Tale of Two Worlds
There are some who might say the time of the adventure game has long passed… I say Adventure games aren’t dead, you just need to solve a riddle and find 3 objects to open their hiding place. A recent Kickstarter campaign dragged the adventure genre back into the spotlight though. You may have heard of Double Fine Adventure, a game that was to be crowd-funded and produced by Tim Schafer and Double Fine Studios. Asking for $400,000 it ended up raising over $3 million in the span of a month. You may be less aware that Double Fine Adventure eventually turned into Broken Age and is preparing to make its debut.
Broken Age is an episodic point and click adventure game that combines the art and style that has become synonymous with Double Fine and Schafer’s expertise in the adventure genre. Broken Age tells not one but two stories simultaneously. The stories of Shay and Vella at first seem to be disconnected, but throughout the journey you’ll find each is a parallel and a polar opposite of the other. Shay is a teenage boy who lives in a spaceship ruled by an over-protective AI who is determined to keep him safe. Vella comes from a town of bakers (Sugar Bunting) but is to be a part of the upcoming ‘Maiden’s Feast’, where several of the town’s young girls are regularly sacrificed to a monster to keep the town safe. Both Shay and Vella hope to change their circumstances, and set out to defy those who want them to do as they’re told.
The story is really where Broken Age excels. The entire cast of characters in both worlds are entertaining, and the game’s large supply of dialogue never feels like a chore thanks to some amazing voice work. Playing through the “missions” that Shay receives from Mother (the ship’s AI) feels like you’re in the middle of a children’s tv show, and it’s not hard to see why he’d want a more adventurous life.
Broken Age is made even livelier by some truly brilliant art design which makes everything seem vibrant, but still gives the two worlds their own unique feel. The areas that Vella visits are so amazingly animated and colourful that it makes the storyline seem even grimmer.
One of Broken Age’s unique features is the ability to switch back and forth between the story of Shay and Vella. Not only does this mean you can tackle either story first, it means that if you grow exhausted of one story (whether you’ve become stuck or just want to experience something different), changing to the other story is as simple as clicking two buttons. As of Act 1, there’s not much interaction between the two, so you’re basically able to play one story through to the end, and then move onto the next, but it wouldn’t surprise me if future episodes hide puzzle solutions in the opposite story.
My biggest problem with Broken Age would have to be its difficulty, and this may not be an issue that applies to everyone. My impression is that Act 1 was far too easy. I’m hardly an expert on adventure games, but the ones I have experienced have left me stumped and trying tirelessly to figure out what I need to do. There was only one part of Broken Age that really had me stuck, and it was mostly just because I’d not noticed an item I needed to pick up in a previous area. Obviously, different people will have different experiences, based on how they try to tackle each situation, but for my tastes, it was all a bit too straightforward.
In contrast, I have to say that there are aspects of the game which are absolutely amazing, but are somewhat difficult to cover in a review. One such example, is how Act 1 comes to an end. I have no intention of spoiling the story for anyone, nor would I want to, because it wraps up in such a nice neat package that it makes you look back and wonder how everything you’ve just done led you to that moment, and makes you wonder what comes next.
Broken Age is a good game. I’m even sure I’ll call it a great game once I’ve had the chance to play through the rest of its episodes. There were times when I felt like it was a little light on adventure for an ‘adventure game’, but Act 1 seems to focus more on establishing the characters and story, which is by no means a bad thing. The art is amazing, the story is becoming great, and the voice acting is some of the best I’ve heard (keep an ear out for Jack Black as a cult leader seeking “enlightenment”). I’ll be completely sold on Broken Age when I see a bit more for players to do, and a few harder puzzles to solve, but until then I’m happy to say that Broken Age could very well be what is needed to kick-start a new age of Adventure.
*Review Code provided by Double Fine Studios
Hopefully future episodes will change things up, but Act 1 is still a good start to Double Fine's adventure.