Back to the Good Old Days
I'm a huge fan of Tim Schafer's work. Grim Fandango is one of my absolute favorite games of all time, I view Psychonauts as an unappreciated cult classic, and I have fond memories of the Monkey Island games. So I practically squealed in joy when I heard that Schafer's company, Double Fine, had raised over three million dollars on Kickstarter to make a new point-and-click adventure. However, as the game developed, I couldn't help but worry. Not all throwbacks are good, and games have changed very much since the glory days of LucasArts' graphic adventures. Can a deliberately old school adventure game really have the same appeal as before? Broken Age proves that it absolutely can. The gameplay is almost identical to that of The Curse of Monkey Island, but the game manages to feel like something new thanks to its beautiful visuals, excellent storytelling, and endearing sense of humor. The game is being released in two parts, with Act 2 being released as a free patch later this year. This review covers Act 1.
Broken Age has two stories, and you can switch between them any time you wish. One involves Shay (voiced by Elijah Wood, who you might remember as Frodo from the Lord of the Rings films), an adolescent boy who has lived his whole life on a starship controlled by a coddling A.I. Imagine if GLaDOS from Portal was programmed to act like your mother: she calls Shay “Captain Sweetie,” refuses to let him leave the ship because it isn't “safe,” and gives him talking utensils, like a spoon that says things like “I can't wait to be in your mouth again!” As a result, Shay has a dull, repetitive routine developed for small children, and he clearly has outgrown it. But when a stowaway appears, Shay thinks he may have finally found a way out.
The other story follows Vella (Masasa Moyo), who has been offered as a sacrifice to a giant Lovecraftian monster. The rest of her village thinks being sacrificed is a great honor, but Vella is determined to fight the beast. Of course, this is easier said than done: she's like an ant to this thing, and refusing to be sacrificed could mean the destruction of her entire village. Vella's fantastical world and Shay's futuristic starship seem completely different at first, but, as you'd expect, the two stories aren't as isolated from each other as it first appears. They also share a theme of youth rebelling against their society, escaping the dreary roles determined for them. Both stories are also injected with a grand dose of humor, keeping the tone light no matter how serious things get.
Delightful Visuals and Voices
What surprised me most about Broken Age was the game's beauty. It looks like a painting come to life. The graphics are entirely 2D, but have a distinct, colorful style. From the lush cloud city in Vella's world to Shay's creepy crib-like space ship, the visuals are consistently pleasing to the eye.
The game also has an incredible voice cast. Aside from the strong work from Wood and Moyo, the game also features Jack Black (who previously worked with Double Fine when they made Brutal Legend), Wil Wheaton (Wesley Crusher from Star Trek), Jennifer Hale (Female Shepard from Mass Effect), and Pendleton Ward (creator of Adventure Time and voice of Lumpy Space Princess). It's really rare to see a game with such an impressive list of names in just the voice acting department, but it goes to show where Broken Age's priorities lie.
Beautiful graphics, exciting story, great sense of humor, and incredible voice cast.
It's short and Act 2 isn't out yet, no real tension during suspenseful scenes.