Twenty one. It’s a good number. Three times seven. Less occult than 23, but more interesting than boring old 20. Right next to handsome 22. (They’re getting married.) It is the perfect number, therefore, to introduce our twenty first game of Christmas. Can you guess what it is?
Jim: I first played this at the IGF in March. I sat with headphones on in the thronging main hall, at the crowded indie stand, and was swept away. SuperGiant knew, of course, to provide a big pair of noise-cancelling headphones that they insisted anyone who sat down at the booth put on. If you’ve played Bastion then you know why they had to do that, too. But it’s not actually a one-trick pony. The game is a tightly woven set of epic game design garments. When playing it you are subject to bonuses to aesthetic appreciation, skill-based game mastery, and to appreciating exploration of a fictional world. Despite being based roughly on the Diablo “kill and loot everything” template, Bastion is a game that possesses every aspect of its own design from the combat through to the meticulously crafted levels. The painterly isometric world, the enemies who are cute but still despicable enough to despatch in their hundreds, the weird fiction of the disintegrated, collapsing, floating archipelago-city that you find yourself in: it all feels like healthy craftsmanship. Not original, perhaps, not an invention, but something that has been carved from the existing materials of game in the most satisfying shape and texture. It is a mystery, and yet immediately at hand. You know what to do from the first moments: the hammer smashes through the barricade, smashes through your enemies. You get it, right from the start, and the careful guidance you receive as you progress and begin to piece the hub of the game back together, is so gentle as to let you feel like you already know what you were doing.
Bastion was not quite like anything that had gone before it, while at the same time being enough like lots of other things to sit in a sort of tea and biscuits cosy area of comfort and familiarity. It was rich and just about deep enough to keep on going to the end. And I am glad it did. And I am glad it exists.
Alec: One of three games that I’ll most fondly remember from 2011 (another being The Binding of Isaac, and the third TBC ooh exciting etc blah), Bastion was something I wandered into an idle moment, looking for a laptop-friendly distraction, and then played through in just two unblinking sittings. Given how esoteric Bastion is in so many ways, it’s an incredibly immediate game: one of those designs that seems like it’s always existed, even though it was the first to do it quite like this.
It’s a game made up of an immense understanding of games and the people who play them: from the JRPG-tinged graphics to the more, more, better and more upgrade and collection sub-game to the pretty-voiced, geek-heartbreaking sad song to the overtly digital pixel-rebuilding of the world, Bastion is oh-so-knowing. But, crucially, it’s never smug with it. It sidesteps any arch post-modernism in favour of creating an atmosphere all its own, built from staple dramatic memes artfully deployed.
The silent, tortured hero; the pure of heart and resolute of purpose heroine; the gravel-voiced narrator with a secret; the magic doohickey that can solve everything, the twin journeys of adventure and understanding. All familiar elements, but combined with the help of music and mystery and hope in the face of ruin to create a tale that feels absolutely yours. I felt sorrow, I felt wonder, I felt the constant low hum of desire for a better weapon and I felt still-ongoing obsession with the soundtrack.
Sure, I do feel a little like I’m being gamed, that the writer (and especially the musicians) know exactly how to push my buttons of compulsion and fascination and heartache, but you know what? I don’t mind that Bastion might be exploiting me, and others like me. I am not a beautiful and unique snowflake and as such I can be very easily categorised, but I will take a game that aims for that category specifically over a game that aims at the most generic concept of player – i.e. guns and ranking systems and cutscenes – any day.
John: Everything [guitar strum] gone.
Kid plays the game for a really long time to review it, but doesn’t reach the end. He has an amazing time, loving every moment. Then he wants his wife to see the beginning of the game, to play it from the start. But the kid’s stupid, thinks if he saves he’ll be able to return to that position within the same profile. Doesn’t even notice the option for other profiles, figures it’s the only option he has.
Whole world falls apart.
Kid only discovers the profile options after. Find his whole progress gone. The calamity.
He finds himself unable to return straight away, too many other things happening to replay so many hours. Time goes by, and the game’s still unplayed.
Kid just rages for a while.
Christmas is coming. [beaty music] There’s time off. Kid plans to play it to the end then, hoping to get his wife to join in, to finally play a computer game. He isn’t optimistic, but there’s always hope.
[haunting steel guitar]