Broken Age Review

Ah, Broken Age. You know, there isn’t a game that best outlines the rise and fall of crowdfunded gaming better than this one. Sure, we’ve got a bunch of modern success stories in the making: Bloodstained seems to be on track, Heartbound is poised to become the next Undertale, and Shenmue III will either be the best or worst thing of all time. But crowdfunded gaming really came to embody three key ideas: lofty goals, poor timelining due to pink clouded funding, and a bunch of apologies and explanations for delays. Broken Age, at the very least, was delivered in its entirety eventually, and the overall product is quite good. However, when you look closely, you can see some of the seams still peeking out, even now, as the Nintendo Switch receives its own port of this famous and infamous title.

Broken Age is a uniquely told story of two young people, Vella and Shay, who seem to live very different but equally difficult lives. Vella is living in a village that must sacrifice a maiden to a massive monster every 14 years and, lucky her, she’s the chosen dessert for this time around. Funny thing is, though, Vella isn’t totally keen on being eaten by a beast called a Mog, and tries to rally others to fight back against it, with…no success. Thankfully, she’s a headstrong person, and decides that she can probably save her own  hide and figure out how to kill the thing herself. Meanwhile, elsewhere, Shay is permanently helmed as the captain of a spaceship which seems to be in charge of saving stuffed animals from not so perilous predicaments. He is entirely bored, as he knows there’s no real risk or threat at hand, and the AI of the ship, who take on a sun and moon/father and mother visage, baby and pamper him in a way that’s exhausting. Suddenly, however, a small act of rebellion on Shay’s part reveals a shadowy figure who may hold the key to escaping the monotony and finding real adventure. Shay dives into these new quests, not totally sure who he’s working with and honestly not caring. However, it’s only a matter of time before Vella and Shay find out that their paths are definitely connected, and when they cross, things could change for the entire planet.

A few things to know about Broken Age before really diving into things. First, the game is a point and click adventure, and it really does its best to bring forward some of the more enjoyable aspects of the classics that Tim Schafer was a part of creating. Players will have multiple objects to interact with, various items that make their way into their inventory, and several branches of dialogue, usually hilarious and memorable, to give everyone character and depth. Broken Age does feel incredibly streamlined in comparison to a lot of the more current PnC games, however. There are fewer atmospheric items that can be interacted with, and, instead, you often will only have one or two non-essential points of clicking per screen. Moreover, unlike other recent titles like Detective Pollo or The Wardrobe, Broken Age limits the number of choices you have for clicking on things, giving you straightforward “ walk” and “interact” clicks, plus the addition of opening up the inventory and dragging items onto others to see if it works or not.

Now, at this stage in its life cycle, Broken Age has been released on many platforms previously, which gives it the advantage in terms of honing touchscreen controls in addition to floating cursor decisions. This really works out well for Switch owners, who will definitely want to bring the story with them as they travel to continue playing. After all, it’s pretty compelling: the art style, which you can see from the screenshots, have a beautiful, hand drawn quality to them that really sets it apart from most games. Broken Age has a wide variety of settings and places to visit between the two Acts (which we’ll talk about more in a moment), and it’s really something to drink in everything from the cloud based villages to the deep, labyrinthian pipes of Shay’s ship. The cursor based controls work well enough, especially once you fine tune your movement speed so that you don’t go wildly overshooting every target. Still, when you want to relax and play in handheld mode, the touch controls are spot on, responsive and don’t give any problems with opening and closing the inventory with finesse. I absolutely support bringing this game on the go. However, remember that DoubleFine wants you to listen to the tale they are telling in its entirety or not to listen at all: you can’t fast forward the pacing, you either listen at speed or skip it.

And the tale of Broken Age itself is one that is magnificently told. From flat-out jokes to droll and dry witticisms, the conversations, descriptions and expositions by our two mains and their surrounding cast are worth the price of admission alone. DoubleFine outdid themselves in hiring and coordinating voice talents, so keeping the sound up for the majestic soundtrack and the spot on deliveries is a must. I would argue that Jack Black, who does a really comprehensive amount of voice work, delivers some of his best here, though I have to give credit to Jennifer Hale having some of the more dynamic emotional range. The puzzles will sometimes take a moment to figure out, especially when it comes to gathering all the eggs you need, but the logic falls into place eventually, and you’re satisfied with the outcome. When it finally hits you that the Mogs that plague Vella’s world and Shay’s spaceship are intrinsically tied together, it’s a breathtaking “wow” moment that serves as the perfect end to the first act, setting players’ expectations skyhigh for act II.

There are a lot of criticisms for the second stage of Broken Age, but I’d like to buck the trend and give it a bit more credit than it deserves. Sure, maybe it’s not as good as Act I: Act II feels overlong, a bit muddling in pacing and explanation and there are elements to it that are straight up dreadful (I can’t stand the wiring puzzle that Shay has to keep at towards the end of the game). But the ending of Broken Age feels perfectly natural to the overarching storyline, and it wraps up things – like the future of the ones who live beyond the Plague Dam and humanity itself – in a style that’s fitting, hopeful but not too spoon fed. I quite liked the conclusion, even if I had to slog through some bits to get there, and I’m glad that Broken Age is sold and available as a total package. If players had the choice to only purchase Acts I or II, there’s a good chance that dissenting voices would galvanize people to ignoring the second half, and a lot of meme-driven energy would prevent people from knowing the final fate of Vella and Shay. Thanks for selling the game as a complete experience, Tim.

The only disappointment with Broken Age for the Nintendo Switch is the game doesn’t feel particularly optimized for the platform. I wasn’t expecting any additional goodies for this game, so I don’t feel slighted that there’s no special bonuses in this version that you wouldn’t find elsewhere. What does suck, though, are moments of choppiness that make the game seem unrefined and ill-fitting for the system. When the camera pans over and there’s a stutter, that’s a problem. When you load up a new game and both Shay and Vella hang in the air for a moment before quickly descending into their resting stances, that’s a problem. When you hit the button to skip over the dialogue and there’s a pause before things snap to where they’re supposed to be, that’s a problem. It’s ugly, and it shouldn’t be ugly, not a game that’s three years gone by on a system that’s already over a year and change old.

Broken Age is a fantastic entry to the point and click genres, and a gold star certificate on the idea that a good product will be released eventually, and I’m glad it was. DoubleFine might have taken longer than anticipated, but they delivered, and everyone is better off for it. If you’ve genuinely never played before and want to try it on a beautiful hybrid experience, you’ll certainly enjoy it on the Nintendo Switch. If you already own this game elsewhere, however, I’m extremely hard pressed to think of a particular reason to buy it again. Hey, if it’s just because of Elijah Wood, I’m not judging: I get it.

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@bonusstage.co.uk.

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Broken Age Review
  • Gameplay - 7/10
    7/10
  • Graphics - 7/10
    7/10
  • Sound - 7/10
    7/10
  • Replay Value - 7/10
    7/10
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User Review
0/10 (0 votes)
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Comments Rating 0/10 (0 reviews)
Overall
7/10

Summary

This enchanting tale of worlds apart that come together is still a modern masterpiece, though repeat players will find little incentive on the Nintendo Switch.