Bastion Review
Bastion Box Art
System: Xbox 360
Dev: Supergiant Games
Pub: WB Games
Release: July 20, 2011
Players: 1
Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p Animated Blood, Fantasy Violence, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco
The Kid Has His Day
by Becky Cunningham

Bastion is a meditation on the nature of human society, but it's also a very fun, excellently crafted game. The first release of independent developer Supergiant Games, Bastion is kicking off Xbox Live's Summer of Arcade 2011, and it's a prime example of why the indie gaming scene is flourishing. Despite having a small development team, this is a slick, professional production by industry veterans that gives corporate efforts a major run for their money. Most importantly, it's a joy to play and will appeal to a wide variety of gamers.

The game begins with the player character, known only as "The Kid," waking up in the middle of a ruined city. A mysterious narrator with an Old West twang describes what's going on and reacts to The Kid's activities. It seems that an event known only as the Calamity has destroyed everything and has turned just about everyone to stone.

Bastion Screenshot

As The Kid moves about, pathways fly together to form up at his feet, literally building the world around him. Monsters, who apparently once worked in the service of humanity, have turned ornery and attack at every turn. After a quick introductory level, The Kid finds the Bastion, which the narrator tells us is humanity's last hope if it can only be fully built. The Kid doesn't ask any questions, but sets about seeking out power cores in the great city's remains and slowly building up the Bastion. The player has many questions, of course. Who is the mysterious narrator any why does he seem to know so much? What was the Calamity and why did it happen? All of these questions will be answered in due time, but first The Kid has a lot of dangerous work to do.

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With the Bastion as a hub, The Kid strikes out on the mystical Skyways on his search for power cores, with new levels and minigame challenges opening up in a fairly linear fashion. With each core that The Kid brings back, he can construct a new building in the Bastion, all of which support the game's customizable character and gameplay progression. The Armory allows the Kid to choose a set of two weapons and a special attack to take into any level, the Distillery gives him a chance to choose spirits that grant him passive bonuses, the Forge upgrades weapons, etc. There's even a building that allows the player to optionally make the game more challenging, giving more money and experience to players who dare to give more power to their enemies.

Bastion Screenshot

Gameplay basics are easy to pick up, with the face buttons controlling dodge-rolls, the two weapons that the player carries, and health potions. The left trigger is used for shield blocking and the right for activating special abilities. That's it for the basic controls, but the enemies and challenges that the player faces through the game are constantly changing. Each level is hand-designed with a different story, theme, and type of challenge. Where one level has The Kid fighting through flocks of angry crows, another has him riding mine lifts while being shot at by guardians. Still another has him fighting through his own dreams after being put to sleep by swamp gas. With the world in such a precarious state, the player can never be sure what's going to happen next in a level, and must strike a balance between exploration and survival. Once a level is complete, there's no going back, but a New Game Plus feature allows players to try again with an eye for the things that may have been missed on the first playthrough.

Fortunately, Bastion controls very well, with fluid and responsive action. The levels can be challenging but never feel unfair, as the many possible ways to customize The Kid's weapons and abilities mean that a player who fails a level can always go back to the Bastion and swap things around in order to return with a different approach. The game's weapon selection is particularly diverse, and each weapon is truly unique. The hefty hammer feels very different from the lightning-quick machete, just as the hard-hitting but scattershot scrap musket is a very different beast from the accurate, rapid-fire dueling pistols. Most weapons are interesting and useful, with only a couple that involve complicated aiming mechanisms that make them frustrating to use in the midst of the game's quick action and constant danger. Weapon choice is both a matter of personal preference and strategy, as different weapons are more or less useful against different kinds of enemies. The game encourages the player to get to know the weapons and to try out different combinations.

Bastion Screenshot

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