Broken Age

This game’s got some cool puzzles, at least in Act 2, but there were a couple times where my progress came to a halt. The worst was on account of missing the peach item in Act 1 and having to backtrack to the cloud colony for it. Those peaches are off the path, so it feels a bit like being told you missed something you were supposed to pixel-hunt for in one of the frequently obstinate and esoteric classics from LucasArts. (Imagine how much time I spent thinking about that Dead Eye God riddle. It was longer than that.) As far as I know, there’s no other reason you would possibly have to return to the cloud colony other than if you’re missing that item, and no new NPC dialogue if you do return, so it feels like you’re going the wrong way if you try. Maybe they should’ve shoehorned in some need for a peach on the way down. The proper uses of objects are often contrived and silly like that anyway, so it wouldn’t have been a problem if they had.

Act 2 had a couple points where I got stuck, though they didn’t hold me back for nearly as long. One was in guessing the snake pet’s name: “Mister Huggy”. I didn’t remember it from dialogue, and only figured it out through trial and error, when everything other than “Mister” disappeared from my initial list of options. It didn’t help that after each guess, the game automatically sent me back to a room where the name wasn’t written anywhere to look for clues.

It also took me a while to find the wiring diagram hidden in the background of a photo. Once I finally found it, I didn’t think the game had asked too much of my attention to detail, but Shay randomly saying things like “I think this wire’s right” as I messed with combinations encouraged me to waste more time, as did the numerous red, yellow, and blue triangles dotting the walls of the ship, which were just an unfortunate red herring. In a couple cases, you can know the colors and connections but still get wire ordering wrong as many as five different ways before successfully trial-and-erroring it, but it isn’t a real issue, as you know how the system works by then. Overall, it’s no Fez or even Grimrock 2, but I was satisfied with the level of thinking required to solve the second act.

I found the dialogue and events highly enjoyable, and laughed a ton. Especially in failing to put together a good joke for the talking tree–I was laughing my ass off. (“Why didn’t the acorn want to go to the opera? IT CLOSED DOWN. Did you hear about the First National Tree Bank? IT CLOSED DOWN.”) The characters were really fun too, especially Vella’s little sister, the talking tree, and the lumberjack. Probably a few others deserve mention, but it’s safe to say that the outside world has the most and best NPC interactions, which made Vella’s side quite a bit more fun in Act 1, and likewise gave Shay’s side something of an advantage in Act 2.

The plot itself was a little haphazard. While I thought the major twists were clever, there were some strange choices, like keeping the parents out of the loop with regard to the ship they live in. In Act 1 I thought the whole yarn thing couldn’t be tied to actual star system destinations: it was a colony ship supposedly heading somewhere, so it wouldn’t make sense for it to be able to physically backtrack to another system to entertain a kid, and even if Shay somehow didn’t figure that out, the parents had to have. The exposition dump from the evil mastermind about how Shay can sense a person’s good genes through a bad crane game was also a little too out-there, and seeing as one hero has to infer puzzle solutions from the other’s side, they should’ve just given the two some subconscious psychic bond and went with something else for the reason maidens were being kidnapped. I don’t know, maybe there’s a plague that causes female babies to be stillborn, and they didn’t have the technology to be immortal or make wombs obsolete, so they kidnapped girls from less advanced parts of the world. Is that dark? Extremely, but it works, and you can still reveal this information in a cryptic fashion for the All Ages sticker.

I also have to wonder if there was supposed to be an Act 3, behind the Plague Wall, before the developers realized it wasn’t feasible with their budget. The game ends without the antagonist’s society really being brought down in any meaningful way. But the game is mildly delightful and there are only a couple potential stumbling blocks I know of that can happen in a run, so I’d say it’s in pretty good shape as-is.

Broken Age looks and sounds great, but its budget-to-content relationship makes the $600,000 Day of the Tentacle shine more favorably, and the unvoiced $130,000 Secret of Monkey Island probably even better–at least if you’re like me, and you’d rather have a bounty of low-res pixel art maps instead of actors and big cinematics.[1] That could be promising for Thimbleweed Park, which doesn’t seem to have gotten nearly as carried away as Broken Age did, but it’s too soon to say.

It’s also worth directing attention to the documentary, which is now publicly available on YouTube. They unfortunately gloss over most specifics in the creative- or design-decision process, spoiler-avoidance being a somewhat short-sighted priority while the thing was being edited, but I still found it hugely entertaining and by itself worth the fifteen bucks I paid for the game on Kickstarter.

[1] I have no official sources on budget figures and I don’t feel like looking for interviews or press releases to link to, so if you’re planning to repeat these numbers, maybe check for yourself that they aren’t some kind of Wikipedia troll first.

The reviewer finds this game hard to get excited about, but still has a positive opinion of it. It may be somewhat fun, having good features or ideas counterbalanced by a few boring parts, bad design or other fundamentally irritating qualities that can’t easily be overlooked. Alternatively, it could be pleasant, but with nothing new to offer. Worth a little money if you’ve got the time for it.

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