The Kid Knew He Had A Long Journey Ahead Of Him
Available on: XBOX 360, XBOX One, PC, Mobile, Nintendo Switch, PS VITA, PS4, Browser
Genre: Action RPG
Developer: Supergiant Games
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Released: July 20, 2011
Preface: In the year 2020, it appears when looking in from the outside that one game has stood over all others in terms of what could be considered sheer gaming perfection. Sure we have had masterpieces in story telling such as The Last Of Us 2, the run and gun excellence of DOOM Eternal or even the supreme world building of Ghosts of Tsushima, however, in their excellence each is always talked about whilst weighing against their flaws. Something that Hades has somehow managed to circumvent.
As I bought Hades based on the excellent review by our own James here I came to a realisation. I don't think I have ever played a game from this team, Supergiant Games, who are renowned for best in class indie titles going back as far as 2011 with the release of their breakout hit Bastion, followed by a slew of critically acclaimed titles all the way to today. As such, join me on the decade anniversary of Supergiants first hit as I play and take the journey to experience the games that helped to form a supposed masterpiece, so as to be more informed when I inevitably get to it.
Today, we look at the classic title Bastion.
The lineage of a modern day classic
Bastion, the game to launch a sea of Indies. In 2011 Bastion was released into the then early days of digital distribution with glowing reviews and awards in toe from a pre release build demonstrated at gaming conventions in the year previous. This caused the world to very much take notice when it finally landed. And oh boy did it land.
Critics cited it as being an example of what the newly dubbed ”Indie” experience could be. A game with such charisma, such heart, such tight mechanics, that only its focus on its core gameplay and meagre price point could give away its independent roots. Bastion would go on to be a title that the industry would point to when justifying the Indie space for many years to come and even still to this day.
Yet, I never got around to it personally. Well that has all changed now my friends and oh my lord am I happy I did so.
Lets jump right in shall we?
“He gets up”
So you play as “the Kid”, a white haired young man who awakes on a floating rock in what seems to be a ruined world. You waste no time in getting going, picking up your trusty Cael Hammer along the way, as you proceed to the titular Bastion for which the game is named. It is here you will meet Rucks, a kindly looking old man who offers the Kid insight into how the world has become this way and also acts as a narrator for your entire adventure, but more on that later.
He explains to you that you are now on one of the many floating islands of the fractured city of Caelondia. This city and its surrounding areas were split by a tragic calamity, killing all who fell in its wake. However, not all is lost as Rucks informs the kid of a means by which he might reform the world as he once knew it and set everything back to its natural order. To do this, the kid must travel to each of the many floating islands to search for cores which can be brought back to the Bastion and fed to a device with the ability to both restore and build land anew.
Then that's it, you have all the motivation you would ever need to get started, and honestly I did not expect any more from this narrative, how wrong I was.
Along the way you will discover a handful of survivors who play their part in weaving the rich tapestry of lore you are constantly uncovering from this world, along with some story beats which simply need to be experienced, but rest assured, if you are one for an engrossing story in your Indie title then trust me, Bastions got you covered.
With that said, let's discuss the meat and potatoes here, the gameplay.
I don't know perfection, but I know what I like
Bastion is an Action RPG, hack and slash with twin stick elements and a satisfying upgrade path. You've played hundreds of these you say? Not before Bastion you didn't! Granted I'm sure there are earlier examples but Bastion really solidified this approach to Indie game development and for good reason.
In Bastion you progress from level to level via an overworld map selection screen.
You'll feel Nd yourself trawling through waves of varied and wonderfully designed enemies to scour each area for the aforementioned cores, resources to be used to improve your weapons or items which lead to more delicious world building lore. Each of these outcomes are just as satisfying as the last.
Your means of combat is simple but incredibly effective in the way that Bastion simply provides two buttons, Y and A, by which to attack with.
What weapons are tied to these buttons is entirely up to you. If you want to be a glass cannon long range type, then perhaps you will run with a combination of the Dueling Pistols and the Army Carbine. Like to keep it up close and personal? Then perhaps I can interest you in a War Machete paired with Flame Bellows. Or if like me you like to hit hard both up close and afar, the intoxicating combination of the Cael Hammer and Breaker’s Bow may be for you.
These are just a handful of the weapons you come across throughout your journey, each with their own strengths and weaknesses which shine when paired with another. That said, you do have a level of control over how these weapons handle in the surprisingly robust customisation options available for each.
These customisations are carried out in the Forge, one of six buildings you return to the bastion which you will use the world currency you pick up along the way to augment your experience.
Whether it's upgrades to your weapons as mentioned in the Forge, tackling challenges provided by the Memorial, selecting different combinations of weapons and special abilities at the Arsenal, or altering the games difficulty by applying buffs and debuffs at the Distillery / Shrine respectfully, there is an awful lot to discover and play around with here.
The overall adventure, while engrossing, is not a particularly long affair by default. However, with the ability to layer on many different difficulty mutators such as ‘enemies will explode on death’ or ‘enemies hit harder’ you can offset this to extend the length and punishment to what you feel is just right. A feature we don't see often enough in modern video games that I will be championing more after this experience.
Additionally, a myriad of weapon challenges, challenge arenas and the excellent Strangers Dream DLC offer more than enough reason for the seasoned adventurer to return.
It's the smallest touches that truly set it apart
So I clearly come away from this 9 year old indie game with an incredibly positive opinion, so much so it has crept into my top 10 Switch games of all time, but why you might be wondering.
Sure it's a solid ARPG Brawler/Shooter but ‘seen one seen them all’ right? What makes this one so impactful that a decade later its lighting a fire in the heart of an old ass gamer who doesn't have a huge affection for the genre? Well it's two things.
First of all, the beautiful art direction.
This game, much like all of the Supergiant games I have admired from afar, captivates me with its use of art to paint a sense of atmosphere in the world you are exploring. In Bastion, this is accomplished by a very painterly approach, where the use of over exaggerated colours of plant life and magic contrast against the drab wreckage of destroyed timbers and crumbling gravel that sets my soul aflutter.
This accompanied by the way in which Bastion slowly reveals its level design to you, rocketing in a new tile of your pathway as you inch closer to it and it's simply charming enemy designs just make for a world that both feels familiar and unique in a way I didnt even know i wanted.
Throw in a suitably beautiful audio score with uplifting acoustic strumming amid high trumpets and wind instruments had me melting into my seat.
Then secondly (and arguably most importantly) is Rucks. Yes that's right, that old man you meet at the beginning of the game. You see from the moment you wake up in this world until the moment you leave it, Rucks is narrating, telling the story of the Kid to you the player, as and when you act it out. This is a feature that honestly is simply astonishing that it never made its way into more mainstream titles. You see the narration in this game is unique, there isn't simply narration for the beginning, middle and end of a segment, oh no. Rucks will react to damn near everything you do, often in a manner that only you and a select few people who made that same split second decision may hear. Fall off a ledge in a specific level, Rucks may throw in:
“And then the Kid fell to his death."
(Kid immediately falls back onto the play area)
"Naw, I'm just foolin'."
Or inversely, never fall off in a level and you may hear:
"Know how many times The Kid nearly fell off that barge?... not even once."
Everything from communicating with other survivors, accomplishing goals, selecting specific loadouts or defeating enemies in creative ways are remarked on by Rucks in real time and it really empowers you the player as this now feels like your story, not someone elses you are simply witnessing. The level of immersion this brought to me in a game genre I would never consider immersive was simply wonderful.
“Our world, she's done”
From the moment i self imposed this task of familiarising myself with the greatest works of the Supergiant team, i always knew it would be enjoyable. I mean each game in the list is critically acclaimed but I did fear that coming to Bastion for the first time, a decade after its first release would be a slog. I'm glad to report it as anything but.
Bastion is one of the best games I have played on my Nintendo Switch, of which I have played many, it’s tight combat and customisable difficulty kept me clinging to my Joy-Cons in a vice like grip. Its warm characters and splendid artstyle kept my heart and eyes ravenous for more every time I considered going to sleep that night, and of course getting to put my own subtle impression on a beautiful story was just the icing on the cake.
Bastion is a game that I encourage gamers of every age and variation to play, and it can be gotten for an absolute steal on pretty much every platform out there.
This all being said, I am filled with a kind of unease, I mean this game set the bar so high right out the gate, how can the next game in the series hope to compare?
To find out, make sure to follow all things CGC to catch when part two of my Road To Hades series drops where I will be taking a look at the controversial classic Transistor. Will it hold up or even better Bastion's highest highs? Only time will tell.
Play this game if:
You love brawlers or twin stick shooters
You are a sucker for a painterly art style
You yearn for more story in your simpler games
You like video games, period. You owe it to yourself.
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