Over the years I’ve been keeping an unofficial list of games that, for whatever reason, I own but have never played. Some call it a backlog, others a to-play list. For me, it’s my Oversight list. Great games that I’ve always been meaning to play but have not yet gotten around to playing. Every year the list grows longer and this series is an attempt to play these amazing games and undo the Oversight.
The first game on my list is Bastion. Developed by Supergiant Games and published almost three years ago by Warner Bros. Interactive, Bastion is a 2D isometric adventure platformer. Set in a time immediately following a mysterious apocalyptic event called the Calamity, you play an unnamed protagonist referred to as the Kid. You make your way through a broken floating world, searching for the Bastion, a man-made sanctuary, and guided by the omniscient voice of the Narrator.
I’ve had Bastion for over two years. I bought it with a number of other brilliant games in the Humble Indie Bundle 5. I’d heard that Bastion was amazing and one to try so I installed it, played for 20 minutes and promptly put down the controller. I didn’t pick it up again for more than a year. I found the game beautiful and intriguing but other games called to me, including some of the other games in the Bundle, like Braid and Limbo. No matter what other games I played, Bastion was in the back of my mind and I always intended to open my Indie folder and load the game back up. Took some time but that’s what I finally did.
So what made me sit down and play through Bastion properly? Turns out it was another of Supergiant’s games, their new release Transistor. I really like the look of the isometric art, mix of turn-based and real-time combat, and compelling world. I decided that I should play through Bastion before even thinking of starting Transistor. So I loaded up Bastion, started a new game (ignoring the 20 minutes of progress I’d made oh so long ago) and committed myself to finally crossing the game off my Oversight list.
I was immediately struck again at how beautiful Bastion is. The art-style, setting, and animation is all well-crafted and polished. The more I played of it, the more I stopped seeing Bastion as a cute little indie title. There’s a surprising amount of depth to both the gameplay and the story. The most prominent and memorable element of Bastion is the narrator Rucks, voiced by Logan Cunningham. Rucks provides omniscient real-time narration that changes depending on the Kid’s actions.
This narration helps to create both feelings of intimacy and distance. We know the narrator is speaking directly to us, the player, but he’s also kept at arms length to the Kid. Although we meet Rucks the character in the game, he seems different to the all-knowing and all-seeing narrator.
Beyond the complex interaction of narrator and gameplay, Bastion presents a remarkably deep combat system. The combat reminded me a lot of the Dark Souls series, albeit translated to a 2D isometric view. You’ve got two attack types, a shield for defence and parrying, a roll ability, and refillable health drinks. You can customise your loadout, choosing between a number of different ranged and melee weapons. You upgrade your weapon skills, often choosing between damage and critical hit bonuses. There’s a lot of room in Bastion to find your ideal playstyle and that’s what I love most about the game. I ended up choosing a shotgun and hammer combination, a good mix of ranged and close quarters attacks that served me well. The boss fights, though not nearly on the same difficulty level as Dark Souls, take strategy and planning in order to successful manoeuvre the different weakpoints.
Along with the finely balanced combat, Bastion also excels in gameplay pacing. For the most part the stages are all the perfect length, neither too short nor long. The only time I thought a stage went on too long was during my first Memories encounter. I eventually realised, however, that they’re designed to be an endurance round where you fight off wave after wave of enemies.
The core game isn’t too long, but this is supplemented by a good number of weapon challenge stages called Proving Grounds. Essentially these are time attack rounds that help you get used to the different weapon abilities and offer upgrade items as rewards. As well, once you finish the game you can restart in New Game Plus mode that adds new upgrades and skill unlocks.
The story and lore of Bastion is there for people who want to explore the world and backstory but also gets out of the way of people who just want to experience the combat and gameplay. The ending even offers different choices, something that helps greatly with character and story investment. Supergiant have found a good mix that caters to all player types, even including a No-Sweat mode for players of all ages or for people who just want to experience the world.
I’m glad I finally played through Bastion. Even looking past the beautiful visuals, excellent gameplay, world-class narration, and amazing soundtrack, the game itself is loads of fun to play. Everything works so well together to deliver a truly memorable experience. If you haven’t played Bastion yet, what are you waiting for? You can normally find it on sale on Steam but it’s worth it even at full price. I’m glad I’ve been able to finish Bastion and finally correct the year’s-old Oversight.Colin Le Sueur