As the Kid takes his first steps in the shattered world of Bastion, tiles rising out of the sky and ether to meet his feet, ragged curtains and broken columns lining the uncertain path ahead, there’s a meeting of sorts. Amid the confusion, clutter and brokenness of what’s before him, he finds “his lifelong friend just lying in the road. Well, it’s a touching reunion.”
The friend in this case is the Cael Hammer: a hefty weapon able to knock aside and flatten enemies. It’s a blunt instrument by definition, its haft about the length of the Kid himself, the weight of it ploughing into stone walls, wooden barrels and floating spectres alike. But it gets the job done.
That’s essentially the feeling we get upon picking up Bastion again, a full decade from its initial release. It’s an old friend that feels half familiar, half unfamiliar; as spirited as any of the games Supergiant Games has released since – the remarkable run of Transistor, Pyre and Hades – but occasionally awkward in the hands, inevitably faltering when compared with the studio’s later, slicker output.
Still, it certainly got the job done. Bastion released to critical acclaim, selling millions of copies in the following years. Inspired by both the Western novels of Cormac McCarthy and the colourful, isometric JRPGs of the ’90s, the action RPG casts you as one of the few survivors of an apocalyptic event known as the Calamity. This cataclysm shattered the city of Caelandia and its surrounding landscape into handily bite-sized levels, now overrun with deadly beasts and deadlier vegetation.
Despite the apocalyptic backdrop, there is plenty of colour and life to be found in Bastion. It’s got charming narration at every turn and gorgeously hand-painted backgrounds; imaginative enemy designs (ghostly tadpoles, underground sharks, the usual) and increasingly overpowered weaponry (cannons and battering rams); and a home that, despite the odd setback, gradually regains some of its former glory.
Starting with the hammer is no accidental choice. While there’s a wide variety of weapons in the game, from Western-inspired pistols and carbines to spears and flamethrowers, it’s the hammer that makes the most sense for the Kid – as a builder, one who uses a tool to both break things apart and put them together.
As much as Bastion is a game about loss, it’s also a story of restoration. While the world around you is shattered, the very act of traversing its haphazard levels rebuilds it, as tiles and objects fly into view in front of you, making navigation its own act of creation, or at least reassembly. You do spend much of your time destroying scenery and slaying vicious birds and beasts, but it’s ostensibly (as you’re reminded by the narrator, Rucks) to make a better world for them. And eventually you do indeed get the opportunity to restore everything to the way it was before the Calamity struck.
The game’s designers originally intended Bastion to have a gardening element. That sadly didn’t make it to release, but this sentiment of growth and nurture lives on in the accumulation of mementos, friends and even pets around your home base, the Bastion of the title. Bringing together the highlights of this charming world in one central, curated plot of land. Planting seeds for a better world than this one.
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