Thursday, February 2, 2012


I feel compelled to write about Bastion. I mean, I could just say "it's good, you should play it", which is totally accurate, or "it's so good I played it twice", which is also definitely true, but I think the game deserves more than that. It deserves some gushing.

Bastion is a downloadable game for the Xbox (PC too, although I played it on the Xbox). I guess I'd describe it as an 2D action game with RPG elements, although that's about as descriptive as filing music under the "rock" genre. It's got an overhead perspective, you run around and take down the baddies while progressing through levels. That's how it plays... but that part is pretty irrelevant. I mean, it plays well, but that's not the point. The point is that Bastion is a thing of beauty.

When I say beauty the first thing that probably comes to mind is its visual presentation. Art direction, graphics, whatever. That's all strong, but that's not what I'm talking about. This game is a treat for the ears. It's an auditory delight. Turning down the volume on this game is a punishably criminal offense.

The first thing you'll notice is the narrator. You're dropped in the game with some quick description of your surroundings by some gravelly old timer. Nothing else happens, you just sit there, seeing what is presumably your avatar lying down. Eventually you try to press some buttons and the kid will stand up. As he does the narrator describes what just happened. You continue moving around and this narrator follows describing things as you do them.

It's a subtle but hugely important addition. It's like in Mass Effect how they let you select your dialog responses before the other person is finished speaking. It's about the rhythm of the experience. Having the narrator in Bastion respond to what you're doing makes it feel like you are living out a story. As if what you're doing is important, noteworthy. And most importantly, the language, vocabulary, cadence, and tone of the narrator firmly plants you in this world more so than any visual ever could.

The narrator from Bastion has been much applauded in the game's critical reception. But reducing Bastion to a game that is only interesting because of its narrator is selling it short.

The music. Oh my god the music. There are few games that have caused me to go track down the soundtrack. This is definitely one of them. It feels simultaneously old yet modern, western but eastern. It feels like a future that is firmly grounded in the past. It's Firefly. It's steampunk. It's extraordinarily intentional and extraordinarily good. Again, more than any visual element, the music places you in a fully realized world.

Reading the notes from the composer, apparently he was aiming for “acoustic frontier trip-hop”. Yes! That! OMG yes that!

It's not my intention to sell the visual presentation or gameplay short. They're both very strong. The visuals are vibrant, interesting, and unique. The gameplay is simple but tight, and builds in a way that gives you plenty to master. It's a holistically enjoyable package. But it's the sweet sounds encircling my brain that make me love Bastion.  It’s good. You should play it.

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