A positively beautiful action-RPG with heavy-hitting action, smart writing, and more personality than the rest of its genre put together.
by on January 11, 2013
“Words can’t explain what happened, but words are all I got.” That’s just one of the many hundreds of lines sombrely growled out by Bastion’s narrator, Rucks. Yes, Bastion has a narrator, but no, he’s actually not annoying in the slightest. Instead, his frequent musings serve as the mournful song of a dying world. The Calamity reduced this painterly place to choking ash, and now all that’s left are reminders of what once was: ashen remains of people paralyzed in their final moments, ruins of grand cities and awe-inspiring machines, idols to gods who clearly didn’t serve their purpose. It’s up to you, The Kid, to rebuild this fallen wonderland. Good luck.
Honestly, though, Bastion’s main character is its location. It’s one of the more gloriously realised and memorable places in all of gaming – regardless of platform. The visuals are mesmerising and unique – with the ground literally rising up to meet your each and every footfall – and the soundtrack sews the whole production together with a vaguely foreboding industrial Western vibe (yes, that’s a thing). Meanwhile, each area teems with life, running the gamut from bloodlust-crazed behemoths to peaceful squirts that just want the same thing you do: to see the world restored to its natural order.
You do this by way of smashing lots and lots of things with a giant hammer. Or a sword. Or a grenade launcher. Or a bonafide doomsday cannon… This might sound counter-productive, but the idea is that you’re collecting crystal cores to power the titular Bastion en route to restoring everything to its former glory. On that front, the iPad version introduces a touch-centric control scheme that turns Bastion from a hack ’n’ slash to a tap ’n’ dodge. Simply point to a location, and The Kid will find his way there. And if enemies are standing in his way, well, they’ll probably start having second thoughts about that before too long. So it’s a bit auto-pilot-y, but pulling off dodge rolls (by way of a quick double-tap), switching weapons, and deflecting attacks with your shield gives the proceedings a satisfyingly frantic rhythm.
Classic controls, meanwhile, add a digital joystick and largely replicate the experience of playing Bastion on a console. Some weapons and items have, however, been modified to fit the iPad’s slightly streamlined approach, and – paired with a lack of tactile feedback – the end result doesn’t feel quite as hard-hitting or precise as it did on other platforms. That said, the heart of Bastion’s combat – the thing that elevates it beyond stripped-down hack ’n’ slash status – is timing. As a result, we preferred the classic controls, if only for the rush of pulling off a perfectly taut critical bow strike and then rolling out of harm’s (gigantic, scythe-shaped) way a split-second later.
Along the way, the plot takes its fair share of twists and turns, but the moments of high drama it creates far outweigh a fairly predictable second act. That said, plot and moment-to-moment action do come to blows in a few places. Mainly, optional (yet hugely story-enriching) survival segments see you hammer down nigh-unending waves of baddies while Rucks narrates important characters’ backstories. Problem is, the action gets way too frantic, and Rucks’ session of ‘Tell, Don’t Show’ takes a backseat to, you know, not dying horribly. Worse, if you end up biting the big one anyway, it shoves you all the way back to square one – narrations and all. These segments generally run 15 minutes or so, but they’re easily one of the game’s biggest low points. Granted, if you just want to have a look around without worrying about the beating of a lifetime ruining your good time, there’s an infinite lives mode available from the get-go.
By and large, this is the same game that took consoles and PCs by storm last year, and its fantastically diverse five-to-six-hour ride doesn’t feel like it’s aged a day. Bastion’s absolutely gorgeous, rife with Western charm that not even moustachioed tumbleweed wearing a cowboy hat could match, and at £2.99, it’s shockingly cheap to boot. Words, though, don’t really do it justice. Fortunately, they’re definitely not all you’ve got.
Download this app: Bastion for iPad
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Review courtesy of Tap!