Rarely does artistic excellence and mechanical brilliance come together in as amazing an experience as Supergiant’s Bastion. Its vision is remarkably strong and merciless in its attempts to astound your expectations, never content to settle for anything less than wholly inspired. It stands apart as a shiny example of independent ingenuity, a bar to which others should aspire to hit, but more than that it manages to feel as fresh and fully developed as anything coming out of much larger studios. It’s the sort of experience that sticks with you after you finish it, hollowing out a place in your mind where the most excellent games of our time take up residence, sure to be talked about for years to come.
A proper story’s supposed to start at the beginning, but Bastion’s not that simple. It spins its narrative in a nonlinear spiral, urged on by the smooth voice of the narrator, who describes your character’s every action with a cool and calculated tone that gives the impression he knows more than he’s letting on and has seen this all before. More than just an original storytelling device, it gives Bastion a personality all its own from the second the game begins. It keeps you engrossed despite an almost complete lack of character dialog, falling back largely to third person descriptions that on their own may seem meaningless, but when weaved in perfect context to the action on-screen create something of a living story; one which feels as much a product of your own actions as the author’s.
The plot is never neglected however, as slowly but surely it all winds back together, taking control over the fascinating amounts of lore you are told throughout your journey and turning them into a full featured narrative that never falters or shows any sign of hesitation. Its deliberate planning can be traced back to the very first line uttered in the game, and when you finally see it all fleshed out, it’s rather incredible that it works anywhere near as well as it does.
Bastion operates under a clear design to offer the player as much freedom as possible to choose their own playstyle. Almost entirely focused on hack’n’slash combat, it presents new weapons and means to dispose of your enemies on a near constant basis. Mixing and matching these weapons and abilities is what allows you to tailor the game to your own playstyle, from melee and ranged weapons, to a near endless variety of passive upgrades and power ups.
Whatever you choose you’re never locked into any one upgrade path, which lets you freely experiment to find what works best for you. The combat itself is extremely simple, but meticulously balanced and refined to feel satisfying and as challenging as you want to make it. It excels at creating a constant feeling of progression, even past the point of finishing the game as you can then playthrough it again in new game plus mode to catch any upgrades you missed, or take on even bigger challenges.
This almost doesn’t matter though, in the face of Bastion’s astonishing presentation. The flow of tiles building the path in front of you venture through the world, the gorgeous art design that overflows with vibrancy and creativity, and the unbelievable soundtrack that blends an astonishing amount of styles into a sound that’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard.
It’s truly an artistic feat that puts the bland and predictable visual and sound designs of other games to shame, and should serve as a reminder to developers that conforming to a common mold is detrimental not only to your games identity, but the industry as a whole. I can scarcely recall playing a game with as much aesthetic originality and finesse as Bastion, and it’s a triumph to its creators that they were able to create something that is as impressive to look and listen to as it is to play.
Even before I played it, Bastion always stood as something of a poster child to me for indie games. Its relentless ambition and startling success at achieving it are a showcase of how much can be accomplished by a small team with a clear set of ideas for the game they want to make. It’s stunning and memorable in the way few games could ever hope for, and is as mechanically solid as it is breathtakingly presented. It succeeds in every aspect, and is one of the most well-rounded games I have likely ever played.