Broken Age – brief review and (discrete/discreet) hints

arts and entertainment

Despite my general geekitude, I’m not much of a video game player.  I’ve never owned a gaming console, and the last game I can recall gushing over is World of Goo, which came out in 2008 (!).

But Broken Age has utterly charmed me.  Here, watch one of the trailers:

The game is drawn in a bright and whimsical manner and features an orchestral soundtrack which complements the visuals and themes outstandingly; I never felt pulled out of the moment nor annoyed by the music.  And yet the score (which I purchased as part of the game package) stands up well on its own.

I spent about 6 hours playing through what’s currently available in the game*, which means either I’m particularly dense, sorely out of adventure-gaming practice (ah, the bygone days of Sierra Games!), or just apt to adopt a more leisurely playing pace than most folks (who seemed to finish the chapter in about 3-4 hours).

One of the greatest strengths of this game, IMHO, is that — while there is indeed peril (like maidens being eaten by a monster!) — you are never faced with do-or-die related stress in the course of gameplay.

Fall through the clouds?  A bird will save you from a splattery demise.
Forget to pick up a critical tool?  No worries, you can go back and get it later, and in nearly all cases, with little hassle.

You cannot die.  You cannot make decisions that result in you having to painfully backtrack.  Instead, you can safely amuse yourself by doing things repeatedly ‘wrong’ (e.g., placing or combining objects with deliberate silliness), rewarded by the oft-cheeky responses and free of any risk to the ultimate progression of the game.

An angry tree confronts Vella

An angry tree confronts Vella

But this insulation, I believe, is also the game’s greatest weakness.  By protecting gamers from the consequences of their choices (or actually, not giving us any real story-changing choices at all), Broken Age dampens the emotional heft of the experience, the sense of achievement upon the chapter completion, and, really, any deep urge to replay the game.

And although the voice acting is excellent overall, the characters seem somewhat weakly developed.  Not only are they mostly unaffected by the (really, inescapable) actions of the gamer, they don’t seem to grow or even emotionally modulate much at all.   One could argue that the characters’ cries of sorrow and excitement were exhibited years ago outside of our gaze… but that’s little consolation to those who were expecting a bit more nail-biting, angst, and joy throughout the scenes.

Some have also decried the apparently too-easy nature of the puzzles, nearly all of which involve transferring an object onto or to a person or thing.  But personally, I liked the puzzle difficulty level. Although I embarrassingly had to look up hints a few times, I found that nearly every puzzle was reasonably logical… and sometimes rather chuckle-worthy to boot.  With that said, those who are ardent adventure gamers (or just way smarter than I am) should probably think of Broken Age as a beautifully prepared interactive story with small, entertaining speedbumps ;).

So am I glad I purchased this game? Would I recommend it to others?  Absolutely, and yes.

Assuming I spend a total of 12’ish delighted hours once the second and last chapter is released, that amounts to a cost of about $2 an hour — quite a bargain, if you ask me.  Also, I have faith that the Broken Age characters will start to get fleshed out more.  And perhaps there’ll even be multiple endings that depend upon the gamer’s choices!

But even if characterizations and player agency aren’t deepened, I am confident that I’ll have enjoyed nearly every minute with the story, music, and overall experience.  True, I wish the characters had been written in a way to help us care about them a bit more.  And as suggested above, I’d have appreciated a more ‘choose your own adventure’ style branching to up the excitement.  But with all that said, Broken Age offers hours of un-frustrating delight and a story with intriguing potential, IMHO making it well worth your time and money.

And now for some helpful tips and hints!  To unveil spoilers, just mouse over the text between the brackets 🙂 (anything unobscured is totally not a spoiler!!!)

  • After you load the game but before you start playing, be sure to set the “Letterbox” setting to Vertical!
    Otherwise, you’ll end up with blurry and chopped off imagery, as wisely noted by Benjamin here.  Don’t ask me why DoubleFine decided on such a lousy default! 🙁
  • Which character’s story should be played first?  Is it important to switch between the stories at certain points?
    Doesn’t matter too much, though I’d recommend playing as Shay to start… both because his puzzles are easier than Vella’s, and also because the subsequent storyline packs a bit more “ohhhhhh!” when you do it in that order.  There are no spots in which moving the story forward requires character switching, though, and the grand reveal at the end of chapter 1 is great regardless of what order you play the characters in.
  • Is anything time-sensitive? (e.g., is there ever a point at which decisions must be made in a particular number of seconds?)
    Not from what I could tell.  Ah, thanks to a thoughtful comment by Enrico on Google+, I was reminded that there’s at least one puzzle that is time sensitive.  Thankfully, though, if you mess up, it’s very easy and fairly un-time-consuming to re-try 🙂 (and this is as good as any place to remind y’all that hitting the spacebar will typically jump you through spoken dialog)
  • Any other misc wisdom?
    Sure!  Talk to every character a lot.  You’ll not only want to exhaust every conversation option when you first meet them, in many cases you’ll want to chat with them later to get additional hints (or even just some more laughs :).  Oh, and grab anything and everything.  I don’t think there was a single grabbable object I didn’t use, and somehow you’ll never run out of space to put everything on your person :).

In Shay’s world…

  1. Propulsion?!
    • Hint 1a: [You’ll find sweet success by revisiting a room you likely were in rather early in the game.]
    • Hint 1b: [I scream, you scream, we all scream for this cream.]
    • Answer:  [Go to the ice cream avalanche room; on top of the mound, there’s a can of spray cream.  Use that when in outer space to propel yourself forward.]

In Vella’s world…

  1. The fuss about gus
    • Hint 1a: [Try approaching this from… a different angle.]
    • Hint 1b: [I’d give you another hint, but you might really fall for it.]
    • Answer: [Tackle Gus from above by falling onto him via the cloud hole above.]
  2. Jerk bird!
    • Hint 2a: [He’s always going to be a jerk.  Don’t worry about him, concentrate on the ladder!]
    • Hint 2b: [You’ll get to the bottom of this by thinking of combos.]
    • Answer: [Put the big cloud shoes on the ladder.]
  3. Hit him, Alex!
    • Hint 3a: [Yeah, and he’s got a big mouth!]
    • Hint 3b: [(help him) Open wide!]
    • Answer: [Keep his mouth open with the ladder, then shoot the laser into his mouth.  Ow!]

Let me know in the comments if you need some additional careful hints, but do be careful not to inadvertently add spoilers yourself! 😮

*Note that only the first of two chapters is available for sale at present; the purchase price of the game today (as of Feb 23, 2014) includes both the current chapter and the one promised for later this year.

P.S. — Hey you.  Yeah, you awesome person who read all the way to the bottom of this post.  I just noticed that I have a Steam 25% off coupon for Broken Age (I discover this two days after buying the game!).  If you’d like it, just email me at my first name at the domain lasnik.net :).  I’ll cross off this postscript once it’s claimed.

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