The strangest and scariest experience I have encountered during a dream was free fall. Very rarely have I met people who don’t share this phobia, in part because most human beings don’t like falling hundreds of feet at a time. By extrapolation, I guess that’s why the pit motif is so widely used in video games – about every platformer in history bets on it, furthermore, the issue of hanging over tens, hundreds or thousands of meters of hollow space is an issue our computer screens depicts so often that the whole thing falls into the daily chores tab.
And since it’s also an element in the holy trinity of video game borders (alongside invisible walls or an algorithm of random space generation), we’ve been long inoculated with the idea of not stepping on thin air. And when it comes to Bastion, the whole world is literally a bottomless pit, with the game space being made out entirely of floating islands and pieces of land rising up as if from nowhere to indicate the route you need to travel. Moreover, the lush graphics and strongly saturated colors, bordered by an anime-specific contour with miniature characters (chibi) represent the visual grammar that we’re dealing with. Everything being presented in an isometric perspective, like Diablo, but with a lot less content.
The narrative motivation doesn’t fall short to the Blizzard RPG’s morbid premise. In short, a cataclysm eradicated an entire universe around the nameless protagonist’s feet, leaving behind but a patch of land on which the kid’s house and mattress stand.
It doesn’t take long for the land pieces forming the road to victory to fly up from the misty depths and, initially armed with only a mallet thrice your size and a semiautomatic fang-shooting pistol (Fang Repeater) you have to eradicate a few goo monsters before you receive the central objective of the whole adventure: building the Bastion settlement, this final bastion of Bastion, the game (in case the connection between title and content wasn’t clear).
Obviously, any game with RPG elements from Zeliard onward knows that goo monsters don’t go a long way, so we’ve got a total of 15 distinct enemy types. However, don’t expect them to cast spells or benefit from god-knows what outstanding abilities, because enemies who aren’t nailed in place by bolts or roots (a considerable number of your enemies are turrets or stationary plants) will attack on the same straight parade path used by the Russian Army in Moscow.
Their destruction is however mandatory when running Shards, because the mission is to build every structure on the titular island: an Arsenal to change weapons, a Forge to upgrade them, a Distillery for stat-changing potions, a temple that can raise both the game’s difficulty and rewards by activating idols representing deities in-game and the Memorial, an achievement rewards claiming center. And to do that, we’ll have to cross islands with various hostile themes: swamps, fragments of the old world, abandoned fortresses and so on.
Weapons are also quite numerous, though they don’t bring anything new to the table: a machete, a bow, a carbine, a musket, a rocket launcher, a primitive flamethrower, dual pistols and mortar cannon. To which we can also add a set of abilities (some tied to certain weapons) that use up one Black Tonic per use (out of a maximum of 3 or 5, depending on which potions you have equipped). As a welcome addition to any game that, sooner or later, doesn’t give you any backspace when dodging some swinging axe, you are also given a shield that not only blocks, but can also counter and punish any incoming attacks if used just before contact.
Using these weapons can be practiced in specially set-up areas, challenges in which you can earn one of three prizes, depending on your proficiency. Some challenges involve the destruction of a fixed number of targets in a given time, others involve crossing a set of collapsing bridges while taking out as many targets as you can before falling to your death yourself or taking out all targets in as few shots as you can. Travelling between areas otherwise happens through skydiving, getting launched from sky launch pads.
Bastion’s strong point is its sound. Aside from an excellent soundtrack, which I warmly recommend even to people not planning on crossing the few hours of suspended slaughter, the game also benefits from excellent sound design. The well-dosed silence is cleverly used at times when it can amplify immersion, the first notes of every song overlapping every marked narrative point brilliantly.
A deep voice, a parody to Marius from Diablo II, announces every event through southerner formulas and cowboy verbal constructs, and it’s probably one of the more memorable particularities in Bastion (although, if you ask me, it can get tiresome and slightly over the top by the time the story ends). Much like Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, an error gets treated like a bad joke on the narrator’s part or a storytelling lapse and immediately replaced with the „real story”, just after the respawn.
Even if Bastion is short (just a few hours, depending on how many challenges you’re keen on passing with a gold medal rating) it’s one of the few games in which the New Game+ (rewinding the whole adventure but keeping the endgame resources) was just as much fun as the first playthrough. The content might be identical, but you’ve probably missed out on a few platforms the first time around, so you’ll have the opportunity of discovering them and testing out your untapped weapons as well.