Review: Bastion (XBLA)

Review: Bastion (XBLA)

Bastion is the spiritual successor to ToeJam & Earl. Now, it’s never been advertised as such, and to my knowledge nobody else has made this connection (Google confirms this, which means you read it here first), but it is a statement that I am going to stand by and support with arguments. ARGUMENTS, I SAY! Bastion, developed by Supergiant Games and published by WB Games, is the first XBLA title in 2011’s Summer of Arcade. You’ll hear a lot of comparisons to Diablo or Braid, but those are the red herrings. Bastion is ToeJam & Earl, and that is a fantastic thing.

I’m pretty sure that most of you are scoffing at this point, but you should stop, because scoffing gives you a stupid looking face. What are the elements that first come to mind when thinking about ToeJam & Earl? Perhaps it’s the basic quest of finding the lost pieces of your ship on different levels so that you can rebuild it. Maybe it’s the level design of flat platform levels hanging in space. Maybe, beyond that, it’s the level design that opened up secret pathways as you approached certain cliff-edges within the levels. I’m sure you remember the presents that provided you with different bonuses and power-ups, too. Well, like I said…Bastion is ToeJam & Earl.

The first point is the basic quest of finding the lost pieces of your ship on different levels with the ultimate goal of rebuilding your ship. Now, there’s no ship in Bastion. There is, however, Bastion itself, which acts as a central hub in the game. The Bastion stage, as the central hub, is where your character returns after each level, and where your character departs to each level. That is not the ToeJam & Earl similarity, of course, because such a stage didn’t exist in ToeJam & Earl. Bastion itself, however, acts as the counterpart to the funky duo’s spaceship. Bastion, along with the rest of the game’s world, is rebuilt by finding lost pieces of the “Core” and returning them to the hub’s monument. Each returned core opens up new foundations on Bastion for either a Distillery, Armory, Forge, or other buildings. So, point number one is valid.

The second and third points directly reference level design. First, the second point: level design consisting of flat platform levels hanging in space. In ToeJam & Earl, each level is a flat platform suspended (magically, apparently) in space, with no direct connection to the other levels except for an elevator. In Bastion, each level is a flat platform suspended (magically, apparently) in an atmosphere of some sort, with no direct connection to the other levels except for a Skyway (teleportation pad of sorts). How coincidental. So, point number two is valid. Now, the third point: level design that includes the existence of secret pathways that open up as you approach certain edges within a level. In ToeJam & Earl, certain areas of the level would react to your character’s proximity and reveal secret pathways that would take your character to bonus items, ship pieces, and more. In Bastion, certain areas of the level react to your character’s proximity and reveal secret pathways that will take your character to bonus items, Core pieces, and more. So, point number three is valid.

The fourth point is that of power-ups and bonuses. In ToeJam & Earl, passive and active bonuses and power-ups were activated through the use of presents picked up throughout the world. These presents would result in various character effects, and were stored in and activated from a special collection window. In Bastion, passive bonuses are activated by selecting certain drinks within the Distillery, while an active bonus is assigned by selecting a certain item within the Armory. Presents for ToeJam & Earl, drinks and discarded tidbits for Bastion. While not identical, there is a definite similarity. And so, point number four is valid.

There are aspects of the game that deviate from ToeJam & Earl, but as a spiritual successor, some differences are to be expected. The first deviation is the narration, which without equivocation is worthy of elation. While the narration does help progress the story as one would expect, it can be manipulated by your own actions (or inaction…s). At times, the “Reactive Narration,” as it’s called, will comment on your actions as if they are a natural part of the story, making what you do part of the game in a more real way. In the tutorial stage, there is a section filled with things to destroy. If you choose to move on from the area, the narration continues as one would normally expect. If you decide to stay and smash things (and who wouldn’t?), the narration takes it in stride with something along the lines of, “The kid decided to hang around and smash things up a bit.” While not exactly relevant to the gameplay or the story overall, it was a nice attention to detail, and makes me wonder just how many non-standard narration lines I may have missed.

The second deviation is the buildings (Distillery, Armory, and Forge, etc.). Each of these buildings serves a different purpose for the management and improvement of your character and your equipment. Within the Distillery, as mentioned earlier, drinks are selected (one for each level of character progression) that bestow passive bonuses and abilities on your character. Within the Armory, your weapon loadout and your bonus ability are selected (two weapon loadouts and one bonus ability). Within the Forge, various tidbits (used as materials) and crystals (used as currency) can be combined and applied to your weapons as upgrades, with three upgrades available for each weapon.

The third deviation is the gameplay itself: there is combat. Now, you may be saying to yourselves right now (because I sure as hell can’t hear you), “Dude, you’re making comparisons to ToeJam & Earl, and you’re saying that combat is a deviation? What about the tomatoes? Poser.” Well, there’s a difference between using a rare tomato power-up in ToeJam & Earl, which is far from necessary to complete anything in the game, and using the constantly equipped weapons to defeat various enemies in Bastion, which is at times very necessary to complete things in the game. As such, combat is a deviation, so stuff it. Back on topic, combat is handled well, with two buttons handling weapons, the left trigger for your shield, the right trigger for your bonus ability, and the A button for evading danger and attacks. Each weapon has its own benefits and drawbacks, so strategic equipping is beneficial.

The game is both visually and aurally gorgeous. There are similarities to Braid in the painted style of the game’s backgrounds, with brilliantly vibrant colors and excellent animations. The soundtrack is…the soundtrack is really, really good. It is hauntingly good. These are not deviations from ToeJam & Earl, because at the time of ToeJam & Earl’s release, the graphics were good, and the soundtrack is one that still sticks with me today (as one of my ringtones, actually). With over 8 hours of fully narrated gameplay, followed by an unlocked “New Game Plus” mode (which unlocks additional content and game modes) once you complete the main quest, you’ve got a lot of game to enjoy.

Bastion is an absolute gem of a game. Really, there’s not a lot else to say about it: the game is great, it reminds me of ToeJam & Earl (which is, itself, great), and what else do you need to know? Bastion is available now on XBLA for 1200MSP as the first entry in 2011’s Summer of Arcade. A strong start, no doubt about it. Hopefully the rest of Summer of Arcade can live up to the example Bastion has set right out of the gate.

Review

ProsCons
It's like ToeJam & EarlIt's not ACTUALLY ToeJam & Earl
Rating
95 out of 100

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