Bastion is the indie game that could. It won a ton of awards at trade shows, it was released on the PC, Xbox Live, and was even a huge tentpole release for the Google Chrome App Store. It’s been on the Mac App store, and now the game has made its way to the iPad. If you have managed to avoid playing this game despite all the buzz, or simply spend most of your time playing games on the iPad, this game is worth playing. It offers a compelling story that feels like a novel. The game looks fantastic, and has a unique soundtrack. And the game’s controls were given an iPad makeover.
Waking up after the world fell apart.
In Bastion you’re simply playing “The Kid.” Or so the narrator tells you — he admits that he never bothered asking. The Kid wakes up after some sort of disaster, and the world comes up to meet him as he walks along. All the citizens in the city, named Caelondia, are left intact but are reduced to ash. You’re directed to make it to the Bastion, where the narrator explains that the disaster is called The Calamity, and you’ll need to journey around the world picking up Cores, which will help restore the Bastion and the world.
These quests find the Kid battling wild beasts and automated turrets, and digging through ruins. The ruins have artifacts of the path, along with new weapons and attacks. Each of the weapons opens up a back story of Caelondia. For example, the dual pistols tell the story of the Marshals, which were the lawmen. Caelondia is given a ton of backstory, most of it directly in the game. The world is a mixture of fantasy, steampunk, and western, so that it feels the same way that old Final Fantasy games used to, where the genres bend to create stories instead of bending stories to fit in genres.
There are three stages — four if you count the final one in the New Game + — that are only known as Who Knows Where. These are basically arena battles that take place in the Kid‘s mind, and unlock the backstories of the characters. You can skip these and still finish the game, but you’re going to miss some of the game’s best writing. The game riffs on morality, causality, and offers some choice on the outcome, though this only comes at the end of the game. Bastion’s story has a lot of style, but there is considerable substance to back it up.
Looks pretty, sings well.
Bastion looks great on the new iPad. The game is rendered in this sort of watercolor style, which lends to the story’s style. The animation is all smooth, which is essential because the world fills in as you explore the maps. The stages are also filled with junk left over from before the calamity. The graphics and level design go a long way in this game to help maintain the tone set by the story.
The enemy designs are also crafted with care. Each of the levels feature its own types of enemies. The early levels, which are set in the ruins of the city, have the gasbags, which are given a ghostlike design. The second set of levels are the wilds, and the enemies become a mixture of wild animals and plants. The later levels have another set of enemies that are unique, but the details omitted to prevent spoilers. A nice touch in this game is that each of enemy sets are designed with a completely different feel, and they don’t feel like they’re drawn from existing material either. When combined with the level design, the game feels like its own cohesive world.
The soundtrack deserves another nod, as the game always has a ton of music that’s as unique as the game world. It’s a mixture of 70’s sci-fi techno and country slide guitar. It retains the game’s western and fantasy vibe, and is well done enough to stand on its own. That may be why there’s an advertisement for the soundtrack in the pause menus. Game music isn’t a lost art, but indie games like Bastion have created a lot of new music that’s worthy of being compared to the iconic soundtracks of the 8 and 16-bit era.
From point and click to tap and tap
As Bastion started life on PCs and consoles, it likely could have done what many ports do, and dropped in the existing control scheme with a virtual joystick. Instead Bastion defaults to a tap interface built around the iPad. If you would prefer the virtual joystick and button route, that is included. You will need to enable that in the options. The tutorial nicely adjusts to explain what you need to do based on which scheme you have chosen. The iPad controls aren’t completely buttonless. However, the buttons there are limited to weapon switching, blocking, and special attacks. This is compared to the virtual controls, which have an array of buttons on the right-hand side of the screen. The iPad native controls feel more natural to the platform, and it’s nice that they still have the more traditional controls included.
Bastion has won an array of awards on different platforms, and it could have very easily come to the iPad without any thought given to the quality of the port. However, the iPad version of the game lives up not only to Bastion’s design, but also the capabilities of the iPad as a gaming platform. What you can’t miss here is a story that is unique in almost every way. The aesthetic that’s oozing from every part of this game only works because of the characters and the storytelling. The game’s art style is beautifully rendered, and the music is equally as well done. The controls are built for the iPad, which is a very nice touch. The game brings all of its charm and originality intact and you should already be playing it.