The Summer of Arcade begins with Bastion, an isometric RPG action adventure, looking very much like an old school SNES or PSOne game. This annual event on XBL always seems to deliver something different at a time of year that usually sees very little AAA retail gaming action, Bastion doesn't disappoint and continues the annual tradition of alternate XBLA gaming with a delightful RPG adventure for less than ten pounds (1200pts).
The calamity has hit and you are ‘the kid’, a young whippersnapper who somehow slept through this apocalyptic event. Upon awakening your path is clear (the game is linear), find the cores on each of the required levels and restore Bastion to its former glory.
Straight from the title screen the sublime art direction is evident, washed out colours fill your screen, coupled with a striking fantasy theme; this isn’t a plain Jane RPG adventure.
The visuals are stunning and the team behind both the art direction and the graphics themselves deserve a huge pat on the back for bringing to life the world of Bastion. It’s rare that such a simple game can be commended for being so graphically appealing but Bastion is different, subtle in places yes, but always top notch. Just cast your eyes over some of the screenshots, the use of colour is superb.
Our adventure begins and immediately we meet with probably the most divisive element of this title, the narrator. That smooth chocolate voice (which doesn’t at all match the graphical character on the screen) begins to fill in some of the back story, all the while showing some nice technical touches, begins to narrate your actions within the game. I know that this element of the game has split opinion and many a gamer will turn the narration off, I for one though, loved every minute of it.
Working my way through the first level, having played RPGs for many years, I decide to break everything in my path looking for some loot, the narrator's smooth voice can be heard “the kid just rages for a while”. At this moment, I was completely sold, it’s such a small thing granted, but it produced a grin from ear to ear and I had to continue. Later in the game another moment brings much the same reaction, “good job they don’t know the kid's all out of health”, these little touches really brought the game to life and I’d implore you to keep the narration turned on to get the full experience.
The audio in general is very well executed, the mood is frequently set for the upcoming fight with some excellent drums and twangy (real word?) guitar. The twangy guitar is a bit of a highlight, ramping up as the intensity of the mess you've found yourself in increases. It's all very well done, expertly timed and adds enough to the experience to warrant a mention.
So what of the actual RPG elements within the game? How much of an RPG is Bastion?
Well, it is an RPG, and it does have RPG elements but they are far from hard core. By completing the various regions/levels (whatever you want to call them), you are granted the ability to re-build an element of Bastion. This allows you to build weapons, weapon upgrades, drinks, which offer passive bonuses (available when you level up), a general shop to buy materials, as well as a place to complete vigils (for bonuses) and also summon the various gods within the game.
Out of all these, which for the most part are standard RPG fare (10 levels achievable through accumulating XP), summoning the gods is by far the most unique design choice and it does add to the longevity of the game. By summoning one of these gods (they can be unlocked or purchased) you actually make the game more difficult. In turn your bonuses throughout the entire game increase e.g. +5% crystals collection. This is a novel way of keeping the gamer interested, and it works.
While we are on the subject of longevity, the three challenge modes ‘Who knows where’ not only award the player with a wealth of crystals (the games currency), but the live leader boards allow you to pit yourself against the world. How many of the gods can you turn on in each challenge before you hit a brick wall? Can your mate go one further? It all simply increases the content within the game, and as mentioned, its longevity.
On the subject of “Who knows where”, I would encourage you to complete all three of these challenges before you move forward to completing the game, they fill in the back story for the three main core characters and this makes the decisions made within the game, that much more rewarding. They just add more to the already rich story and world that has been created in Bastion.
The final main content element is the weapon challenges. Each weapon acquired throughout the main story has a dedicated challenge arena with set challenge criteria. Prizes are awarded based on these criteria; these are primarily focused on weapon upgrades. These challenges also feed into the vigils which provide you with additional crystals and XP upgrades.
The core story is for the most part, throw away, but it does a reasonable job of engaging you. It doesn't have that much work to do really as the combat, the level design, the graphics and for a small part, the soundtrack, keep you wanting to play on and complete the story. You meet a few interesting people along the way but the story isn't what compels you to play on, luckily, it doesn't need to.
The achievements for the game are mainly story related so will prove no bother, however you will need two playthroughs to get them all, to avoid this feeling anything like a grind, there is a New Game Plus mode. This feature is fast becoming standard in modern action adventure games and in the case of Bastion, it fits very nicely, allowing you to have another crack at all the trials/challenges with every upgrade for every weapon. I assure you though, some are still tricky.
So in summary, the Summer of Arcade is off to a flyer with Bastion, putting quite a lot of the retail games that have been released so far this year to shame (I'm looking at you SEGA). Although some aren't over the moon with Microsoft's stealth rise, new titles being sold for 1200pts instead of the old standard of 800pts, this game is worth it.
If you like the genre, or are in the slightest bit interested in checking it out, Bastion is a must. Lots of games are being kitted out with the New Game Plus feature, Bastion is the first title where I've started a New Game Plus the minute I finished my first playthrough.