Bastion

I like the part where The Kid and Weeping Nellie run the gauntlet. It’s a frenzied, rollercoaster of a journey; The Kid knows nothing but violence so he’s violent. Nellie knows nothing but how to run so she runs. Together they cut a curious figure rollicking across an exploding sky, stretching ever closer to the sanctuary of the Bastion. Running. Killing. Running. It’s unhinged. And then the narrator slices through the madness:

“With her last breath, Nellie gets the kid to solid ground”.

And then there lays Nellie, wrapped in silence, crumpled and sudden and dead.

It’s a heady moment. Pithy as the time spent with Weeping Nellie was, it’s hard to ignore the slight twang of remorse at her parting.

Thing is though, Nellie is a plank of wood. A big, brown, airborne gondola forged from the same stuff they use to make IKEA furniture. Like all wooden devices she’s incapable of thought; else she almost certainly wouldn’t have careened stupidly into a brick wall. But the narration, as it so often does, breathes life into Nellie, the insentient and dull-witted thing. A thing that serves no concrete purpose beyond transporting the player from point A to point B.

That is Bastion’s trick. Through shrewd yet spartan narration it works tirelessly to transform the ordinary into the surprising and it succeeds at this time and time again. Its world is one in which every tree, every statue and every charred, unfortunate corpse has a tale the narrator is aching to recount and to Supergiant’s credit you’ll want to listen to each and every one.

Grizzled and gravelly, the narrator gifts Bastion its seasoning whether chronicling on screen happenings (for which he has a startling flair) or telling stories of the nearby deceased, the spoken word always drives the game onward. The narration is terse – there’s very little panache to it – and it’s dynamic both in telling Bastion’s story and breathing life into its world.

At its core Bastion is a game about rebuilding a buckled world. The Kid, Bastion’s diminutive and noiseless hero, wakes up as one of the few survivors of The Calamity; fancy talk for the apocalypse. We meet The Kid as he’s floating aimlessly on a lonely rock somewhere in the silent wake of The Calamity.

As you wander through the shattered districts that once formed the fabric of this lovely land, large chunks of the old world fall neatly back into place and the perennial goal is to reassemble by roaming. That’s a neat little gimmick but also a striking and absorbing one and you’ll likely spend hours exploring every inch of the place to guarantee you’ve rebuilt and seen everything.

The Bastion itself is the hub you return home to after each of the fleeting levels and it serves as a nurse to the fractured lands; gradually restoring the stolen beauty to its landscapes as you progress through the game. In a more videogame-friendly manner you can upgrade the Bastion, which in turn grants you the ability to improve weapons, pick ‘n’ mix potions that afford perks in the battlefield and engage in weapon crucibles and other distracting challenges offset from the core narrative arc.

In essence, the Bastion is a commanding backbone that keeps everything neatly entwined and in doing so it fosters a feeling that there’s something in this grave world worth saving, particularly as things get a touch bleak.

Behind that sumptuous narrative lies an RPG/ hack ‘n’ slash that isn’t quite as elegant as Bastion’s tale. The RPG stuff is frugal yet just deep enough to stave off rigor mortis in the combat, with an almost endless supply of upgrades and a decent stream of new weapons doled out throughout the game to keep things interesting. The hacking and slashing is just that but flipping between firing off antique rifles and slicing away with a rusty sword has a charm all of its own and a bevy of enemies ensure you’re forced to change tactics frequently. It’s not revolutionary but it’s never anything less than enjoyable.

It’s a beguiling game too – with frequent nods to Studio Ghibli in its enemy design and art. It also boasts a remarkable soundtrack so effortlessly in keeping with the tone of the game. Combined with the many vignettes peppered throughout, it helps forge a tangibly eerie setting; one that simultaneously feels like an apocalyptic world and yet manages still to be rammed full with life and intrigue.

Ultimately though it is the rich fiction that filters through into everything that combines to make Bastion tick, its many cogs merging to form a game of some artistry and one shot through with such pizzazz that you’ll pine for its elegiac world long after you leave it.

9/10

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