Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Top 10 of '11 - #10: Bastion

Coming up with an original concept is hard to do. I’ve struggled with this over the past several months while outlining my book, and unfortunately determined that you cannot succeed with one concept alone; it will only get you so far before you realize that there must be substance behind an intriguing idea to tie it all up.

Supergiant Games’ Greg Kasavin, the former “one of us” who was the site director at GameSpot, knows that full well. The idea of having a constant narrator going over the events that unfold before your very eyes in Bastion, Supergiant’s first attempt at creating a videogame, could only get you so far to garner interest for your product. Instead of using the idea as a bullet point, Kasavin has masterfully written Bastion so that it is the mere bait on the hook; the line that reels the player in is crafted by the universe of Bastion, the frailty of its lore, and the lone, living spectators who escape unscathed into the Bastion itself.

But let’s face it: we all nibbled the bait of having the raspy-voiced prophet narrate our every move. Be it to advance the story or to hear him mutter on about our desire for destruction whenever we’d smash up a deserted marketplace that the Calamity, a metaphorical spreading nuclear bomb, had yet to devour. If the goal was to get us to try Bastion as a result of that, it worked -- but without the colorful art design, tight gameplay, diverse weapon choices, and the best soundtrack of the year, we certainly wouldn’t have stayed in the comforts of the Bastion for very long.

Bastion offers a unique top-down style that only comes along once every few years, a throwback to the 16-bit games that we know and love. Combining the style of a crooked Zelda with the run-and-gun frantic pace of Gunstar Heroes, Bastion requires a lot of focus to dig down deep and demolish the devious trials that dwell in the Bastion’s domain. If you’re still in the mood for pain, you can make things slightly more torturous by angering the Gods. By denouncing specific Gods in the game at the flip of a switch, you can increase the damage enemies take, dish out, and a plethora of other sinister options.

The highlight of Bastion is, without a doubt and damn near inarguably, the soundtrack. Darren Korb is the man responsible for giving Bastion’s soundtrack as much flair and personality as the art style and narrator himself, infusing a mix of hard-edged country twang with a string here or there. The most memorable portions of the game revolve around songs sung by Korb and Ashley Barrett, which give the characters of Zulf and Zia, respectively, a life of their own.

It makes me sad to see my colleagues from various sites who are just now getting around to Bastion, which came out during the dead period on the release calendar (July 2011), well after they have snuck their choices for Game of the Year in the voting boxes. Certainly it wouldn’t make it to the gold at the bottom of the dog pile, but it would have gotten even more players talking about it than there currently are.

Essentially, Bastion is the complete package and as a result, one of the better games available between the Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network platforms combined, yet only currently available on the former. When you think of polished experiences, chances are that it will be high on the list of downloadable titles for a variety of different types of gamers. Those of you in search of customization, visual splendor, a fully-loaded story and anti-nuclear political statements, look no further than Bastion, arguably the most consistent game in quality for the money this year.

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