Bastion Review – Timeless Tales From a Stranger (PS4)
You may have played Bastion before, but I missed it. Yeah, it’s been available in various formats since 2011, from Xbox 360 to PC, and even mobile and browser-based versions, but somehow I still never got my hands on it. I loved last year’s Transistor, though, and when I got a chance to play Supergiant Games’ first release, I jumped at the opportunity to see what all the fuss was about. My views on this game are from a fresh perspective of having never played it before, but acknowledging that the original release was four years ago and this is simply an opportunity for PlayStation players to get in on the experience.
The Kid wakes up on a lonely bit of rock floating in the middle of nothing. There’s hardly even devastation all around. There is nothing. Taking a few steps, the ground begins to form into a path for him to follow and he makes his way towards the Bastion, the place where they had all agreed to meet up if anything ever went wrong. It’s a simple “end-of-the-world” story, but the past-tense narration by Logan Cunningham as the Stranger makes all the difference and gives Bastion a heart and soul that it may not otherwise have.
The Kid Kept Reading, Intrigued…
In fact this persistent narration from the future is your companion every step of the way. Supergiant Games calls it reactive narration, and it dynamically narrates even the smallest actions, both detailing the world around you and chronicling the small actions that you take as the player. If you try to attack an impenetrable cage holding a much needed core, the Stranger’s voice wades through the speakers, recounting how “the Kid tried to break the cage, but of course couldn’t.” When the formula for many other games is to have divisions between narrative and gameplay, it’s a pleasant experience to be able to stack both.
All of this storytelling is set to a vibrant world in a fantastic painted art style. As each area built itself around the Kid, I marveled at the designs that still held life and energy, despite being a dead world in the midst of the Calamity. There’s also a life in the gameplay. While it may seem simple on the surface, it holds a certain complexity that feels uniquely different depending on the weapons you use or upgrades you purchase. Each enemy requires different tactics, and different combinations of enemies and weapons require thought on how to approach the situation without failing. Sure, the combat is pretty basic — hit this, dodge that — but it doesn’t need to be overly complicated.
Nearly every level of the game allows for something to be built or improved, leaving a very natural feeling progression curve to Bastion. The Kid doesn’t power up too quickly, but neither was there any point where it felt like I had an inordinate amount of grinding to do in order to get past a certain challenge. As the Bastion grows, so did the opportunities to alter how I was playing and make Bastion a different game from those opening moments with nothing but a hammer and a bow. Even into my second playthrough on New Game+, it was a different game than I had started out playing because of this natural progression.
The Heart, the Soul…the Music
Supergiant Games are known for their incredible soundtracks, thanks to the compositions of the very talented Darren Korb. Even after only two games, they have won numerous industry accolades for the soundtracks of both of these titles. Bastion’s sound design has a very western and post-apocalyptic feel to it and ties to the experience, neither sticking out too much, nor getting lost in the mix, but blending in for the perfect mixture of narrative, gameplay, and earthy audio.
It’s the experience that makes the game truly special. I mean, sure, the art style is stunning, and yes, the music is beautiful, and man, do I wish Logan Cunningham would narrate my life — but it’s the sum of these parts that makes Bastion a great game. The Kid has no name, and the Stranger even makes mention that the Kid could be any boy or girl. You are the Kid. It’s rare that a game can have such a defining character, while still allowing the character to be completely defined by the player.
The amount of content in Bastion will vary from player to player. For the players who just want to simple story, it’s possible to just play through, enjoying the experience until the end. If you desire more insight into the world and the characters, there are challenge levels with waves of enemies interspersed by additional story, providing far more details that help to clarify the main storyline. And for a real challenge? Try to complete these challenge levels with all idols invoked or post a high-score on the leaderboards in the Score Attack version of the story. If you’re a trophy hunter, you’re going to need to do these things for the platinum anyway, but it’s amazing when the extra content for a game doesn’t just feel like padding, instead truly feeling like it belongs and adding to the experience.
This PlayStation release pretty much completes the rounds for Bastion. Chances are that you own at least one of the platforms it is available on, and it’s a game that simply needs to be experienced. It’s a game that breaks the traditional rules that we’re used to, giving us an experience that is still doing things that most other games are not, even four years after its original release. Depth in simplicity. A basic melding of ingredients. A heart. A soul. These are the elements that make Bastion transcend time, being a relevant and necessary release regardless of the year or platform.
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