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Hands On With SuperGiant's Bastion

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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.

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Jim Rossignol

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