Best Arcade Game of 2011: Bastion
It sounded weird when Aaron Tomko first explained the concept to me: a narrator that speaks like he stepped out of the glory days of the Western film genre announces almost every move the player makes in a fantasy action-RPG that is inspired by early ‘90s console games. I soon discovered that, as wacky as the description sounded, the execution is an aural joy. The delivery of Bastion’s voice work is superb and the dynamic nature of the lines of dialogue that are thrown at the player is just about always amusing, interesting, or both.
The unique storytelling approach is a large part of why I awarded the game a 5/5 for sound in my review, but that alone wouldn’t have been enough for it to earn top honors as both MTB’s Arcade and Indie Game of the Year. My prediction that Bastion was going to put developer Supergiant on the map once word of mouth spread basically came true, as it was almost universally adored by critics and gamers who took the time to hack ‘n slash their way through the aftermath of the Calamity as the Kid.
The world has a sort of simple beauty to it, despite the fact that it’s falling to pieces all around you. What actions led directly to the apocalypse and who played a hand in their occurrence isn’t immediately apparent to the Kid. Regardless, he’s infuriated that everything he has come to know has been obliterated and he’s not going to take it lying down; so he gets up and starts smashing the crap out of everything in sight with his hammer. Or maybe he doesn’t. There’s some measure of choice afforded to players in the level of destruction they inflict upon the remaining vestiges of the world, and the narrator will follow their lead by calling things as he sees them.
Shops with purchasable upgrades and a healthy dosage of hidden unlockables keeps combat from growing stale. It’s easy to swap out your equipment, and just about every weapon is fun to tool around with. Most encounters still involve whacking or blasting away at everything in sight, but the deep inventory and challenging enemies prevent gamers from ever feeling like they’re just going through the motions to get to the next bit of story. Supergiant even managed to keep the requisite challenge mode thrilling. Those are two accomplishments that many of its big budget console action-RPG brethren of this generation fail miserably at.
The team at Supergiant managed to craft an adventure that transcends the general view of what an independently developed game can be. Their remarkable melding of old and new elements into a charming experience made Bastion an easy pick for most of the staff, and we’re all eager to see what they create next.