“Broken Age” represents the return of a master. Tim Schafer’s first point-and-click adventure game since the ground-breaking Grim Fandango, “Broken Age” had much to live up to. And for the most part, it delivered.
I think it’s entirely possible that the one issue I have with the game will be a point of contention between those who feel differently, because it’s such a personal thing, it almost shouldn’t have made it into the review. But alas, it did. Because regardless of how much we want to be impartial in these things, reviews are subjective by nature. My issue is with the story.
However, it’s not what you might think. It’s not that the story is bad. Quite the contrary. My problem with “Broken Age” is that the story is so good, I found the gameplay and puzzles sometimes getting in the way of the advancement of the story that the two protagonists, Vella and Shay (each a protagonist in their own story), had to tell.
That’s quite a good problem to have, however. Being “too good” is not something a lot of games can boast in any category, much less in terms of narrative.
The game is divided into two character arcs: Vella’s story, and Shay’s story. Vella’s story is a that of breaking out of conformity. She questions the ages-old traditions that have ruled her village (and those around it), for a long, long time. This decision takes her on a journey of discovery; discovery of her own self, and discovery of the reasons behind the current situation around her.
Shay’s story, however, is (at least at first glance) completely different. It begins in a spaceship, commandeered by Shay himself (who, like Vella, is a teenager). We quickly realize that Shay is being mollycoddled by the computers aboard the ship, and we must therefore help Shay find his own way. Be his own man.
I cannot say much more than that without spoiling the experience for those of you who have not played it. But I will say this: Shay’s and Vella’s paths (or more accurately, story arcs) eventually cross. The game will even have you jump from one character to the other to advance in the later stages of the game.
This mechanic feels solid and not forced at all, as the narrative accompanies these jumps quite well, and it’s this narrative that steers the game, rather than the jumps from character to character, which would have otherwise felt gimmicky.
The graphics are gorgeous. The hand-drawn feel, pastel colors and almost ethnic design decisions in certain parts of the game are absolutely amazing. There are a few frame drops here and there, but nothing at all that would hinder gameplay in this genre.
The voice acting is phenomenal, as would be expected when done by the likes of Elijah Wood, Wil Wheaton and Masasa Moyo. Some of my favorites were Vella herself, and Shay’s “mother”. Sound effects were also remarkable, and the ambient music never got old.
The puzzles start at an easy enough difficulty, but then get more and more complex as you advance through the story’s two “acts”. There is the “use this item for this action” mechanic, which feels familiar. But there’s also the “use this item on this other item” that feels more like a nod to crafting mechanics found in games like Minecraft. It’s in the actual gameplay that the game fell a bit for me, though, as some areas were really large (for a point and click kind of pace), and this meant a lot of backtracking when I wanted the story to go on.
I cannot say that I wish the game had a worse story. The story is magnificent, full of emotional charges and quite gripping from beginning to end. But I do wish there was more variation in the gameplay, and more decisions that took less time. I feel like the game would have benefited from expediting user interaction and story progression. There was also something about the way Vella and Shay moved through their respective worlds that felt sluggish to me.
Aside from that minor personal gripe, however, I honestly think “Broken Age” is a game that will be remembered along the Grim Fandangos and the Monkey Islands of the world. It’s a charming adventure that will resonate within different people for different reasons.
And while I personally felt like the gameplay was on the slow side, the story alone makes whether or not to play DoubleFine’s latest a very easy decision indeed.
- Title: Broken Age
- Publisher: Double Fine Productions
- Developer: Double Fine Productions
- System: PS Vita
- Format: Digital Download
- Cross Buy: Yes
- Cross Play: Yes
- Local Multiplayer: No
- Online Multiplayer: No
- PlayStation TV Compatible: Yes
- Memory Card Space Needed: 1620Mb