finish thanks to its nice atmosphere and entertaining combat. Although, these are not the reasons for why I decided to give it a thorough review. My previous co-writer, Casper from Legacy of Games, had this indie project as his first review for his site and praised it surprisingly high. While I cannot deny that my good friend and I have different opinions quite often, it was strange to be this close to an agreement, yet still far from on the same level. Was there perhaps more to this hack & slash than what I originally saw?
The best narrator for the wrong moments
Playing as the little boy only known as the Kid, you wake up in a world destroyed into pieces that strangely float around. With no other alternatives, you follow the platforms all the way to reach Bastion, a safe haven of sorts where there might be other survivors. Upon reaching it, you meet the narrator of this adventure named Rucks, who instructs the Kid that they need crystalline cores in order to restore this land to its full glory.
This is the basic goal throughout this game, and despite that you will find other survivors with their own backgrounds, Rucks is the only character with a voice in this tale all the way until its very end. It is an interesting concept to have mainly him tell you about the old places and stonified humans that you encounter, but this storyteller is too vague and snarky to give any proper introductions to the past. This also goes for the artefacts you can gather and can ask for insights to, as they mean little now and the elaboration of their lore is subpar at best.
At first, I believed this could have been done to make the player focus on what they saw on their journey in order to make their own conclusions. Sadly, there are not enough visual highlights to give you any strong ideas of this world’s history, making it hard to care about what once was. Even if important events tie in with the people you meet, their backgrounds are easy to summarise within one sentence each. However, where this narrator shines, is whenever he is commenting on your actions. Whether it be about the Kid’s inability to hold his footing, the enemies you fight or what equipment you decide to take with you, all are humorous and add a nice sense of personality to your travels.
If these witty monologues would have been it, I could have accepted the idea of a joker who does not go overboard with expositions. Unfortunately, with his strange mockery of the past and somewhat serious tone, it is hard to get invested in this damaged universe. It is also confusing to hear about the protagonist’s childhood, since these segments only offer more tales that are easily forgettable and are poorly presented, making the Kid underwhelming as a hero. The multiple endings by your choices towards the last 10 minutes of this title are not interesting either. A great commentator on your adventure, but a terrible loremaster.
Story Score: 5/10
Simple, but effective
Bastion is an isometric hack & slash that is straightforward and mainly so for the better. Using your safe haven as a hub, you are able to upgrade it with different buildings by collecting crystals throughout the game. You find these important trinkets within stages that are unlocked progressively, where you will have to explore and fight your way through them. Although, these crystalline cores are never hard to acquire within these broken lands and rather act as goalposts, so to speak.
This is because the focus will be on the plenty of fiends to deal with, which the Kid is agile enough to handle in any number. You have two buttons dedicated to using one weapon each, can block with a shield, and roll out of harm’s way. Speaking of your defensive moves, the roll is quick and travels far, while the shield will automatically target against an enemy and if used the moment an attack lands on you, you counter it. Both are valuable abilities, with the dodge being easier to navigate and fast, whereas the shield can defend against anything and requires more practice.
As for your offensive arsenal, they come in a diverse variety. You can pick up a devastating hammer, a swift machete or a long spear, to name a few examples of what to equip for melee combat and the firearms are just as intriguing to experiment with. Whether it be the charging bow and arrows, the repeaters with rapid shots or the shotgun that fires widespread bullets, all of these tools are useful for the upcoming battles. Some even have alternative functionalities and there is nothing stopping you from using only melee or ranged weapons. Those for close combat come with simple combos, while those using projectiles contain different reload times with unlimited ammo for all, making the action constant.
Furthermore, the Kid also has resources in the form of tonics. The first type is for regenerating your life bar and the second one is for using special moves, which you can carry a maximum of three units of each. Healing yourself is simply done with the click of a button, and picking up more bottles or drinking from fountains while your health is low, will automatically refill it if you have a full set. As for the other type of potion, you use one flask whenever you perform a special move. You can equip only one at a time, and they can be a whirlwind attack, harsh grenades or come with defensive purposes. All are useful for complimenting any playstyle, just like the weapons. If you have no need for either brew at all and still pick one up, you get more XP instead, which is a nice touch. Yes, there are implementations of RPG mechanics, but we will come back to this later.
Despite that targeting opponents is finicky due to automatically focusing on the closest one, you can still use the shoulder buttons to alter which monster to lock onto. Luckily, you will rarely need to do so, as attacking without this feature is a valid and quick option. Especially since the fiends are rather a threat because of the amount they come in than anything else, making it important to be on the edge for any big encounters and simultaneously use your diverse sets of abilities fast and strategically. Regrettably, this is one area where Bastion does not realise that quantity can cost quality.
The combat is engaging throughout the game thanks to the Kid having a strong and simple moveset, but the enemies themselves are nothing to write home about. There will be some with devastating charge attacks and stationary ones that shoot barrages of needles at you, but they become too similar to each other in patterns and capabilities, making the battles repetitive. Even worse, is that they are more aggressive than intelligent, easily tumbling off the world or hurting each other accidentally. This makes it too easy to exploit their behaviours and it becomes annoying when recoloured and resized versions are already introduced early on in the campaign. The bosses are also uninteresting, as they are either huge doors or bloated takes on the regular foes.
It should be reiterated that since there are tons of creatures to take out simultaneously more often than not, the fights are still satisfying and enjoyable. I also admire the intriguing details added in, like how some fiends appear in boxes that can be destroyed before they pop up and how the Kid falling off a stage causes only a small portion of health to be lost. However, I am not a fan of that whenever you find a new weapon, you have to utilize it for longer than a quick tutorial since you can only alter your setup at an arsenal. A short showcase of their uses would have been more than enough.
Besides tonics, special moves, and weapons, you can also locate materials, beverages, and blue rocks that act as currency. All of these items can only be tinkered with or utilized in their respective buildings, which you are able to upgrade or unlock one of every time you gather a crystal. The arsenal is where you can equip your weapons and special moves as mentioned, making it clear you will rarely switch them out with how inconvenient it is to do so. Enhancing your arms is done at the forge where you can choose between two improvements for each tool, which will require specific materials and a set amount of rocks. While nothing substantial, this is a solid inclusion to make the battles fun.
Additionally, there is the distillery where the single reason for levelling up lies. Here, you will gain one slot for each level increased where you can input beverages to give the Kid permanent strengths, like being able to hold more healing flasks or do 100% damage when countering. This is a decent extra, but only provides minor supports to the playstyle you are going for. Lost and found is where you can purchase materials back if you did not find them throughout a stage, which is a clever way to let people explore as much or little as they want to.
Sadly, I found the last couple of houses downright underwhelming. The memorial is basically an achievement board where you get rewards for your accomplishments in the form of blue rocks, while the shrine gives you more of this currency by putting on a decided handicap. These are not necessarily bad ideas, but since the income will only be used for a few preferred upgrades, they are not really important establishments for anyone unless they are into completing everything or making the journey more challenging.
Overall though, these aspects do help at giving the player the experience they want, which is what Bastion excels at. Despite that it is far from a deep title due to enemies being shallow, they are all functional for making the fights entertaining. With a big arsenal to choose from and a good amount of stages that you can take on at your own pace, this is the perfect comfort game that is definitely made with care.
Gameplay Score: 7/10
I adore the amount of colours this world in shambles contain. The mix of unique environments with blurry backgrounds made by oil paintings that vaguely represent what the areas were once like, add to this surreal setting wonderfully. This is all further expanded upon with set pieces floating into place, giving an unintrusive symbolism of rebuilding homes from relics. What is a shame though, is that a lot of the decorative objects are reused and can make locations blend in together. Some get to stick out, such as the mining facility and the jungle, but I believe more could have been done to make the lands distinct from one another.
Bastion‘s characters are also something to take notice of in terms of style due to their neat and cultural attires, which also showcases subtle lore to the cast’s backgrounds. Every drawing used for the cutscenes with simple movements is stunning, and I love how each bottle of alcohol has an imaginative design that I wish I could recreate. The mesmerising visuals also translate to the combat, thanks to how every swing of Kid’s weapons or shots from his firearms packs a hard punch through convincing animations.
Unfortunately, the enemies are rather bland forms of familiar creatures that become lacklustre because of the recolouring. Grim reapers with blue or green coats, blueberries spitting snots, and dragon heads shooting fire, can only do so much for the variety and it does not get better onwards. Some of these fiends also have incredibly stiff animations that turn them into rather forgettable obstacles. Still, the areas and the Kid’s attacks are immersive and captivating, which helps to mitigate this issue somewhat.
As for the audio, nothing sticks out to leave an impact, but I am happy how all the weapons sound different in use, offering a nice flavour to the mayhem you can cause. Despite that I question at times what Rucks says to be valuable, I cannot stress enough what an amazing voice Logan Cunningham provides to this character. His rusty and weary tone has clear emotions to enhance any situation, giving this narrator an intriguing and believable personality through his beautiful directions. I will also say the other actor is solid as well, even if we only get to hear her at the end of this adventure.
The crowning accomplishment of this entire presentation, has to be the score composed by Darren Korb. With a focus on varied string instruments, he knocks it out of the park with a barrage of styles that all fits this diverse world perfectly. Aggressive electric ones for battles, slow and sombre melodies for emotional scenes, and an outstanding intro theme with an acoustic guitar, the entire soundtrack is magnificently used throughout the game. It is amazing how you hear the rough instruments being played that adds to the charm of Bastion, with even industrial ones being included. Also worth praising are the songs performed by both Darren Korb and Ashley Lynn Barret. They offer wonderful voices that signify the harsh events occurring, adding to the gorgeous atmosphere.
Presentation Score: 8/10
Coming back, but for what?
Whenever you find new weapons, you can test them out in proving grounds, which are basically short stages dedicated to using one of these offensive tools alone. This is a commendable setup for getting an idea of the possibilities each of them holds, with three prizes to get depending on how well you did it. Sadly, to get the best reward, you are encouraged to maximise your arsenals’ upgrades, neglecting the need for skilful play. Even then, the right enhancement can mean the difference between an easy victory and an unnecessarily difficult one, making this extra content unbalanced.
I cannot say that the trials in the memorial and shrine provide enough substance to make them interesting to take on either. Instead, they are bland tasks that only artificially lengthen your adventure. This can also be said for the artefacts to find, since they add nothing to the story or gameplay. Luckily, there are reasons to replay this title. The leaderboards are nothing special, but the score attack can make it engaging to see how many points you can get, and the new game plus offers a good challenge and the ability to improve the Kid even further from your last run. With this and the arenas that will throw tons of enemies at you, there are valid reasons to revisit this broken world. Just not all of it.
Extra Score: 6/10
Bastion has solid combat mechanics and a lovely atmosphere, which is what makes me generally recommend it. The uninviting lore and poor variety in foes to kill make the whole experience stumble, and I believe a better focus on its main strengths could have made this into a spectacular product. Despite that I find it hard to praise as much as my dear friend did, this is a perfectly fine hack & slash with some shortcomings and just as many commendable details to it.