Bastion is such an excellent game - and I mean that very literally - that it's difficult to know which of its facets to praise first, for fear of neglecting the others. Visually, it's stunning. Musically, it's exceptional. And the gameplay is everything it should be to complement such qualities.
The game starts with the narrator introducing "the kid", an anonymous hero who wakes to find the world battered and broken as a result of "the calamity". This mysterious and ominous introduction had me instantly interested to find out more about this strange event, and sure enough you get to explore with "the kid" straight away, in a colourful, isometric map that literally comes to life around you. The landscape is formed of a chain of floating islands above a vast abyss, making even walking perilous, and chunks of the level rise up as you approach, as though you are rebuilding the world with your presence.
It's not long before you're introduced to combat, which uses simple mechanics integrated together in such a way that requires great skill to perfect; you need to dodge, block and counter, all of which require some strategic thinking and careful timing, and attack using the two weapons and special ability, or "Secret Skill", that you have at your disposal. This ability has limited uses, and needs to be replenished by picking up the Black Tonics dropped by enemies, so it is necessary to use it wisely.
In between levels you visit the Bastion, a floating island that acts as your base. Here is where the game really comes into its own - you can make all sorts of choices that drastically affect the gameplay. The Bastion contains six buildings, each of which serves a different purpose. Each level you complete allows you to construct one of these buildings, but you can choose the order in which they are built.
The most important building is the Arsenal, where you can customise your two weapons and Secret Skill. There are hundreds of combinations to choose from, making the game incredibly varied and customisable. There are 11 different weapons in total to suit different play styles, from the slow and heavy Cael Hammer to the fast and stylish Duelling Pistols.
These weapons can then be upgraded at the Forge, using items purchased at Lost-and-Found. Even the way in which a weapon is upgraded leaves room for customisation by offering two choices of upgrade at each of the 3 tiers. Other buildings include the Distillery, where you can equip spirits that provide a variety of perks, the Memorial, where you can receive prizes for completing achievements, and the Shrine, a very interesting building that allows you to toggle certain effects that make the game more difficult, in order to earn more Fragments (the game's currency).
I briefly mentioned the music earlier. I found all of the tracks fun to listen to, and they complement the gameplay perfectly. When there's a lot of action happening, the music will be faced-paced and intense; in the calmer, story-based moments it becomes mellow and peaceful. Just listen to this masterpiece:
Technically speaking, the game is very impressive. There's often a lot going on on-screen but the game runs very smoothly and consistently works "as it should". I didn't encounter any rough edges; the whole game is crisp and polished from the loading screen to the credits. And if you haven't taken in the beautiful graphics by now, take a closer look!
Frankly it's astounding how the guys at Supergiant Games managed to pack so many features into such a small game. The game took me around six hours to complete for the first time, but it does offer some replayability in the form of additional modes that you can unlock. Completionists can also be kept occupied by the weapon upgrades, bonus areas, Proving Grounds (a different challenge to complete for each weapon), and 24 Steam achievements.
This game is a work of art. It's chock-full of fast-paced action with plenty of customisation and unlockables, and lots of room for skill. With its unique art style, the game manages to pull off both cheerful and gloomy locations while maintaining a colourful, vibrant atmosphere. The music is beautiful and varied, and the narrator is a fantastic touch. All in all, Bastion has a very clean and polished feel from start to finish.
My only complaint is that the game didn't last long enough. While there is lots to do after completing the game, I haven't felt inclined to attempt much of it, as completing the various challenges and achievements would seem like somewhat of a chore to me after the pleasure of playing through the story. Perhaps I'll revisit it next year.