Broken Age Act 1
A Tale of Two Souls
Tim Schafer’s renown was earned by working on iconic adventure games in the ‘90s. Broken Age marks his return to the genre, riding on the back of a prolific Kickstarter campaign that raised millions. Now that we finally have the first half, it’s clear: He still has the magic.
Part of Broken Age’s appeal lies in its dual narrative. On one hand we have Vella Tartine (Masasa Moyo), a young baker girl with no intention of being a maiden sacrifice. In Shay Volta’s (Elijah Wood) case, he’s stuck aboard a spaceship run by an overprotective A.I. (Jennifer Hale), passing his days with “rescue missions” designed for young children.
Vella’s tale is one steeped in adventure, taking her across villages as charismatic as her own. She’ll meet characters like Harm’ny Lightbeard (Jack Black), a man so obsessed with lightness that he shed a letter from his name. There’s Curtis (Wil Wheaton), the lumberjack who suspects that trees are out for revenge. And then there’s the talking tree, who confirms Curtis’ reputation as a furnituremaking mass-murderer.
Shay’s story is, by design, far less exciting. It’s hard not to feel sorry for him, forced to a life of repetition. The breakfast cereals never change, the adventure simulations are the same, and dinner is always represented by a single pill. It’s no wonder he sighs all the time.
In a moment of defiance, Shay happily fumbles one mission and inadvertently meets Marek (David Kaufman), a stowaway in a wolf costume. The man’s proposition of saving real hostages is too good to pass up, and thus begins Shay’s real adventure.
Players can at any point swap between the two protagonists. It’ll pick up where you left off so there’s no missed content, though there is the risk of ruining the pace. However you choose to approach it, I feel that finishing Shay’s story first would have a bigger payoff in this half’s conclusion.
DOUBLY FINE PRODUCTION VALUES
Fans of Schafer’s earlier work may find the humor in Broken Age fairly subdued. It’s certainly present but this is no Secret of Monkey Island or Day of the Tentacle. That said the game makes up for it by addressing, or hinting at, several important issues throughout.
Sometimes it’s as obvious as Vella breaking the maiden sacrifice trope and saving the day; other times it’s a tree admonishing humans for our reckless destruction of nature. Rather than bring overbearing, these themes simply add an extra sheen to an already enjoyable story.
The great presentation helps too. I couldn’t appreciate Broken Age’s design initially, what with all the other beautiful 2D games out there, but it didn’t take long for the stylized look to grow on me. There’s a painterly charm that’s reminiscent of the pixel- edged classics, not to mention the use of colors being to good effect. Here is an art style that supports the storytelling, rather than being the key selling point.
I’ve been naming the voice
“THE HUMOR IS PRETTY SUBDUED; THIS IS NO SECRET OF MONKEY ISLAND, OR DAY OF THE TENTACLE.”
talents where possible because dialog in an adventure game is crucial – a storyteller with bad delivery isn’t going to captivate many. While there’s the novelty of having celebrities, the majority of the cast actually do voice-acting for a living. And it shows, as each character you meet brims with life. Although Double Fine probably went over budget here, the end result almost seems justifiable.
NOT TOO LONG ON THE PUZZLES
The biggest strength of Broken Age actually lies in its simple puzzles. Purists might argue against this but adventure games often suffer from convoluted designs that end up doing more harm than good. Where this game is concerned story reigns supreme, and having the player stuck too long just won’t do. If it’s challenge you’re looking for then there are plenty of alternatives – Amanita Design’s Machinarium comes to mind.
As it turns out, the Steam listing for Broken Age promises the following key feature: “This one really hard puzzle that you won’t get but you’ll look it up online and not tell anybody.” Indeed, they delivered on that one during Vella’s part. Otherwise, the puzzles are all pretty intuitive, leaving me to my own devices. Interacting with everything on-screen out of curiosity and not necessity sure is liberating.
Broken Age is a game I’d enjoy and happily endorse to family and friends. That honor almost always goes to party games so it’s nice to add a lighthearted, story-centric title up on that pedestal. If you ever need to show how games can be more than score-chasing or digital violence, this is your example.
The only thing holding back a full recommendation is that Broken Age isn’t finished. Should that stop you from buying it? Not really, unless you hate the idea of waiting months for Part 2 or look at value from an hours-per-dollar perspective. Instead, what you get for your money is a charming little adventure that’s funny, insightful and honestly entertaining.