“I’m free! Free to cleave the infinite void of space itself!”
Review covers Act 1 and Act 2*
The point-and-click genre has been on the rise the past few years, largely due Telltale Games’ efforts to bring the worlds of The Walking Dead, Fables, Game of Thrones, and numerous other IPs into the genre with success. It’s been a while, though, since a completely original IP has possessed the limelight of the point-and-click genre. Double Fine sought to change that with their return to form when they launched a kickstarter for a new title, Broken Age. It combines some talented voice actors with the raw, creative talents of Tim Schaffer and his development team to create a beautiful entry into the point-and-click adventure games.
Double Fine always bears a unique style with it’s games. Broken Age is not an exception to that. We are presented with a traditional interface of highlighting over the environment to find what we can interact with as well as items to combine. This is accompanied by an art style that captures the imagination and is unlike anything else in modern gaming. It combines the the charm and appeal of early adventure games with the depth and quality found in the current generation of game design.
The narrative is intriguing as well. It follows the adventures of Vella and Shay as they uncover mysteries in their worlds while also experiencing their own individual coming of age stories. Vella displays the courage and strength to stand up against the oppressive society surrounding her. She fights for what she believes is right instead of falling in line and allowing herself to be used. Shay shows us the adventurer within all of us as his pure sense of courage and adventure echo that which we all yearn to express in our confined lives. I was able to greatly relate with these characters as well as the themes and emotions that drove their stories.
The quirky art style, however, disguises the dark and thought-provoking moral dilemmas presented to Vella and Shay. Some of the themes explored throughout the story are family, self-sacrifice, segregation, cultism, war, and several other heavy ideas that you would not expect. With a design that borders between paper cut-out and claymation, the feel of a children’s storybook is jarring against the dark tone.
If you couldn’t tell, I fell in love with the art style the second the opening splash screen appeared. Just by looking at the character design, you can tell that this is a Double Fine game. The characters have that stylized, borderline demented look at times. Large, lopsided eyes are abundant, and the world is crafted of both the familiar and strange. There is the fairytale-like world Vella resides in, which includes a town resting in the clouds and a beach side village that is basically made of sand castles. Meanwhile, Shay’s world consists of the Bossa Nostra, a spaceship filled with talking silverware and companions completely made of yarn. And, of course, there is Grabbing Gary, the robot whose only purpose is to grab things. Both art styles shine in each world and thoroughly grab your attention as you scan the environment not only to find interactive pieces, but also to take in the satisfying art.
Prepare to have your ear’s treated to a delicacy only Double Fine could concoct. The voice acting excels with the talents of Elijah Wood (The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Wilfred) as Shay and Masasa Moyo as Vella. Both are breathtaking in their respective roles as they capture their characters emotion and sense of adventure. With most of the game revolving around speech and interaction, they do an excellent job immersing the player into the story. Additional voices are provided by Wil Wheaton, Jack Black, Pendelton Ward, and Jennifer Hale. All of the supporting actors provide incredible performances and fill the world with unique and interesting characters. Their performances help bring to life the quirky and odd world they inhabit. In addition to the thought provoking and deep performances, the performers deliver some of the best humor I’ve seen in quite a while. Their comments and conversations are laced with the perfect amount of cynicism and sarcasm to provoke my laughter at a moment’s notice. The soundtrack is a masterful composition by Peter McConnell who has experience developing music for the worlds Tim Schaffer can dream up. The flexibility of the score is shown as we switch between the sci-fi and more rural and exotic locations in the game. Emotions are emphasized as the musical tone has a tendency to tug at the heart strings in this dark, yet light-hearted narrative.
While this is a game without multiple endings or branching paths, there are a decent amount of reasons to delve back into the game. Some of the harder puzzles are semi-randomized. These puzzles require the player to decipher codes that are either invisible or hidden from the player’s sight. I am not going to lie – I had to look up solutions for some of these puzzles as they pushed my critical thinking skills to the limit. Even then, it required note-taking (yes, handwritten notes for a modern game) and keeping a watchful eye on how things connected and worked. Between this and the truly touching narrative, there are reasons to come back to Broken Age after completing it.
By the end of Shay and Vella’s stories, I may have had a tear slide down my cheek. It was not a tear of sadness, but of joy. The story is heartwarming and possesses so many strong emotional points that are driven home by the end. And, it left me wanting more. As a fan of gaming, and seeing how it can demonstrate the medium as an art form, I am happy that I took the time to play Broken Age thoroughly, and look forward to the next intriguing world Double Fine can produce.