|Dev: Double Fine|
|Pub: Double Fine|
|Release: January 28, 2014|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Becky Cunningham
Here we have it—two years after it kicked off the crowdfunding trend with a massively unexpected level of success, the first part of Double Fine's adventure game Broken Age is releasing to the public. Expectations for the game may be impossibly high, especially amongst some Kickstarter backers, but I aim to take it for what it is: a small, charming adventure game made on a shoestring budget for a commercial game of its quality.
Broken Age stars two young people on parallel coming-of-age journeys. Vella is slated to be sacrificed to a gigantic beast in a ceremonial Maiden's Feast, and can't understand why her village doesn't fight the monster instead of appeasing it. Uninterested in becoming a monster's meal, Vella sets out to find a way to put it down. Shay is a teenager who has been raised alone on a spaceship with an overprotective computer for a mother. He's outgrown the ship's childish amusements and seeks to escape its coddling so he can become an actual hero. Both characters are likeable and easy to relate to without having over-the-top personalities (that's saved for the rest of the cast). The player can switch between their stories at any time, but must complete both to see the ending.
The unnamed world where the adventure takes place is beautifully imaginative, both visually and conceptually. While Vella visits fantastical villages full of colorful inhabitants, Shay's spaceship employs a knitting-based technology to navigate and to create “friends” for the boy. It's a joy to explore this world and revel in its small details, from the goofy gulls of Skyloft to spaceship teleporters who say, “Whee!”
There's a darker underpinning to the story, however, as Vella and Shay both rebel against authority and do some not-so-nice things in the name of their quest. It may be a coming-of-age story, but it's one that carries some implicit criticism of how we raise our kids, from the overly coddled Shay to Vella and her young female counterparts, taught to fall over each other in competition to give up autonomy over their bodies and futures. These themes aren't presented in a preachy or moralizing way, but merely as a layer of complexity that gives real meat to the adventure story. That story has its own mysteries, and Part 1 ends with a delicious twist that raises as many questions as it answers.
As can be expected from an adventure game penned by Tim Schafer (The Secret of Monkey Island, Full Throttle, Grim Fandango), the characters in Broken Age are bursting with personality, even those who only get a few lines. Talented voice actors, including a few screen celebrities, all give fantastic turns at mic, and they've got a script worth voicing. The game isn't as laugh-out-loud funny as Schafer fans might expect, but it has plenty of mischievous and silly moments. I personally like this slightly more dramatic turn, especially since the game never takes itself too seriously.