Tim Schafer and Double Fine Productions took to Kickstarter in early 2012 to get funding for the type of old-school adventure game that today's publishers dismiss immediately. Nearly two years later, Broken Age has been released to the PC with a wry and whimsical story that is clearly not something publishers would back. And you know what, the experience is better for it.
A Fractured Fairy Tale
Broken Age starts out with two seemingly disconnected stories featuring teenagers struggling to break out against their expected roles. The girl, Vella, is to be offered up as a sacrifice to a monster named Mog Chothra but she’s the only one willing to think outside the box of societal expectations and fight back. In the half of the story featuring the boy, Shay is confined and bored in a spaceship by the ultimate helicopter parent in the form of an over-protective computerized mother. His days are a safe, boring routine with the only stimulation provided by fictitious “missions” that might entertain a five-year old but not the scruffy haired teenager.
Vella uses her wits and the cliquish nature of her fellow sacrifices to make good on her escape and then hunts for a way to kill Mog Chothra while Shay is tempted with the chance at a real adventure by a stranger in a wolf costume. Both adventures follow the 90s point-and-click adventure model as players direct both characters around environments, talk to other characters, search for items and solve puzzles.
On a Personal Note
Perhaps the best way to both describe and approach Broken Age though is as an interactive story book that can be snuggled up with and play. In fact, that’s exactly what my eight-year old daughter and I did during this review. While she is a big fan of games like Minecraft and Pokemon, I was curious what she would think of a Double Fine adventure and simply began playing while she was in the room with me engrossed in another game. She was soon cuddled up in my lap and we would take turns playing, laugh at the eccentric characters and discuss how to solve puzzles. Even my eleven-year old son was pulled out of playing on his PC to watch what we were doing.
The fact that Broken Age drew in both my son and daughter with no prompting at all from me is the single highest praise I can give it.
Of the two adventures, Vella’s features the most varied locations as she travels through different towns and locations to find a way to defeat Mog Chothra and save her village of Sugar Bunting. The hand-painted watercolor aesthetic comes across strongest here as she explores a village in fluffy, happy clouds, a cabin in the woods, a beachside town and meets numerous outlandishly dressed characters. Shay is limited to a spaceship but it is a ship that daycare nightmares are made of and is filled with unique characters of its own. The one that stuck out the most though is the Space Weaver who stitches together flight star charts to take Shay’s ship through time and space.
Story over Puzzles
While Broken Age shares the same traits as it’s 90s adventure game predecessors, it lacks the same level of difficulty when it comes to the puzzles. This is either good or bad news depending on your perspective. If the overly opaque solutions from some LucasArts classics left you scratching your head and abandoning games, then you’ll find Broken Age’s difficulty level more enjoyable. If you are the kind of person that thought the puzzles in The Secret of Monkey Island were too easy, then you may find this relatively breezy to play through.
I experienced a couple of roadblocks, particularly when I realized there was an item I meant to pick up but completely forgot, however, Double Fine included a nice double-click mechanic to flip back through locations so I could quickly retrieve what was missing and return.
More to Come
In fact, the first act of Broken Age will take roughly four hours to play through and even less if you skip dialogue options or rush through the exploration. You can switch between playing as Vella and Shay at any point during the game though this gimmick doesn’t serve any particular gameplay purpose in Act One. Perhaps it will become clearer in Act Two as we are left with a whopper of a twist cliffhanger at the end.
With the finale yet to come, it’s hard to measure Broken Age against some of the great point-and-click adventure games of the past, such as Day of the Tentacle and Grim Fandango, and fans of those games may be let down by the choice of story over puzzles. However, the strong story-telling, gorgeous modern graphics and art design further backed by solid voice acting from Masasa Moyo, Elijah Wood, Jack Black and others plus a lovely score make this fractured fairy tale instantly appealing.
- A wry, whimsical fairy tale filled with memorable characters and moments.
- Sumptuous hand-painted art design that would feel equally at home in a book.
- Solid voice acting and an engaging musical score.
- The limited number of puzzles aren’t particularly challenging as Double Fine focuses on story.
- The ability to flip back and forth between the two stories serves no purpose.
- The cliffhanger makes the wait for Act Two harder.
Title: Broken Age: Act One
Platform(s): PC, Mac, Linux (Steam)
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Publisher: Double Fine Productions
Price: $24.99 (Includes Act One with Act Two to come as a free update)
Release Date: Jan. 14, 2014 (Kickstarter Backers), Jan. 28, 2014 (Public Release)
A Steam code for the PC was provided by Double Fine Productions for the purposes of this review.
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