Developer: Supergiant Games
Publisher: Warner Bros. Games
Release Date: July 20, 2011 (Xbox 360); Aug. 16, 2011 (Windows); April 26, 2012 (Linux, Mac OS X); Aug. 29, 2012 (iOS); April 7, 2015 (PlayStation 4); Dec. 5, 2015 (PlayStation Vita); Dec. 12, 2016 (Xbox One); Sept. 18, 2018 (Switch)
Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch
Over a decade ago, Supergiant Games was a much different beast.
Today, we know the company for its work on Hades and its upcoming sequel, but back in 2011, the company was unproven. That is until it released Bastion.
In 2011 alone, the game sold over 500,000 copies and that was with a release only on the Xbox 360 and Windows. By 2015, the game had reached 3 million copies sold. It appeared like the developer was poised for greatness and it has largely lived up to that mantra.
Playing Bastion today offers a unique perspective into the humble beginnings of Supergiant Games. Hindsight is always 20/20 so playing this game with the knowledge of what is to come makes for an interesting experience.
All that said, revisiting early work can always feel daunting, especially when your best work likely happens later. The question then centers on how well a game stands up after time has set in.
I can’t speak to how Bastion compares to later games from Supergiant such as Hades or Pyre. I can only comment on what it was like playing this game today. That experience, for me, was largely a mixed bag.
Players control The Kid, who awakens in a broken world that is suffering from a recent event called the Calamity. The ruins are from the city of Caelondia and it manifests itself in floating rubble that reforms as the player draws near.
The Kid sets off to the Bastion, a place where people were to go in the event of a catastrophe. The Kid comes across Rucks, an elderly man who is also the game’s narrator, he directs him to seek out the cores to help grow the Bastion.
During his journey, The Kid comes across survivors and brings them to the Bastion. He also encounters the Ura, a race of people who fought a war with the Caels prior to the Calamity.
The goal of The Kid is to fully restore the Bastion to its fullness and to reset time as a means to prevent the Calamity from happening. As The Kid learns more about the world and what caused the Calamity, this quest and its outcome bring up a lot of questions.
Bastion utilizes an action-adventure format with a leveling system. The game offers a fixed overhead camera that follows The Kid as he embarks in the world.
The Kid comes across various weapons throughout his journey and each one allows him to advance. The weapons range from projectiles to close-range items such as swords and hammers.
Each of these weapons can be upgraded to learn additional skills. Strategy comes into play as you can only carry two weapons at a time without many options to switch each level. Players will have to utilize an arsenal building to change weapons. The Bastion gets one and levels usually have at least one.
Combat is action-based and is reminiscent of 2D Zelda games. You’ll have to use strategy and positioning to take down foes, especially bosses.
Each level is a segmented mass and as players collect cores, and later shards, more levels open up. Along with levels, there are proving grounds where players are tested on their different weapons. These are challenging mini-games that require mastery of each weapon.
The game also utilizes a skills system where players can equip a skill. This acts as a third weapon and can only be traded out at arsenals as well.
Let first start out with I did enjoy this game. I think it holds up really well and fits well with recent games that are similar. That said, there were some areas that were a bit rough.
Narration: An Enjoyable Experience When You Listen
The narration was solid, which can be really hard to accomplish. Games that opt for narration can be a mixed bag, but Bastion made it work well. Rucks, as a narrator, gives off an old Western feel as he speaks slowly and raspy while keeping the dialogue succinct. It was a nice change of pace.
Where the narration plays an issue is it’s the main means to deliver the game’s story.
This game originally released on Xbox 360 and PC. These methods are intended to have the sound up and the player fully immersed. A lot of the narration happens during combat or as you explore the level rather than title cards with still images. Rucks speaks the narration while the words appear on the screen.
I played this game in handheld mode on the Switch. I didn’t always have the luxury of having the volume up or very loud, leading to me missing the narration at times. Having the text on screen was not enough because it required reading while also trying to take down an enemy or a horde of them.
This isn’t necessarily a knock on producers because they didn’t have handheld devices in mind given the release. It was almost five years later before the game got a handheld port onto the Vita and almost seven years before heading to the Switch.
I recommend playing this game in a way where you can hear the narration and not have it muted. This game works really well in handheld mode, but this minor gripe makes it difficult since many use handheld gaming when they don’t have the option for the full gaming experience.
Gameplay: A Segmented and Uneven Experience
As far as gameplay goes, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The game offered a nice segmented approach that was easy to pick up on my lunch break or while watching TV.
Combat flowed nicely and provided a good challenge while not being unfairly difficult. The proving grounds, in particular, really put your gaming skills to the test. In some ways, I could see it being easier to do some of them on a computer rather than a console, but all were doable. Nothing could compare to the sense of accomplishment you felt upon fully completing one.
Where the game felt a bit antiquated was the limiting of weapons. I can see the need for strategy and thought in determining what weapons you brought to each level. The challenge was you didn’t know what you were facing until you reached the level.
This becomes prominent in the later levels, which are longer and more challenging. I’d struggle through the first part only to realize I didn’t have an ideal weapon setup. Sure, I could’ve just gone back to the Bastion to change but between the loading screens and short travel, it felt like a while.
I’d prefer letting approaches like The Legend of Zelda, where you can switch via a menu or even a mini-arsenal where you could only make one switch before it closes. Again, this was not a deal breaker, but definitely an annoyance.
Narrative: A Surprisingly Relatable Tale After All These Years
Narratively, this game is intriguing. There’s something about these smaller games where they really can embrace an introspective nature through their storytelling.
I will avoid spoilers, but the ending does a fantastic job of providing you with a choice that feels like it has consequences. In short, there are two big choices in the final moments of the game that seem to have unique enough endings.
The ending also does a good job of encouraging additional playthroughs to see where the other choices take you. In fact, the new game plus even hints that your choice has consequences as you start anew.
Outside of the ending, there are some heavy themes. In particular, intolerance and bigotry take center stage along with the brutalities of war. Taking a look at 2011, you can see this resonating with people, but sadly enough, these themes still resonate in 2023.
Final Score (3.5 out of 5 Stars)
Bastion is a good game that borderlines great. I know many loved this game upon initial release, but it just didn’t fully click with me.
I did enjoy myself during the roughly 10 hours it took me to beat it, but I had no desire to return for another playthrough. I think my problem was I got slightly bored in the latter half of the game. Admittedly, that may have been because I had trouble following the narrative.
Objectively, this is a game that is sure to have a lot of fans. The combat is solid and the narration is fantastic. It is clear this game was not made for handheld, but that doesn’t mean it suffers from being on the Switch. If you removed the narration, it would be perfect for the Switch.
Going back to the original question of if this game holds up today: absolutely. Minus a few gameplay mechanics, the game is just as playable now as I’m sure it was in 2011.
Couple this with a surprisingly deep narrative and you have a game that action-adventure fans are sure to love and cherish. That said, it may not be for everyone.
The Boss Rush Podcast: The Flagship Podcast of Boss Rush Media and the Boss Rush Network
The Boss Rush Podcast – The Boss Rush Podcast is the flagship podcast of Boss Rush Media and the Boss Rush Network. Each week, Corey, Stephanie, LeRon, and their friends from around the internet come together with other creators, developers, and industry veterans to talk about games they’ve been playing, discuss video game and entertainment based topics, and answer questions solicited on social media and the community Discord.
New episodes of The Boss Rush Podcast release every Monday morning on YouTube and all major podcast applications like Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Patreon supporters gain one week early access.