Back in March of 2012,
deity-like well-renowned video game designer Tim Schafer started a project on Kickstarter with a simple goal: Raise the money needed to a create a simple throwback to the classic graphic adventure games of the ’90s. What he wound up getting was over three million dollars – more than eight times his initial fundraising goal – along with a gigantic amount of media attention and a success story that suddenly made Kickstarter/crowdfunding one of the biggest trends in recent video game history. What was then known simply as Double Fine Adventure suddenly became one of the most anticipated games of the year.
Cut back to today. After spending more time than expected making every dollar (and then some) count, the newly-christened Broken Age was released to the public recently via a two-part, two-act season pass (with Act 2 due later this year). And having gained early access to game a short while back, we’re prepared to take a look into Act 1 and how it fares and what it might hopefully lead to in the second act. Was it everything we had hoped for? Does it live up to the hype? Can you do basic math and notice that one number in the title is larger than the other? Still, let’s dive in and take a look…
6 Reasons To Check It Out
6. The Story
Well, considering that creating unique and memorable stories is right at the top of Tim Schafer and Double Fine’s resumes, it should be no surprise that Broken Age weaves a truly captivating tale as well. The story focuses on two playable characters, Shay and Velouria (insert Pixies joke here), each from different walks of life. Shay is a young teenager in the depths of outer space, living on a spaceship in search of a new planet to live on. The ship’s computer, known as “Mom,” keeps Shay busy with simulated adventures and “missions,” but still sees Shay as a preschool-age boy, her precious child that she keeps safe with now-humiliating adventures involving ice cream avalanches and hug attacks. Naturally, such quests are no longer a challenge to Shay, and tiring of them day after day, he wants nothing more than to break free of them and embark on a real adventure.
Meanwhile, Velouria (or Vella) has it worse: In her fantasy homeland of Sugar Bunting, she finds herself part of a ritual known as the Maidens’ Feast, where a community of bakers serve up their daughters in elaborate costumes made of cake as a sacrifice to the Elder God-like creature known as Mog Chothra. After generations of indulging in this event, the town has grown to accept it all, believing that having one’s baby girl devoured by Mog Chothra is a true honor, complete with gabby girls talking about and fawning over him as though he were the hunky Homecoming King. Vella, though, is constantly asking the simple question of why they just don’t kill the damn thing but met back with nothing but smiles and reassurance, decides to finally take manners into their own hands.
Sorry if it seems like a lengthy description there, but it truly is quite an epic to behold. At first you question what the two tales (which you can switch between on the fly) have in common, both being as far away as possible and coming from different genres. But then you notice the common link: Both are elaborate sagas of two kids on the path to growing up, finding themselves wanting to break free of a constant routine that they question constantly, surrounded by the restraints of their loved ones. One wants to escape and stop the constant danger, one wants to escape in search of some actual danger, and both find themselves getting what they want and yet finding more than they bargain for.
Of course, one easily realizes that the two fables have to connect somehow, and they do…but that would be spoiling things. Suffice it to say, it really is an engrossing bit of work that you want to see continued even further.
5. The Cast
As if to prove that the developers easily understood the type of player most likely to appreciate an old-school graphic adventure game, Broken Age boasts a stellar cast from all walks of nerd-dom. Aside from Elijah Wood nailing the role of a struggling teenager in the role of main protagonist Shay, Act 1 alone gives us various characters both big and small voiced by the likes of Jack Black, Wil Wheaton, Adventure Time’s Pendleton Ward, and legendary voice actors such as Richard Horvitz and Jennifer Hale (astounding as the coddling-yet-creepy “Mom”). It’s just such a grand array of talent that brings a wide variety of personalities to every corner of this universe, creating a range of terrific characters from cheerful cult members to living yarn people.
4. The Sense Of Humor
Because it also wouldn’t be a Tim Schafer game if it didn’t have some lovely moments of levity, Broken Age also has some nicely-done humorous bits as well. Again, a lot of it is delivered through the cast’s delivery and the visuals, but the excellent writing thankfully includes quite a bit as well. Whether it be a pair of Valley Girl-esque blind temple guards or a series of visual gags involving Shay’s cereal selection, the game consistently delivers a nice dose of wit to player over the course of the story. It really is a superbly cute and funny tone it has going on all the time, even throwing in a couple of neat easter eggs…that remind me of my own crippling addiction to other games, mind you, but moving on…
3. The Graphics
Essentially serving as further proof that ?ber-realistic next-gen graphics are no match for creative and fantastical art styles (unless you somehow mix the two), the world of Broken Age is truly a visual treat. Lush fantasy landscapes ranging from aviary-like floating communes to Shay’s giant Playskool-style spaceship absolutely shimmer with a wide range of literally colorful characters and pretty little details such as little hexagonal workers toiling away in the background, or an assortment of large avian wildlife tending to their eggs in the clouds. This all adds to the sense of wonder and enchantment within all of these lands, even maybe adding a slight touch of a fairy tale feel, making for a visual feast you will absolutely want to eat up (notably including the ice cream avalanche, in which you literally have to eat the scenery up).
2. The Puzzles
So those of us who are big fans of graphic adventure games should know that the average puzzle one encounters tends to range on a scale of difficulty from something as simple as “Put nearby batteries in the radio” to something more curse-worthy as “Yank hair from a cat to create a fake mustache”. Well, I’m here to thankfully tell you that Broken Age’s challenge level is pretty much just right…at least for a first act. So nothing of Mensa level (yet, anyway), but it still ends up requiring you to explore every area and interact and experiment with everything you find, be it talking spoons, hipster lumberjack art, or whipped cream guns. It isn’t exactly the type of work that breaks the adventure game mold, but it’s still a satisfying set of challenges indeed. Nonetheless, here’s hoping the stakes get upped in Act 2…
1. The Ending
Okay, I’m sorry. I realize it’s a dick move to mention something such as the ending as the best part of a story, especially since I can’t even give away any details for fear of spoilers. But as Act 1 came to a close, it left me with a conclusion that just flat-out blew my mind. One that simultaneously left me wanting more to come and looking back on everything that just happened as it all came together. It is something that honestly joins such luminaries as BioShock, The Walking Dead, Spec Ops: The Line and Heavy Rain in my all-time favorite moments in video game storytelling and thus to the game’s writers, I say…kudos. I only hope that again, pointing this out does not seem like a dick move for those of you wanting to play it. If so, I offer you one coupon good for one chance to kick me in the nuts in retaliation and my apologies. Thank you.
The Lone Turn-Off
1. It Does Feel A Little Short
…Alas, it kind of does. Maybe that’s just because I had such an experience of mind-melting proportions built up in my head for nearly two years, or because I underestimated how long one act would be here, but I had left Broken Age quicker than I expected to, craving even more in the process. Though I should stress that it mainly feels short…judging by the amount of time I put into it, and if Act 2 is as long or even longer, the length of the whole product should even out to the length of an average graphic adventure game these days. But yes, be warned: to those of you expecting a whole $3.3 million worth of gameplay, you may find things ending more abruptly than you’d hope.
In the end, though, the first act of Broken Age is nonetheless a more-than-promising start to what will no doubt be a truly epic adventure harkening back to the days of classic LucasArts. That being said, I admit I might be biased due to my love of Tim Schafer right down to the
ritual shrine I have to him, the fact that he’s pretty much my idol, and I did kind of end up gushing so much latte over this game that my crotch now doubles as an espresso machine, but…actually, no buts. It’s still just a really damn good graphic adventure game, and the type of game that we could use more of these days. So yes, I highly recommend that you pick Broken Age right now. Indeed, your Kickstarter dollars went towards a truly memorable experience.
…And towards a vomiting sequence. Can’t make a grade-A game without that, ya know.
Previously by Kyle LeClair: