Best Videogames of 2011: ‘Bastion’

I’ve been playing videogames for 25 years now, since back when my dad first set me up in front of the Atari 400. With all that time invested, I find that very few games manage to surprise me. ‘Bastion’ is one that did.

I absolutely love hack-and-slash, beat ’em up style games. Single player or co-op, there’s something just so satisfying about a game that doesn’t require you to think, so much as it requires you to react. It’s not that I’m opposed to thinking in games, but a guy needs a break from ‘Civilization’ every now and again.

Some of my favorite games of the past few years have come out of this genre. In 2010, ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game’ captured my heart with its clever throwbacks and simple but still engaging mechanics. It’s one of those games I could play while listening to podcasts, at least if the soundtrack provided by Anamanaguchi wasn’t so damn good.

Two years before that, I became obsessed with ‘Castle Crashers’, a co-op hack-and-slash developed by The Behemoth. Like ‘Scott Pilgrim’, the game is something of a throwback, but ‘Castle Crashers’ still felt completely fresh.

At first glance, ‘Bastion’ doesn’t look all that different from these other titles. It’s a hack-and-slash game with a nice art style, some RPG elements and baddies aplenty, ready for smashing. I honestly can’t blame you if you passed it over for that very reason. I did at first.

Thanks to an outpouring of critical acclaim and a nice Steam sale, I found myself picking up ‘Bastion’ and giving it a whirl. As with the other games I’ve mentioned, the mechanics are sound, and crushing enemies that dare cross your path fulfills the brawler’s secondary purpose – therapy.

Upon starting the game, you get a nice introduction from a narrator whose voice is at the same time comforting, wise and cool. He sounds like I’d imagine a wizened old jazz pianist to sound when giving advice to the new guy.

Unlike most games, the narrator doesn’t give you much background or try and fill you in on details about the world. The narrator tells the tale of our hero, “The Kid,” and his quest to restore a broken world back to the way it once was. This means that the narrator starts telling the tale with not a hint of what’s to come.

The story is told as the game progresses, with narration coming quickly at first and then a bit less often as the game goes on. The voice gives a little flavor to the world and allows a story to be told without cut-scenes or anything else to interrupt the flow of things.

That’s all well and good, but the thing that truly blew me away is how well the narration works along with what it is that you do. If you fall off of a level, for example, the voice will say something along the lines of, “The Kid knew he had to watch his step.” Or if you have a particularly tough battle, it will come in with, “Kid almost met his match on that one.”

It may not sound like much, but the addition of these narration elements make a huge difference to the overall feeling of the game and the idea that it’s a story being told to you. These lines don’t repeat, and there are at least a few lines in place for each situation, which means it never feels forced or out of place. It’s natural and welcome.

Even if you don’t like beat ’em ups, you should give ‘Bastion’ a try for the simple joy of storytelling done well in a game. Never is the flow interrupted to squeeze in story, and your exploration of the world rewards you with more information through narrative rather than codex entries that you end up having to read through later instead of playing.

‘Bastion’ can be found on the Xbox Live Arcade, Steam and even as a Chrome app for the price of $15.

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