A child’s eyes see a simple world. For centuries, fairy tales have been tools to give those eyes a view on the world they might not see on their own. They are a means of teaching lessons and giving metaphors, to see villainy and sorrow overcome by heroism and bravery. In Bastion, Supergiant Games has crafted a new fairy tale in videogame form, one that allows you to revisit your youth while celebrating the games you loved when you were small and the world was big.
The Kid wakes in his bed. He gets up, and sets off through wreckage that, minutes before, had been his home. The Calamity tore the beautiful Caelondia asunder and vaporized its citizens in an instant. Taking his trusty hammer in hand, he sets off for the city’s safe haven in times of crisis, the rallying point for survivors; the Bastion. But the Bastion is dying, the cores that power it scattered all over Caelondia- there’s no trace of other survivors, save one old man named Rucks. The Kid’s story is one of survival and loss, salvation and rebirth, as every core he collects brings the Bastion back to life. And it’s a story told through Ruck’s mouth.
Delivered by the gravelly-voiced Logan Cunningham, Rucks’ narration is the primary story-telling device, one skillfully used to flesh out the world and give it personality. It introduces every level, guides you along your quest and gives contextual information about your actions and the items in your possession. The narration is reactive and alive and transcends its application as a story device in a way only videogames can- Bastion becomes the story your father told you as he tucked you into bed.
You peer down into Bastion’s world as if it was a page from the storybook sitting on your lap, one that is beautiful and deadly, serene and mysterious. The oil-painting aesthetic make the environments lushly saturated and come alive in both color and texture in the way every tale swells in a child’s imagination. Through the narration, every area becomes its own obituary; as you journey deeper, you’ll know the dead city, the massive fort and the treacherous wilds and, in them, remnants of days forever gone. As does the story in it, that world builds up beneath The Kid, with the path ahead literally filling with every step. The initial emptiness gives a sense of space, the formation around you a sense of discovery and, when the ground collapses beneath your feet, your movements a sense of urgency. The striking visual design allows the experience to be guided without making it overbearing.
Rebuilding the Bastion requires proficiency with the artillery The Kid will wield through his adventure. While you’ll start with the mallet, you’ll find almost a dozen weapons, each with their own strengths and gameplay, including a pike and rifle, pistols and mortar. Any two weapons can be equipped in tandem and while no combination is better than the rest, the key to success is finding the pair that best complements your preferred play style. To help familiarize, every weapon has a dedicated training ground that awards items based on your performance.
Practicing with those weapons is important, because The Kid will need to be proficient at using them. Even though every enemy type has basic behavior and is easily disposed of, they are all diverse enough from each other that combat situations can be challenging when faced with a variety at once. To help face these groups, Supergiant has built an evasive roll that, while basic, wisely cancels out of any attack so you’re never forced to take damage because you’re caught in an attack animation. It’s further helped by the shield that blocks attacks and, when timed properly against incoming attacks, counters enemies and kills many out right. Combat is about dexterity, timing and skill and isn’t cheap or unfair.
A series of systems allow The Kid to customize his abilities and tune the difficulty while coming directly from, and expanding on, the larger fiction of Caelondia. Every Squirt, Scumbag and Gas Fellow he fells earns experience and with each level, allows him to equip another spirit at the local distillery, items that grant bonuses such as increased life or automatic counters. Earning gems from kills, exploration and completing challenges at the Memorial allow him to purchase new items at the Lost-and-Found or upgrade his weapons at the Forge. He can also enter a handful of wave-based combat arena’s, complete with their own narration that tells the tragic backstory for each character and what brought them all together for survival. We also meet their fickle and merciless gods at the Shrine, where invoking Idols bless enemies with new behaviors and increasing their damage while crippling your ability to take them on. The Idols are a fantastic way of customizing difficulty to increase money and experience without stapling arbitrary story elements to the world.
And Caelondia was a darker and more complex world than it seemed when the Calamity woke The Kid from his bed. At the start, you only see the good- the happy Caelondian’s with their beautiful city, their wealth and rich culture with a love of music- but, as the Bastion breathes new life, you’ll learn of the Ura, the shale-black-haired people of the wild, forced to live on the other side of the Rippling Walls, Caelondia’s impenetrable protection from its enemies. Underneath that happiness is racism and fear. Because the paranoia is tangible, but never made manifest, you get the idea that, even if the war had been started for genuine reasons, it continues out of tradition. By the end, the Calamity becomes more than you could have suspected from its beginning.
Bastion offers a look at its world without talking down to the player and the chance to take from the story what you will. The metaphors have been in fairy tales for centuries but have rarely been told so eloquently in a videogame. It’s almost indistinguishable from magic. Part of the illusion is how effortlessly it reminds you of your youth, maybe not as it was, but as you remember it. Bastion was once a children’s story and now becomes a vigil to Caelondia for those young eyes- a warning from a world that made mistakes and the hope they will build a better one.
DEVELOPER: Supergiant Games
PLATFORMS: Google Chrome, Mac, PC, XBLA