The Summer of Arcade (Winter for us kiwis) is always a fun time of the year for Xbox Live Arcade releases and this year is no different. We’ve had Eric Chahi release a new title after way too long (From Dust), we’ve received Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet after years of tantalising, and Fruit Ninja has (finally) given Kinect owners something to enjoy. But it all started a few weeks back with the release of Bastion, a rather ‘retro with a new coat of paint’ style adventure game.
Bastion is one of those games that starts passively. You see what looks like the remnants of an intro, and you hear the voice of a narrator ease you into your first few moments, but it’s when all goes quiet and you’re left looking at a small boy lying on the ground unconscious that you realise the game has already started and that magic is about to happen.
The magic that takes place isn’t in the form of the gameplay you’re about to experience; instead it comes the second that the narrator starts talking about the stuff you’re doing. As soon as you move the control stick and the boy gets up the narrator informs us of exactly that. The narrator is there to not only talk you through the story to be found in Bastion but to also to take you through the story that IS Bastion. You’re creating it alongside the narrator and while a lot of the narrator’s words are clearly scripted there are purely magical moments when he’ll say something you just weren’t expecting to hear based on an action or a failed attempt at something that you’ve just done.
It’s a great device that works amazingly well, and while it can sometimes feel a little overdone it sets Bastion out from the crowd when it comes to presentation. Sadly, there aren’t too many other moments in Bastion that will make you feel that same sense of magic. The boy has no idea how he came to be in this strange floating world that creates itself as you walk along it, and he has no idea what has happened to the world he came from. It’s up to you to guide him to the Bastion, help him figure out what has happened to everyone he knew, and hopefully get everything back to normal.
Combat can be a little difficult and definitely will take the mastering of both defence and offense before any frustration might leave you. The enemies are fairly relentless when it comes to lowering your health meter and for the first hour or so you’ll be going through the health packs as fast as you’re picking them up. As you progress further you’ll find more weaponry, new areas and the ability to upgrade not only the weapons you hold but special abilities you have.
The only problem with Bastion is that it doesn’t feel all that new or unique. I couldn’t help but feel everything I was doing I had done before, and for the most part I had seen it done better. By no means does that make Bastion a bad game, and for the price of admission it’s something that will keep most people entertained for a few hours. But for me, the graphics and narrator weren’t enough to keep my interest piqued. Combat became repetitive fairly quickly, stages were linear enough for me to know where I was going at all times and exploration disappeared. I quickly had favourite weapons and abilities I stuck with and soon enough I had felt I had seen everything Bastion had to offer.
It’s not uncommon for a videogame to release to a mixed crowd. There’s always the people that fall head over heels in love with a game that many others just don’t understand or find any connection with, and while there hasn’t been much from anyone disliking the selection of XBLA Summer of Arcade titles there was something about Bastion that just didn’t grab my attention like it did the numerous other critics out there. This is the kind of game that deserves the ‘trial’ system that the XBLA has on offer, as seeing the first stage will really give you a true taste of what to expect out of the full game. If you enjoy what you see there you’ll definitely enjoy everything else Bastion has to offer.
Graphics – 7
Sounds – 9
Gameplay – 5
Lasting Appeal – 5
Overall – 6
Bastion has been made available to PC gamers in New Zealand and Australia via Steam - go here for more.