As-I-Play Bastion: The Kid Gets Up… (Part One)

I’ve heard a lot of things about Bastion over the past few years, and the Steam Summer Sale seemed to present the perfect opportunity for me to see what all the fuss was about (yes, I know the Summer Sale has long since passed, which ought to tell you something).

So far, I am not impressed.

For one thing, I keep falling off the world. It’s set on a diagonal, and my directional keys are in an up-down, left-right pattern, so falling off is really easy. That’s a very annoying way to continually lose health and slow down gameplay. For another, I really am not very good at top-down combat. I was terrible at it in Diablo III, and I have not gotten any better at it for not playing top-down combat since then (yes, that was quite a few years ago, and no, I did not like Diablo III).

So I have died a lot. A lot. To the point where I already pretty much don’t care about the game and have very little desire to continue playing it. Yes, I know I can start over and put it on casual mode, but then I’d have to replay that first level, and I have no particular desire to do so.

The one thing that I do really like is that the narrator functionally follows you along as you play, explaining what you do as you do it. When I ran around in a circle and destroyed a bunch of boxes, the narrator explained that “The kid” (I’m the kid) had to “work out some aggression.” When I find things, he talks about me finding them. When I fall off the world, he makes a snarky comment about how I fell to my death, “just kidding,” and then I get respawned. And there are a couple different options for falling off the world, too (and he doesn’t comment every time, which I appreciate, because one of the things I hated the most about Tomb Raider were the horrible death cut scenes you had to watch every single time).

I like the fact that Bastion is a little tongue-in-cheek about its narration. I like that the experience is going to be a little bit different for each player. I really don’t like the gameplay. At all.

Having only gotten through one level and one boss fight (ugh – I hate boss fights), I can’t really say all that much about the overall experience, but I will continue to slog on.

As I progress, each level is pretty much just more of the same. Go to a new space, fight some little black blob things, fight some bigger blob things, die, pick up heath, get a core, come back to the Bastion, build an upgrade. Get snark from the Stranger every time I do something (like destroying spiky bushes, for which I got the remark “The kid attacked those bushes like he was going to get a prize or something for destroying all of them” – I didn’t).

The commentary is amusing enough to keep me from wanting to quit altogether, but Bastion just really isn’t my cup of tea. At all.

I lack the 1980s and 1990s experience with side-scrollers that would make me nostalgic for this kind of gameplay (my mother didn’t think I needed to play videogames that much), and there just isn’t any intellectual challenge to Bastion. There aren’t puzzles to solve (and, in fact, if I go out of my way to put off pushing a button for some reason, the game very insistently spawns a giant blue arrow to tell me where the button is, just in case I’m that oblivious), so it’s really just running around and mashing my mouse button in order to kill enemies that are more annoying than anything else.

I just lack the personality for that kind of gameplay. If you’re going to make me button-mash, you have to at least fill in the gaps with narrative or puzzle complexity to keep my brain stimulated. Without that, I just end up annoyed and with a hand cramp. Not my idea of fun.

I will say, though, that Bastion is pretty. I like that the world fills itself in as I walk (provided I could stop falling off it), and I like the game’s overall aesthetic. I’m just bored. Grinding for the sake of grinding does nothing to satisfy me. I guess I’m not in touch with that part of my lizard brain.

Now don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of games I will play and grind in (Gears of War horde mode, for instance), but there’s something different about that in comparison to games like this one. Bastion isn’t really a game of skill (there are skills, and I am improving my ability to click around and not die as I play more of it), nor are there really positional tactics to surviving an encounter the way there are in Gears’ horde mode (especially when playing cooperatively). It’s just a matter of whether I can click fast enough before my hand falls off.

But there are games in which I’m willing to do that, too, as long as there’s a reward of some sort on the other side – a cinematic (sometimes) or the ability to progress through a narrative or explore a new part of the world. What I get in Bastion isn’t really “exploration,” per se. Yes, new territory blocks rise out of nowhere when I progress, but that’s not exploration – that’s a path that appears as I walk.

And the narrative is very simplistic (not “simple,” but not complex or branching like a BioWare title, or even rich in the way that BioShock or Portal can claim to be), so I don’t particularly care what the Stranger says next. I have no investment in the game the way I have in other games – I just don’t care what happens to the Kid or the Stranger or where the small jar of “spices” came from.

In short, it’s not my kind of game. But for now, I’ll press onward, in small, spaced-out increments so that I don’t get too angry and so that my button-pressing hand continues to function like it’s supposed to.

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