Bastion's presentation is beautiful. Its vibrant watercolor art style and melodic soundtrack make its appeal immediately apparent. It's not just window dressing either – Bastion has all the trappings of a superb hack-and-slash action game, with just the right amount of RPG-ness to add substance. The combat feels satisfying, each weapon in your arsenal feels distinct, and the customization and upgrade options are meaningful and plentiful without being tedious.
Here's the set-up: As the protagonist simply called "the kid," you wake up in your room to discover that the world you live in has been blown to bits by an event called the calamity. You seem to be the sole survivor, and as you gingerly navigate through the floating pathways of what's left of your people's civilization, you encounter various monsters that want to fight. Along the way, you must collect items called cores that gradually restore the titular Bastion, which functions as a home base and somehow relates to saving the world (no spoilers!).
To survive, the kid wields two weapons and a shield, along with a special attack and a dodge roll. Your arsenal expands as you progress, and experimenting with each new weapon feels rewarding because each weapon feels distinct. From hammer to machete to dual pistols or flamethrower, each has its merits, and for the most part one weapon doesn't feel inherently stronger than another until you start to choose which ones to upgrade (it is possible to upgrade them all eventually too).
Enemy variation complements the weapon variation nicely too. Enemy types don’t just vary visually – they each attack differently too, from frontal charges to ranged projectiles and aerial swoops. While in the earlier stages you can get by button-mashing, as the difficulty increases the need for strategy gradually increases too, and we found that it was necessary to make use of all of the kid's abilities during combat – no button was neglected.
The customization goes deeper than choosing weapon loadouts and upgrades though. With each level you gain, you can choose a perk to add on to the kid, like increased health, higher critical hit rates and so on. You can even adjust the difficulty of the enemies in exchange for added bonuses to the percentage of experience points and money you earn. These difficulty options are surprisingly detailed; not only can you make enemies stronger overall, but you can also make them block attacks, retaliate upon KO, regenerate, and so on, and you can stack each of these options until you feel the challenge is just right. Being able to customize the difficulty to this extent made it easy to find a configuration that suited us perfectly, and also allowed us to experiment with ramping it up or down as we grew stronger in our abilities. It may seem like a small thing, but in an almost entirely action-focused game like this, the difficulty level can make or break one's enjoyment of the game (too easy is boring, too hard is frustrating) and so it's a big deal to be able to custom tailor it so thoroughly.
Aside from gameplay, as is the way with some of the more artsy-leaning XBLA games, Bastion's story falls disappointingly flat once you strip away its stylish façade. Yes, it's presented in an engaging way that held our interest to the end, in large part because of the amazing narration that carries through the entirety of the game. The slick presentation though merely masks a story that's a fairly standard dressing up of a typical fetch quest.
As long as you're not expecting a profoundly original artistic vision, Bastion delivers on its gameplay. Bastion's main strengths are twofold – the combat is satisfying and varied, and the customization options are robust. Our only major complaints are fairly nitpicky – it's easy to fall of ledges (especially if you're using the shotgun weapon, which causes significant kickback and often kicks the kid off the edge of the world), and when you find a new weapon you're forced to equip it until you can get to a nearby armory to swap it out, which can be particularly annoying if it de-equips your favorite weapon. These are small issues in the larger picture though, and Bastion is still overwhelmingly well-executed.
Jul 19, 2011