Bastion iOS Review: Perfect Despite iPad 2 Problems

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Bastion is a western steampunk action/adventure game that found success on Xbox Live and Steam in 2011. In 2012, Supergiant Games converted the award-winning phenomenon to iOS and, while the game is not without problems, it’s well worth the cost.

Design

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Bastion is the premiere game developed by Supergiant Games, an intrepid team of seven. This team’s cohesion is apparent as one of the many things that sets Bastion apart is how every element of the game is integrated into the story.

For instance, you play as a character named “Kid” — a nod to the Western theme — but the story is narrated (in the past tense) by an aged man named Rucks as you play through the levels. Because Rucks isn’t with Kid, the fragmented world you traverse is easily symbolic of the old man’s memory. In this way, Supergiant Games perfectly represents what it’s like to tell a story through the third-person limited view.

In addition, whenever you die and hit continue, Rucks corrects himself, “No, wait, that’s not how it happened… Let me start over,” putting all of the player’s mistakes in context and a forgiving one at that (i.e. Rucks messed up the story, not you). I’ve never seen something this well integrated since the 1Up in Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World.

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Plus, what keeps Rucks’ narration from being passive (seeing as it is in the past tense) is that he mentions present situations. When you fight an enemy, Rucks preps you, “That’s when a horde of ’em showed up…” and when they’re defeated, “But they were never a match for the Kid’s tenacity.”

Hell, this even applies if you spend a ridiculous amount of time breaking jars (as I did). Rucks will say, “Kid didn’t like jars. Fact: he hated ’em.”

And then of course there’s the music by Darren Korb… My God, the music. It can amp you up for battle or tug at your heartstrings. Zulf’s theme, Mother, I’m Here is somber and lonesome with an alto hum juxtaposed by a hard guitar strum; it evokes an orphan living in hard times. Meanwhile, the Spike in a Rail song plays as soon as you unlock the powerful army carbine weapon and it’s every bit as badass as you feel plugging away at the foes.

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In short, everything is integrated; everything is kinetic.

Story

The story is told by Rucks (voiced by Logan Cunningham), something Supergiant Games decided early on so that you would not need to read through walls of text between characters — pure genius!

Basically, this dystopia is in shambles due to the events of “the Calamity.” As I understand it, the Calamity is essentially the maguffin of X2: X-Men United — it’s a means to kill an entire species. Somehow it left a few humans alive (you and Rucks [maybe mixed race?]) and ripped apart the world.

So your job is to fix the bastion which is a cross between a city (the remains of Caelondia) and an arc (you do recruit animals) and it can either travel the broken world or travel in time. But it can only do one or the other, so you’ll have to choose.

In repeating this, I’m still not sure I understand the story, and frankly, some of Rucks’ dialogue is so cryptic and riddled with Bastion jargon that I’m not sure what’s literal and what’s metaphorical.

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Kinda like when I was watching LOST.

But none of that really matters to me because Logan Cunningham’s voice is so God damn compelling! There’s a sequence where you can learn about the Kid’s past by fighting something like 10 waves of enemies. Rucks tells bits of the story in between waves. Around the 8th wave though, I don’t know what happened, or what he was talking about. In fact, I replayed this mission several times to try and figure it out and I still don’t know… But again, his voice is just so good.

A review of Kevin Smith’s Tusk comes to mind and although the critic was not a fan, he mentioned, “[I]t would appear that this stage of Smith’s career is marked by both an interest in horror and a love of the sound of Michael Parks’ voice” (Tusk ReviewTheWrap. Duralde, Alonso) and I can understand this when you replace Parks with Logan Cunningham.

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I mean, I want Mr. Cunningham to narrate my life, he can make the mundane enchanting with that raspy voice. And apparently, I’m not the only one (see this wedding).

iOS Gameplay

So let’s get to the one negative feature, the iOS gameplay (based on my iPad 2).

As I have been told (by a random internet commentator), the iOS version of Bastion was made very deliberate, to a point where there shouldn’t be any problems as they didn’t take any shortcuts… but there are two issues: one gameplay wise, but one mechanical.

In regards to the gameplay, the controls have been configured so that rather than stop and shoot, the iOS controls make it so that your character starts firing whenever you stand near an enemy (or jar/wall/anything breakable). The problem is that this mechanic is too effective which dials down the difficulty.

See, with the traditional controls (which you can switch too), you can run or attack and, when you attack, you need to stop, aim, and shoot. On the iOS however, you don’t need to aim because it’s automatic.bastion-ipad2

It was only when I got to the Fang Repeater Training Ground that I noticed the difficulty was not supposed to be this easy. In this level, you have hit each target while the floors collapse behind you. No doubt this would cause a lot of pressure if I needed to aim, but because of the iOS controls, I simply rolled forward, let the Kid do the work and roll again.

That said, the traditional controls made this mission nigh impossible for me on the iPad, so I appreciate the iOS mechanic, but there was no challenge to completing the game. And making a game “challenging” isn’t necessary when the story, art, and design are so good… but it does limit it’s replay-ability.

The second and far more deleterious note is that the game crashes every level and a half. It got to a point where I’d complete a level and since it saves automatically, I’d close the app and start again. This may just be a problem with my iPad 2, since I know the team wouldn’t cut any corners, but it’s a problem nonetheless.

Fortunately, all of the aforementioned positives kept me from being disheartened by this problem… until the final level.

The final level is much longer than all the others, so I was racing against the clock, trying to complete it before the game crashed (once, I actually beat the game but it crashed before I could pick an ending). This added an interesting “time” element to the final level, but not in a good way.

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Conclusion

Ultimately this is an epic video game that could easily double as an interactive art exhibition. Being able to tie in every element of a video game into the experience is a monumental achievement and it’s what gaming should be. Luckily, this game has won so many awards and accolades that other companies should be taking notes. Even though it’s not perfect, it excels beyond the majority.

Even with the crashing, Bastion is well worth the money on the iOS for casual and adamant gamers alike.

For more iOS reviews, visit Derek Hobson’s Article Archive

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