Broken Age: Act 1 Review
Subverting expectation, questioning externally imposed practises. These are the themes of Broken Age, themes that drive the physical and emotional journeys of protagonists Shay and Vella.
Separated entirely by space and time, the rebellion of youth and the desire of the two to define their own path through life becomes the mechanism through which Double Fine’s staunchly traditional point and adventure expresses itself.
Given the Kickstarter backing that this game so famously generated in a bid for the studio to remove itself from the confines of the traditional developer/publisher model, it doesn’t take a huge leap of thinking to extrapolate Broken Age’s narrative themes to the production of the project as a whole.
Broken Age Act 1 Review – Shay and Vella
Shay and Vella’s stories are seemingly exclusive from one another, giving the initial impression that you’re playing two entirely different games – albeit ones with unifying themes.
Set on a spaceship decorated with toddler-suitable toys and maintained by sickly-saccharine soft toy helpers, Shay’s story revolves around the overprotective nature of the ship’s computerised parental figures as they search for a new home.
In a bid to keep him safe until they find the right location, Shay lives a repetitive life designed by his AI wardens to keep him from danger. Needless to say he’s tired of it. He wants more.
Vella’s problem is different. One of the most beautiful girls in her village, she has been chosen as one of the “lucky ones” to be sacrificed to Mog Chothra – a giant monster that threatens to obliterate the village unless it’s fed the loveliest damsels on an annual basis.
Rather than accepting her fate as an honour (as the other girls do), she wants to kill the beast.
You’re free to switch between stories as frequently, or infrequently, as you like, although there is no bonus insight garnered for doing so.
There is value in hopping between characters if you find yourself at an impasse due to a stubborn puzzle, however there’s nothing here overly taxing and those with experience of the genre should have little problem in obtaining solutions.
Given how obscure and ridiculous some point and adventures can be in their insistence that you think way, way, way outside of the box, Broken Age presents an altogether more logical set of brainteasers.
At the very least, they make sense within the broadly painted construct of the worlds our heroes inhabit.
Broken Age Act 1 Review – Worlds of whimsy and wonder
Shay’s story is undoubtedly more interesting in the way it is constructed, relying less on a tried and tested pacing and means of communicating context and conflict. The downside is that he is less interesting than Vella as a person.
On the other side, Vella’s story takes a more familiar and traditional structure which flies in the face of her disruptive attitude to the world.
What they share is a setting that exudes a sense of whimsy and wonder that is as endearing as it is charismatic, Disney-like in its ability to coat everything in a gloss of elevated fairy tale and a childlike sense of modest grandeur.
The visuals, music and voice work all combine to deliver something that is more than the sum of its constituent parts.
This results in the aesthetic being the thing you remember most once those final credits have rolled, which is no small achievement from the art team given the engrossing quality of the gameplay and narrative.
Even during the game’s more taxing moments, it’s difficult to get too annoyed and frustrated while working your head around a solution given the mood-softening nature of what you’re looking at.
Irritatingly, this first act ends in such a way as to make the wait for part two an agonising one.
A cliffhanger in an abnormal way, the finale to this portion wraps up just as things are starting to get truly interesting; the act’s plot is largely satisfied, but the character’s personal arcs are just getting started.
The test for act two will be to wholeheartedly deliver on the potential this narrative has demonstrated and to create a similar sensation of wonderment now that the initial excitement served by the aesthetics has worn off.