What’s a kid to do when one day he wakes up to find the entire world around him has cracked apart, separated into disparate floating chunks cast adrift upon a now endless expanse of sky? What he knows for sure is that — should anything bad go down — everyone was told to meet up at the Bastion, a Caelondian refuge that supposedly has the ability to reverse The Calamity. Thusly the kid sets off — the world forming together beneath his very feet as he goes — in order to track down the energy cores needed to power the reactor, and possibly see if anyone else managed to survive this disaster.
Such is the setup to Bastion (out now, $4.99), the top-down Action-RPG by Supergiant Games that deals heavily with themes of isolation — how people deal with loss — as well as a metric-ton of ass-kicking. The game is also quite well known for having one of the most amazing narrators ever, whom manages to seamlessly deliver much information — without ever stopping the game’s action — all with a healthy dose of wit and sarcasm. While already extremely well received on both PCs and consoles, we’re here today to instead specifically discover just how well Bastion fared after transitioning to the realm of iOS based devices.
The first — and biggest — concern with any action heavy game port is to determine if the original’s controls managed to come through unscathed, and in this regard I believe they probably did about as well as was imaginable (yet not as well as I might have preferred). You can control where the kid moves with one of two controls schemes: you may either tap on any part of the screen in order to move there (if possible), or you may use the screen’s left hand side a virtual analog joystick (I personally preferred the latter method). All of the other actions — such as attacking, blocking, dodging, and using abilities — have been placed on the screen’s lower right-hand side, and all of these buttons were thankfully rather easy to accurately hit (even though they were all bunched up together).
My chief concern with this scheme is that — unlike the original version, which contained a separate action button for each of your two current weapons — Bastion’s iOS port gives you a button that lets you switch between which weapon the attack button currently fires. Although you have a nice enough range of weapons to select from — quick/slow, heavy/light, melee/ranged — they were all generally designed with very different uses in mind. Although in the original I generally preferred to use the Army Carbine and Brusher’s Pike — for high damage when at range, and high damage for close up stuff — here it’s quite a bit awkward to fumble with weapon swaps whenever stuff closes the gap.
Speaking of which, the most prominent game play feature of Bastion — especially during a “New Game +,” wherein you begin already owning all possible armaments — is that players may freely equip whatever two weapons they want (all without any penalty). Although players will always have their Bullhead Shield on hand (which can bounce back projectiles after a last second block), they may otherwise freely dual up on either melee or ranged gear whenever they see fit (even if having one of each is usually wiser). Since each of the game’s eleven primary weapons all feature radically different intended usage strategies, this enables players to heavily customize the pacing and tempo of Bastion’s action to their personal taste.
By the way — speaking of things enabling you to customize game play to your personal taste — now would probably be a good time to discuss Bastion’s deity system, wherein you can freely fine-tune the game’s difficulty (as well as the rewards that come with it). Although the tale’s narrator — with an air of disdain — claims that you can’t ever count on the Gods for help, it would certainly seems that you can definitely piss them off in order to invoke their wrath. With each of the ten Gods that you invoke — which may also easily be de-summoned later on — a specific deadly perk will be added to all of your foes, in turn making them both far deadlier and profitable to take down than they would be otherwise.
This “Essence” can in turn be spent to upgrade your equipment (assuming you have the necessary components), as well as purchase additional special moves and brews to work with (more on this later). Thankfully Bastion has not been changed at all in this regard during its iOS conversion, and all Essence must still be earned purely through grinding — which can be accelerated via invoking the Gods — all with nary a single IAP in sight. However — before someone gets the idea that flipping off the entire pantheon is a cash gathering pro tip — I should warn you that simultaneously invoking all of the Gods causes Bastion to border on the impossible (and with the iOS controls may actually be just that).
Other than earning Essence from smashing up enemies — and sometimes bits of scenery — the Kid will also garner EXP with each successful takedown he performs (also enhanced by using the Gods), although he doesn’t exactly have stats in the way most RPGs do. Whenever the kid levels up he gains the ability to simultaneously drink even more liquor, which might at first seem the awkwardest ability ever until you realize that all brews served in Caelondia have beneficial properties (unhelpful drinks are banned, apparently). In this regard players may additionally mix-and-match not only what perks their enemies can potentially receive, but also the benefits that they themselves gain as well (and some of the brew perks are even context sensitive, such as 100% crit-rate if health under 33%).
This basically concludes my breakdown of how Bastion plays, which — other than the minor control quibble I previously mentioned — made it by and large onto iOS devices completely untouched, and definitely still playable if you otherwise put your mind to it. I’m left — in the end — wondering if I would have even cared so much about the weapon switch function had I never before played the PC/Console version first, would I have instead just considered the entire weapon swapping mechanic to be legitimate difficulty? Otherwise the only meaningful difference, though not a deleterious one, is that the discovery locations of the Fang Repeater and the Dueling Pistols got reversed (probably to not shaft touch screen users with the game’s weakest pre-upgrade weapon so early on).
Another thing that come through totally unscathed in the transition process would have to be Bastion’s amazing graphics, with absolutely nothing missing from the iOS edition. Although Supergiant Games’ efforts to showcase the melancholic beauty of a world ripped asunder are still intact, the game’s somewhat zoomed out isometric view can often be troublesome to follow when played on smaller-screened iOS devices. This shouldn’t be a problem — however — for those utilizing the much larger iPads whenever they play Bastion, upon which keeping track of multiple small moving targets will be far easier.
That said, this is probably a good time to mention something that — although not necessarily obvious at first glance — unfortunately went wrong during the porting process. Although the game seems to run perfectly smoothly whenever you first turn it on, should you play Bastion for an extended period of time — which is quite easy to do, seeing as how the game is both long and very engrossing — awkward bouts of slow down will start to occur, after which they will steadily ramp up in frequency until the whole app crashes. This is quite similar to a problem I previously mentioned with Lunar: Silver Star Story Touch (our review), and is likewise easily negated simply by freshly re-opening Bastion’s app whenever it occurs (sadly, the app’s age means this issue is likely to never be fixed).
Now as much as I’d love to begin launching into a massive thesis upon Bastion’s plot at this juncture — which would be a massively positive affair, mind you — an app review is not the appropriate place to wholesale spoil every last facet of a game’s story. I may — however — freely discuss the game’s narrator, played by Logan Cunningham, with full impunity (and is even something quite necessary, with him being Bastion’s largest draw). While it’s obvious right off the bat that you won’t ever have to sit through lengthy cut scenes in Bastion thanks to the game’s omnipresent narrator, it isn’t necessarily obvious at first just how much the old Bastion operator truly brings to this game’s unique style.
It has often been said in writing that — when handled correctly — less is often more, yet one might wonder how you can give an in-depth account of two different cultures — a raging wilderness — and the disaster that tore everything apart using only a modicum of words. The key here is that Bastion’s narrator is also someone inside the story’s universe — rather than an omniscient being looking down from above — and thus he has personal feelings, thoughts, and agendas upon every topic of which he deigns to speak. Thus it’s how he says stuff that fills in infinitely more gaps than the scant few words he speaks, with his word choices — attitude towards topics — and cultural slang becoming everything.
Furthermore — to ensure that the amazing Logan Cunningham doesn’t distract players from enemy threats — the developers have even found a novel way to deal with each character’s back story, all while keeping normal narration focused upon the task at hand. In order to learn more about a character you’ll have to tackle an optional gauntlet arena referred to as “Who Knows Where,” wherein you’ll face an onslaught of twenty waves of coldly calculated enemy forces. Not only does the narrator divulge more of a particular character’s past — in fully flavored style — between each wave, but these places also serve as the game’s de facto grinding spots for those desperately needing extra Essence.
The end result of this entire package is one positively amazing game that absolutely everyone should play no matter what (even if just to experience the narrator), and — despite the few flaws I mentioned earlier — is still a worthwhile purchase on iOS also.
iFanzine Verdict: Bastion — whether on iOS, or in its original PC/Console variation — is an exceedingly well crafted top-down action RPG, featuring fully-customizable game play and a cleverly delivered plot with some serious depth to it. Although the iOS port does have controls that aren’t perhaps 100% perfectly optimal, and even a slow-down inducing bug that occurs if you run the program for too long, this game is still highly recommendable even after making the mobile transition. Finally — if you have somehow not yet experienced Bastion in any form whatsoever — than you really do owe it to yourself to download this app immediately, all just to experience Logan Cunningham’s impressive performance as Bastion’s narrator.