Step away from the Kickstarter stuff, sweep aside questions of exactly how the millions have (or are being) spent. Just look at Broken Age as a game. It’s surprisingly easy to do, actually. There’s nothing half-done here, nothing that doesn’t feel like a tidy, heartfelt adventure title from the genre’s best creators.
The first thing you notice is the art style – it’s gorgeous. Painterly and crosshatched, but not low-res. Every background is lovingly crafted and the environments feel surprisingly three dimensional. The animation, too, is quirky but life-like enough to inject true character. It’s almost stop motion in nature, so that the overall effect is a cross between the nascent papercraft of South Park and Skyward Sword’s pastels. This is added to with some superb writing and voice acting. Each character is full and rich, with easy delivery of lines, so that you actually want to click through every conversation branch. Notable voices that you might recognise include Jennifer Hale, Wil Wheaton, Elijah Wood and Jack Black.
Good-natured humour is difficult to pull off, but Broken Age manages to do it, with many moments that are clever rather than crass, charming rather than devlish. A woodworker’s urgent musings about his desire to make a stool, and then relief after “spreading his samples around” is an example of the broad yet generally mark-hitting humour employed.
Curiously, the structure of the game (as well as being separated into acts) is split between two seemingly unrelated stories. There are a few hints as to the relationship between these two narratives, but in this first act it’s not made clear early enough why this structure was necessary. In fact, if you complete Vella’s part before Shay’s there’s a pretty major spoiler – so we’d suggest playing through as Shay first.
Still, both stories are unique and interesting, which is important because the puzzles in Broken Age are far from complex. There are a few self-contained areas where you need to find certain objects, combine them and then use them at the right moment, but for the most part the puzzles are spread over a wide area and unfold at a sedate pace. You rarely have more than three or four objects with you at one time and as a result everything seems a bit simple.
The stories themselves are really cool, though, so that it feels more like a linear storybook with low hurdles to jump over. Vella’s story starts with her preparing to be sacrificed to a roaming monster called Mog Chothra. She’s not too impressed with the idea of being eaten alive, even if her family is a little too enthusiastic for the ceremony.
Once Vella escapes, she makes it her goal to kill Mog Chothra so that the remaining villages can live without the fear of annihilation – and keep their young women from being eaten. She encounters scorn and derision at every turn, an entire civilisation hegemonically tuned to appease the monster. Vella’s story is heavy on dialogue and moves at a slower pace.
Shay’s story echoes the themes of coming-of-age and wanting to upset the status quo. He is similarly alone, trapped in a spaceship bent on “entertaining” him with pitiful simulations of heroic events. Unfortunately, the computer AI, who claims to be his mother, has failed to realise Shay is no longer seven years old, and so his life is a repetitive, childish hell. Eventually, Shay discovers a more adult adventure (or does he?) which requires him to explore the ship in a covert manner.
I found Shay’s story to be the more satisfying of the two, mostly because of the interesting yet confined situation. It’s quirky and intriguing, featuring a strange knitting theme where woolen friends play out their roles for Shay as fake victims of fictional space attacks and there’s a central weaver who stitches galaxy coordinates into the navigation system.
There may not be much actual “game” in Broken Age Act 1, but as a window into two interesting and charming adventures it easily fulfills the Kickstarter promise. The presentation is beautiful and unique, as are the settings and characters. The puzzles are the weakest parts, with a stripped-back interface that offers little beyond combining things and using them on people and specific spots. Hopefully, Act 2 will show more integration of the two stories, as well as tweak the pace and interactive stretch of both adventures.
enjoys third-person shooters (Max Payne 3
, Resident Evil 4
and Alan Wake
in particular), adventure titles and anything with a strong narrative focus. Exploration in games is important to him, but he's not too worried if the action is heavily directed; it's important that a story gets told. Dylan loves all gaming platforms but is in love with the Vita of late, both for replaying recent classics (The Walking Dead
, Hotline Miami
) and the exciting possibilities of PS4 link support. When not writing about games, he is focused on writing fiction. Dylan has completed two novel manuscripts in the last two years and is partway through a third, with hopes of securing a publisher soon.
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