Saturday, April 29, 2017

Best Thing I Did Last Week: Play Bastion

When the word “craft” comes up in a conversation about video games, it often refers to the title of the game. Here, I’m thinking of the Mine-, Star-, [World of] War-, and so on. In rare cases, however, the word refers to what is going on behind the scenes. The word “craft” evokes the amount of time and effort it takes to a game with a certain style. Nothing about a well-crafted game is generic; nothing is boring. “Craft” is the word which constantly ran through my mind while playing the 2011 game, Bastion.

I have the tendency to come to games a few years (or decades) late. Usually, this works out in my favor, and I get to experience something classic that has withstood time. Of course, I miss out on the conversation around the game in the height of its popularity, but many times, it is nice look at the progression several years removed. In the case of Bastion, players have continually praised its style, despite being a small product from a little-known, first-time development team. Comparatively, a lot of praise for its small size. I certainly was never disappointed.

First, the gameplay itself is extremely engaging. It is no secret that Diablo II is my favorite game. The amount of times Bastion reminded me of Diablo was amazing. Not tonally (to be sure) but in the style of play. The view is top-down with a diagonal, isometric view that was so reminiscent of Diablo (but with much less red blood and dark shadows. The similarities do not end with the camera. The primary focus of the game is to fly to varied zones and recover a piece which in turn rebuilds the main world. On several occasions, my character was dropped in the middle of four roads with a choice towards the goal and--not unlike Diablo--I had to choose a route and hack and slash my way to the end. Whether or not these comparisons were intentional, it was hard not to be at least reminded of one of my favorite games.

There are differences, of course, in the art style, which was absolutely stunning. Each zone is unique in terms of terrain, color, brightness, enemies, and landforms. Every part of each zone looks to be hand-drawn. As your character moves about, the path builds its way up around you with pieces falling into place which literally makes it feel (here’s that word, again) crafted. Time after time, I would just run through levels and wonder at the visual display in front of me (which is dangerous, because you can fall off the map). Even if the act of playing doesn’t grab you (which shouldn’t be a problem) the sheer artistic merit makes it a worthwhile experience.

The soundtrack alone is worth turning the game on and leaving it running in the background. Each area has a unique sound that coincides with the gameplay. Not unlike the visuals, the music makes each zone feel like an individual part of a special world. The soundtrack has the kind of music that makes you want to grab a guitar and play along. In many ways, the music can stand independent of the game and still be praised for its quality. But the ways it works in conjunction with the game are superb.

Although I unintentionally seem to come to a few games late, I am usually rewarded for the long wait. And with a game like Bastion, it is most certainly better late than never.