The world has been devastated by a mysterious event known as the Calamity, it is now up a seemingly lone survivor, The Kid, to rebuild the Bastion, a sanctuary free of evil creatures, and restore his world.
Let me preface this review by saying that though I had heard a lot about the game, I never played Bastion on XBLA. The iOS version is my first experience with this title. Honestly, action RPGs are not a genre I tend to gravitate toward, but where I had heard so many great things about the XBLA release I definitely wanted to check this one out.
The Bastion is a floating island which serves as your home base, for inventory management and teleportation to remote locations in search for lost “Cores” (the keys to rebuilding your world). It starts out as desolate as the rest of the world, but as you gather Cores and return them to the Monument (located at the center of the Bastion), you can build various structures including an Arsenal, Distillery, Forge and more which are revealed as the game progresses. Once constructed these structures allow you to swap out the weapons in your inventory, purchase spirits that give you increased abilities and upgrade your weapons, all of which you’ll need if you want to be successful in combat. Purchases from any location within the Bastion are made using fragments, Bastion’s in-game currency which is dropped en mass by fallen foes, like a hailstorm during some battles and by smashing destructable objects like crates and chests.
The game offers a nice mix of melee and long-range weapons, from the Cael Hammer and War Machete to the Dueling Pistols and Breakers Bow. Players can carry two weapons at a time which can be any combination (long and short or two of the same range), I generally opted for one short and one long-range to cover my bases. Individual weapons have multiple levels of upgradability. Over time you also unlock up to 10 levels of spirits, each of which have four individual sub choices which do things like add max health, increase critical hit chance, counter-block duration and more. While the number of possible combinations may seem a bit overwhelming to Action RPG newbies, Supergiant introduces new items at a perfect pace to keep inventory management…well…manageable.
The visuals are nothing short of amazing, with hand-painted landscapes deftly depicting both a world ravaged by the Calamity and the sharply contrasting, nurturing haven that is the Bastion. As I mentioned, The Kid is trying to rebuild his old world and this is represented quite literally, for as he navigates locations, building blocks of the old world rise up from off-screen and form the landscape in front of his feet. It is a rather cool effect, almost like watching an earthquake in reverse.
Bastion’s soundtrack (by Darren Korb) fits perfectly with the space western theme of the game. I’ve been listening to it on Spotify for months now, well before I even played the game. The attention to detail that was put into the sound design is also quite impressive and is best appreciated by wearing headphones during gameplay. There are so many little touches that add to the game’s character. For instance, when you walk into one of the shops, the soundtrack mutes a little like it was playing in the background outside and returns to normal levels when you exit the shop.
The best and most original aspects of Bastion’s, could have just as easily been the most annoying…The Stranger. Not only is he a character whom you meet within the game, The Stranger uses his deep raspy voice to narrate the ENTIRE game. I’m not just talking about setting the scene, this guy gives running commentary about EVERY little thing that The Kid does throughout his quest to restore the old world in the Bastion. From quips like “Wanna stay alive in the wild, pack a pair of pistols and a good blade” when I select my weapons to The Kid…” to “The cores…they rememeber, that’s why this place is coming together, that’s why things are gonna be alright.” when I retrieve a core. He is like Richard the Copy Guy on steroids, but actually quite funny and insightful, offering up useful information about what The Kid needs to accomplish, how to defeat your foes and a little comic relief. The Stranger will get into your head, a few times I even found myself narrating my own real-life actions (in my head via the Stranger’s voice) shortly after playing.
You can’t have an action RPG without combat, so what about the controls and combat?
The iOS version of the game offers up two different control schemes. The default is utilizes the strengths of the iOS platform with a touch to move strategy. Players can simply tap anywhere on the screen where they’s like The Kid to go and he’ll move to that location. On the bottom edges of the iPad screen are a special move button on the left and your shield in the center. you can double-tap the screen to perform a dodging maneuver and you tap on objects to interact with them. With these controls enabled, you can tap on enemies to target them or The Kid will automatically fire on the closest combatants or destructible objects when they come into range.
Initially I used these controls, bust started finding them a bit too spread out for my liking, so I switched to the second option, classic controls. This implements a virtual D-Pad for movement, which appears wherever you happened to lay your finger down on the left-side of the screen and a series of buttons on the right side of the screen for switching weapons, firing weapons, dodging, shield, special move and interacting with objects and people. Overall these controls just feel better, but either option is very responsive. Though I will say that I do find myself accidentally falling of the sides of the world more often with the virtual d-pad, but you immediately respawn so it’s not that big of a deal.
While action RPGs can sometimes get a bit repetitive with constant fighting and grinding for loot for upgrades, Bastion offers up a fairly large mix of enemies (easily 20+ varieties) in both small and rather large hordes to keep combat feeling fresh. Combine that with remarks from the Stranger about your fighting ability (or lack there of) and the game is always entertaining. Hours would pass before I even noticed that I was still playing (not a common occurrence when it comes to Action RPGs for me).
Levels are broken into two categories. First there are the normal ones that drive the plot, where you must find a core and return it to the Bastion. The other type are called Proving Grounds, and these are geared around using a specific weapon to accomplish a specific task. Depending on how well you do, you are rewarded with the first, second or third place prize (or some combination there of) and you can keep revisiting the location until you earn the first place prize.
Bastion proves that an XBLA title can successfully be ported to iOS and still have it feel like an original game designed specifically for the touch-based iOS platform. Bastion sells for $15 on XBLA/PC/Mac and in iOS’s lower-price scale market, Supergiant could have justifiably asked for $9.99 or more for it on iOS, so its $4.99 price tag is an absolute steal! Bastion is an unexpected treat for iOS gamers and one that I hope sparks more equally as brilliantly and polished XBLA ports from other developers in the future. This is a must have title for iPad owners whether or not you are into action RPGs.