Hands On With SuperGiant’s Bastion

One of many pleasant experiences at GDC this year was sitting down to play SuperGiant Games’ awesome IGF-nominated fantasy action game, Bastion. I’ve just gone back and played the same build this afternoon, and remembered why I was quite so delighted by seeing this game in motion. Today has also seen the announcement that the game will be distributed by Warner Bros, which is great for SuperGiant Games. The deal means that they’re remaining independent, while getting some marketing and sales clout for one of the best-presented indie games I’ve encountered in the past year. Well done them.

Read on for some thoughts on the game, and the trailer.

Bastion begins with a “hard-boiled” noir-fiction type voice-over that I assumed I was going to fade out after a few moments, but it just keeps going. The narrator cracks jokes, he sets the scene, he explains game mechanics. It’s brilliant written. Having introduced the hero, who wakes up in the bedroom of a shattered building floating over an abyss, you get to see some of how the world comes together. And I literally mean comes together, because the scenery falls from the sky or flies up from the ground to form the shattered walkways that you are travelling across. “The Calamity” has torn the world into a series of floating island, you need to get to the most important of those – The Bastion – to start fixing “everything”. And the game is as much about fixing and creating as about destroying and fighting. The world flies together around you, building itself as you head down the fragments of scenery that suggest a new path. This art style is immediately striking: a light, bright visual theme that sits towards the Japanese RPGs in the great Venn diagram of videogame aesthetics, while having a classical Diablo-like three-quarters perspective and yet still feeling entirely like it’s own game. It’s strong stuff, as you can see from the trailer.

The game is superficially a single-player action RPG, with potions, different weapon types, and abilities that can be learned as you go. These are administered via a bunch of buildings, allowing you to set up your preferred loadout from the weapns you’ve collected. The levels are packed with loot, too, with pretty much everything can be smashed to release “shards”, which I guess are going to be the currency of the game later on. All standard stuff, but slick and gentle in its delivery.

Combat in the demo build I got to see was undemanding, but complex enough to be pleasing. There were towers whose slow projectiles could be dodged or blocked with a shield, there were small enemies whose spawners needed to be disabled to defeat them, and there were larger enemies whose blows could be dodged with the correct timing. True elements of skill in what superficially might appear to be a potion-powered dungeon-crawler. It’s light, but I can see the possible tactics escalating interestingly. The final boss fight scene of the demo featured three different types of enemy, which meant I had to work a little to move through my small selection of weapons to win out.

But what captured my imagination about the game was that it was just so charming. The weird, ruined world is colourful and bleak at the same time. The voiceover actually delivered a couple of context-based jokes that made me laugh out loud. It’s this kind of stuff that – somehow – seldom makes it into big budget games. A kind of relaxed playing with rules, while still respecting some of the classical rules of game design, and also finding room to be stylish and witty. I know that as the years pass we get more and more odes to why indie game design is important, but I think it’s stuff like this – that isn’t a brain-breaking experiment, nor a radical masterpiece – a subtle, inventive, beautiful little game, that is really powering the indie “revolution”. Good job, SuperGiant. I am looking forward to devouring the full thing this summer.


  1. Benjamin L. says:

    Looking forward to this one.

  2. McDan says:

    I got the 503 error whilst trying to get on this page for a while… I hope someone does design a good one soon. Anyway, this game does look pwetty.

  3. Icarus says:

    Saw a little footage of this in the IGF video, and it tickled me. Looking forward to this.

  4. Flobulon says:

    Ooh, intriguing, love that trailer.
    Oh, and – ‘It’s brilliant written.’ – intentional? ;)

  5. Jad says:

    Don’t mean to get all negative, but Eurogamer is reporting that it was initially was going to be a PC-only game, but now it’s releasing this summer on XBLA first, and then on PC “later”. While its great that and indie dev is getting financial support from a big publisher like this, and I guess I should be happy that its still coming to PC, stuff like this really annoys me.

    • Mistabashi says:

      I suspect they have the choice of either releasing on XBLA under a timed exclusive deal or not at all. Annoying as it is, I don’t think you can blame either the developer or publisher for that (these ‘timed exclusive’ deals don’t benefit either), its almost certainly a condition of Microsoft’s licensing.

    • Bats says:

      It’s a marketing move if nothing else. Bastion as a result of their lil switcheroo got to be on Xbox’s Summer of Arcade, which is a huuge promotional push from MS, and probably about the only attention indie games get on xbox live. It was easier for them to get it out for this system, get some money from that, and then tweak it up for the PC. There’s a pretty wicked feature on http://www.giantbomb.com called Building the Bastion which shows a lot of the behind the scenes stuff for this game, pretty good watch.

      I’m definitely looking forward to this game. The narrator gets me every time.

  6. Stinkfinger75 says:

    Why is it that an isometric, prettied up 16-bit looking game stirs me more than the Crysis 2s of the world? This looks slick.

    • westyfield says:

      It really is unfairly pretty. Give the other guys a chance, Bastion!

    • Jimbo says:

      Kid says the ‘Building the Bastion’ videos on Giant Bomb are great if you want a peak behind the scenes. Supergiant’s artist, Jen Zee, is awesome. The guy that does the voice is awesome. And Greg K and the other guys are probably awesome at whatever they do too.

  7. Urthman says:

    What a refreshingly inviting voiceover. Just hinting at the story instead of hammering me over the head with “In the year 2111 Lord Suckface cast an EEEVIL spell that made all the land in the world start to fall apart and now the Lords of Order have chosen you, the chosen one, to go on a quest to find the 7 snoozles that will put the world back together.”

    I hope it plays as good as it looks, because it looks great.

    Best trailer since Metro 2033?

    • Saul says:

      I read about this on IndieGames last week. This was the bit that really got me interested:

      “The narrator, in his whiskey-scratched voice, had been busy relating the Kid’s escape from an unpleasant situation when I fell off a ledge into oblivion. Without missing a beat, his monologue fluidly segued into a rather dry ‘And then, he falls to his death.’ Before I could even respond to what I had perceived as my death, the protoganist came tumbling through the sky to land face first on the cobbled stones. ‘Just kidding’, the narrator quipped.”

      Full article: link to indiegames.com

    • Dominic White says:

      You can see/hear the narration system in action in this gameplay video here:

      link to youtube.com

      It’s pretty great.

    • mbourgon says:

      Except that the video got pulled by…. Zenimax? Huh?

  8. Ezekielpurger says:

    Wow I didn’t expect RPS to cover this game. I’ve been following it from basically the beginning thanks to Giantbomb.com and their close ties to Supergiantgames.

    I created an account just to say this game looks awesome and I hope it lives up to the hype

  9. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    Looks excellent. Well, a better word might be succulent or very tasty.

  10. Navagon says:

    “It’s brilliant written.”

    I wouldn’t normally but there’s too much irony here. :p

    But anyway this games looking pretty fine. But I’m not overly convinced it’s my kind of thing.

  11. darigaaz says:

    so because of the dynamic narration im guessing single player only? which seems too narrow given the xbla potential…

    • Dominic White says:

      Most XBLA games have almost zero player retention rates, mainly due to matchmaking (you have to be online and searching for someone to play with at the exact same moment as someone else in the same region looking for the same game-type), and maybe only one in ten survives past the first month or so.

      Being primarily singleplayer is a lot, lot safer.

  12. thebigJ_A says:

    Not to plug another site or anything, but the devs have been sharing most everything about the making of the game over on Giantbomb. (They are friends with the guys at GB, who have already stated they won’t review the game ‘cuz they’re too close to its production.) Once a month they come on the Friday night livestream and talk about it. There are some of the vids posted on the site, too.
    It looks really, really cool.

    Oh, and the best part of the voiceover is that it’s completely context sensitive. It responds to what you do, when you do it. So let’s say you find a new weapon on the ground, equip it, and then swing it a few times. The narrator might say something to the effect of, “He picks it up and tests its balance.” Except, you know, cooler. I’m not a writer.

  13. Wedge says:

    Played this at PAX last year. It was very pretty… couldn’t gleam much else from the demo, if there was actually going to be any “creation” aspects to the world, or that was just the theme they were going with.

  14. Jonathan says:

    That looks just lovely — I’m getting the same tingly happy feeling I got when I first saw Torchlight in action.

    Also, the art reminds me of Capybara Games, which is never a bad thing.

    • Hatsworth says:

      Might and magic Clash of Heroes HD being console only saddens me.

    • Jonathan says:

      Clash of Heroes is wonderful — the DS version was probably my favourite game of 2009.

  15. Butler says:

    If only DA2’s world had a tenth of the character of Bastion’s!