Bastion isn’t the kind of game I’d normally go for, mostly because it sports that kind of hack-and-slash (or shoot or whatever) combat that I can’t stand. That and the fact that I heard that it’s not fun using a keyboard and mouse, which are my tools of choice. Still, I pressed on and bought it, determined to… uh, determine… what everyone saw in it.
I wasn’t disappointed. Granted, the combat turned me off quite a bit in the beginning, but a lot of things turned me off of this game in the beginning. I went in already knowing that the game had a narrator that narrated (as narrators tend to do) my actions, so that didn’t exactly blow me away like it did others. Instead, I was actually kind of annoyed by the voice and the combat. Then there was what happened to me just a few minutes in: “Okay, I went into the building like I was supposed to and cleared it out. Now to go back out and use that healing fountain thing so that I don’t have to cut into the health bottles that I carry with me. Wait… why can’t I go outside? Seriously, it’s right there, so why won’t it let me go back? This is stupid! The fountain is right there outside the door! What kind of idiot kid heals from his own supply when he can walk a couple yards to do it and save his healing bottles for later? Aaaargh!”
After that, it was just snarling and profanity that probably shouldn’t be repeated. Suffice it to say that my initial impressions weren’t exactly positive. Nevertheless, I continued on, now sporting an angry face. The combat continued to be annoying as I played on, and I had just about given up on the game altogether for it. That’s when a magical thing happened—everything clicked. It was a combination of the music and hand-painted graphics of a certain level that mixed with meeting a new character and put the whole thing on a different level than most games. That’s when everything shifted into high gear and suddenly “worked.” Even the narrator started to be awesome.
I still have reservations about the combat with the mouse and keyboard. I like to attack from afar when given the option in games, and aiming is really wonky with the mouse; it has a target, but the actual direction is a bit off from the center for some inexplicable reason. This means that you can have a target perfectly in the bullseye and still miss. Of course, there are little arrow things that show you where you’re aiming that are more accurate, but I couldn’t train myself to watch those instead of the bullseye. The whole thing was awkward. The game’s combat isn’t necessarily bad, though; while it’s awkward with the keyboard and mouse, you eventually have the ability to customize a bunch of things from weapons and secret skills to passive bonuses. You’re constantly discovering new weapons, so the game feels consistently fresh in that regard. It’s just when dealing with precise/fast aiming using the mouse and keyboard that things become unnecessarily difficult.
That isn’t the only negative, sadly. Though the game was generally bug-free, there was one instance where I fell off the map (which is possible, by the way) and respawned past a locked gate. This gate blocked my attacks while allowing my enemy’s attacks to pass through, meaning I had no choice but to continue on and miss out on anything that may have been on the other side before opening the gate. Very annoying. Speaking of falling off the world, the hand-painted graphics sometimes mean that it’s difficult to differentiate between the background and the foreground, which can lead to embarrassing situations where you actually walk off of a ledge, thinking it to be solid ground. This only happened to me a few times, but despite the fact that the only penalty for falling off is some lost life, it can be needlessly frustrating. There was one problem that was even more infrequent, happening only once: I was walking up to a ledge, and fell off while still on the graphic. Again, that only happened once, but it was really, really frustrating.
All of that aside, this game is masterful. I didn’t expect to like it so much, but once it captured me, it held me. Many of the characters (there aren’t a lot of them, but for story-related reasons) have their backgrounds explained in dream sequences. They go a bit like this: From the Bastion, which is basically your “safe place where things aren’t trying to kill you,” you can use a few items that knock you out and transport you to a small map. On that map, a bunch of things will try to kill you. Once you kill the wave of things trying to kill you, the narrator continues the story until a new wave shows up. The idea is to keep going to hear the complete story, and though this was not-so-welcome at first given my overall distaste for the combat, it did grow on me as a creative storytelling method.
The graphics, while conducive to stupidly walking off the map at times, are consistently pretty. The music is also of the highest quality, always adding to the scene rather than just being background. Two characters’ themes even mix together for the final song, which is the kind of creative touch that games nowadays seem to be missing. The soundtrack is heavily focused on guitar, but this gives the soundtrack and game as a whole its own unique identity. I mean, this is the kind of stuff you rarely hear in games:
Here’s what you should do: