I knew a lot about Bastion before it was even released. I watched the Giant Bomb series “Building The Bastion,” which chronicled the ups and downs of the team at SuperGiantGames trying to develop and finish their product. I played an earlier build of the game at PAX East for a good fifteen minutes, and even talked to Greg Kasavin, writer and creative director of the game, about the combat system and how it got some inspiration from proper fighting games. Yet, even knowing all this, after giving it so much attention and having a personal part of me hope the team of just six people could develop a successful game, Bastion still surprised me.
Bastion feels more like a storybook at times than an actual game. That’s not a knock on the design or how much time it takes to feed you story; this isn’t an affair where you’re putting down the controller every twenty minutes to watch a thirty minute cutscene. Bastion takes narration–something we don’t often truly see in games except outside of the interactive parts–and makes it an aspect of the game that is every bit as important as how it controls or looks. The story of a kid trying to put together a stronghold after an apocalyptic event simply known as “the calamity” is told to the player through a dynamic narration mechanic that is a first in video games. Pick up a new weapon and the narrator will comment on how sharp it is, or how the player is rolling around with it too much and falling off ledges. The minute you start moving, the narrator starts talking, and the amount of speech recorded must be staggering. You’ll never hear almost anything repeated.
The story itself is fantastic, too. But giving away anything else aside from the basic premise would be taking away from Bastion’s subtlety. The tale is told with nuance and a respect for the player to piece things together themselves. Just enough information is given at any point that you’ll understand what is going on and want to find out more. The unique art style and amazing music helps the game stand out from other games that take place in the now sub-genre of post-apocalyptic settings. It’s a colorful and bright game with music that ranges from strange to downright moving. The added touch of having the world form in front of you as you explore is Bastion’s other defining trait, one that gives it an ethereal feel that, among other aspects of the game, helps Bastion just be its own thing.
That’s really where Bastion succeeds, as it’s hard to peg it into just one particular genre. The isometric view and combat is reminiscent of something like the top-down Zeldas or the original Legacy of Kain. Others have compared it to the cult PlayStation and Sega Saturn game Herc’s Adventures. The character progression and leveling up of weapons give you more options in combat than any of those games, though, and the snappy nature of how your character moves, shoots, and smashes or stabs enemies is up to par with triple A games like God of War.
Like the best Pixar films or Lewis Carroll poems, Bastion is one of the few games out there that can be enjoyed by everyone. The story will hit certain notes for certain people, the hand-drawn graphics and superb music will amaze all, and the flow of the game can be appreciated by anyone who picks up a controller. Bastion is the best type of game: the one that makes you forget you’re even playing.