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Critical Reception: Supergiant Games' Bastion

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Supergiant Games' Xbox Live Arcade action-RPG Bastion, which reviewers describe as "the perfect mesh of game and story."
This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Supergiant Games' Xbox Live Arcade action-RPG Bastion, which reviewers describe as "the perfect mesh of game and story." Bastion currently earns a score of 88 out of 100 at Metacritic.com. GamePro's McKinley Noble gives Bastion 5 out of 5 stars. "Bastion isn't just one of the year's best titles," he asserts. "It's also one of the best stories you'll see in an indie game." Noble continues: "When the game's hero, 'The Kid,' wakes up from a deep sleep, the world around him has already been destroyed -- but you don't know why. That's when the narration starts to kick in. As you take your first steps through Bastion, the gruff voice of an old man details your every action. "As you pick up a hammer, the old man notes how this sturdy tool is like your best friend. When you discover a treasure, the old man might recall the history and folklore of its origin. It's clear he's telling this story to someone, but whom that is remains a mystery for a while." This storytelling approach ends up being one of the game's greatest features. "Overall, the constant narration never gets old," Noble praises, "and the payoff at the end of the game is memorable, presenting you with choices that are neither good nor bad, but thought-provoking all the same." "Microsoft has always managed to find specific titles that make Xbox Live's Summer of Arcade a worthy line-up of interesting artistic games, and Bastion stands right at the top with LIMBO and Braid," Noble writes. "Supergiant Games has created a memorable experience that arguably raises the visual and narrative bar for downloadable titles, and while it's not the genre-changer that Braid may have been, it's nonetheless a stellar first outing that does everything it attempts with wonderful finesse." Bob Mackey at 1UP.com gives Bastion an A- grade. "Striking the perfect balance between story and action can be a tricky proposition," he notes. "Even in these far-flung future times of 2011, developers still force players to sit patiently during lengthy cut-scenes as these tortured souls wait patiently for the chance use their controllers as God intended." Mackey continues: "Supergiant Games' Bastion approaches this specific issue in an innovative and unobtrusive way: throughout the game, a narrator describes your every action on the fly, commenting on the surroundings, enemies, and even your weapon choice. While Bastion's method of delivery could easily come off as a cheap gimmick, the narration is written with a sense of economy and sincerity, adding another layer of quality to an already stunning game." The gameplay also proves to be involving. "Though Bastion focuses mainly on combat, it provides a surprising amount of choices for dispatching the waves upon waves of enemies sent your way," Mackey says. "Nearly every level introduces a new weapon or skill, allowing you to optimize your character for any situation; and since any weapon can be assigned to either of the main attack buttons, your Kid can play the role of a melee-focused berserker, a sniper that prefers projectiles, or a happy medium between the two. "The game's progression system adds even more customization, as you can upgrade each of Bastion's many weapons through multiple tiers of interchangeable effects, and level up your Kid to equip various stat bonuses -- which can also be swapped around at will." "Truthfully, Bastion could be sold on its presentation alone," Mackey admits. "But beneath this pretty packaging, there's a real game here -- and a good one at that. Supergiant Games seems to have done the seemingly impossible by creating the perfect mesh of game and story, all while preventing each of these elements from overpowering one another. Other developers, take note: this is how it's done." Carolyn Gudmundson at Games Radar scores Bastion at 8 out of 10. "Bastion's presentation is beautiful. Its vibrant watercolor art style and melodic soundtrack make its appeal immediately apparent," she writes. "It's not just window dressing either – Bastion has all the trappings of a superb hack-and-slash action game, with just the right amount of RPG-ness to add substance. The combat feels satisfying, each weapon in your arsenal feels distinct, and the customization and upgrade options are meaningful and plentiful without being tedious." Gudmundson finds the game's upgrade system to be particularly noteworthy. "With each level you gain, you can choose a perk to add on to the kid, like increased health, higher critical hit rates and so on," she explains. "You can even adjust the difficulty of the enemies in exchange for added bonuses to the percentage of experience points and money you earn. "These difficulty options are surprisingly detailed; not only can you make enemies stronger overall, but you can also make them block attacks, retaliate upon KO, regenerate, and so on, and you can stack each of these options until you feel the challenge is just right. Being able to customize the difficulty to this extent made it easy to find a configuration that suited us perfectly, and also allowed us to experiment with ramping it up or down as we grew stronger in our abilities." "As long as you're not expecting a profoundly original artistic vision, Bastion delivers on its gameplay," Gudmundson concludes. "Bastion's main strengths are twofold – the combat is satisfying and varied, and the customization options are robust."

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