Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
Have you played Limbo? Because Playdead'splatforming puzzler and last year's Summer of ArcadeIndie darling was a Godsend for Supergiant Games and their action RPG Bastion. Why? Limbo opened up the teeming masses of the Xbox Live Marketplace to something new, different, fresh, and exciting. Limbo was worth your time, even if you weren't a hardcore gamer. Bastion is worth even more of your time.
Bastion is really on the opposite side of the Indie-gaming spectrum in respect to Limbo. Limbo was colorless and muted. Bastion is vibrant, has rainbows, and speaks directly to you throughout the game. Limbo was a lonely, solitary affair. Bastion slowly fills the world with a cast of characters filled with motivations and personality. Limbo was all about surviving until the end. Bastion is about choosing the fate of a traitorous retch who-- Wait, I'm getting ahead of myself.
"The cores... they remember, that's why this place is coming together, that's why things are going to be alright."
In Bastion, you play as a young man... or is he a boy... either way, he's referred to as The Kid. You wake up one day to find that The Calamity has destroyed your world. A mysterious man, known in the beginning as The Stranger, narrates your every move. In these early levels, your primary goal is to collect the cores, magical stones that help to rebuild The Bastion, the key to the restoration of the world. As you fight through levels, you gain new weapons, special abilities, and friends. By the end, The Bastion's population doubles and even triples in size.
While the world is filled with wordless creatures begging for the violent end of the boy's hammer, The Stranger narrates every move, as if telling the story to someone else. Bastion features a strong blend of action RPG elements that really don't leave room for a ton of exposition. Thankfully, the narration is entertaining enough to fill empty spaces and soothing enough to keep from interrupting the action. Like Limbo's gameplay before it, Bastion's narrative is better discovered on your own, so I'll keep from spoiling the whole thing.
"What do you say to a man who's seen too much? Kid says this: We have to go... please."
Even more than the addictive, twitchy-yet-methodical gameplay and a story as deep as the narrator's voice, the game's biggest strength is its presentation. As you wander through levels, the ground literally jumps up to your feet. Supergiant Games doesn't rest on this neat trick, though, presenting one newer, more vivid, more exhilarating environment after the next. The game also presents combat arenas in the form of dreams... or even drug-induced hallucinations.
Enemies, weapons, and powers also remain varied and interesting throughout the campaign. I'd even say there's more to do and see than can fit in one playthrough. Thank God, Supergiant Games added a New Game Plus option for players. If you were one to complain about paying $15 for Limbo's diminutive playtime, complete with speed-run achievement, Bastion won't disappoint.
"Poor kid collapses after just one drag."
Bastion advances video games as art. In the same breath, it can challenge your thumbs and make you wonder about the possibilities of its world. It feels like a retail game; it feels like a straight shot to the summer gaming drag; it feels like the beginning of something bigger. If Limbo is any sign of things to come, you'll probably be hearing a lot of positive things about Bastion over the next few weeks.
Besides, any game where the narrator delivers a line like the following is great in my book:
"Biggest stinkeye he's ever seen is waiting for him on the other side. Pops open on him like a pimple on a school day."