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Broken Age Review – Why Fix What Isn’t Broken?

When I was a teenager, I foolishly wondered if the platformer genre was relevant. When both Super Meat Boy and Mega Man 9 were released, I fell in love all over again with platformers. It didn’t matter if it took on a new aesthetic, or if it proudly displayed its roots; I knew that a good game will prove relevant no matter the age of the genre to which it belongs.

More recently, I questioned the need for an old-school point-and-click adventure game, largely because Telltale Games is among the few companies making such games; however, even they have recently branched out into interactive storytelling. Still, as with the platformer, it just takes one excellent game to show that an audience will always exist for a particular genre. Double Fine even turned to Kickstarter to gauge its audience, gaining $3,336,371 of its $400,000 goal. And if you’re wondering if Broken Age is worth the astounding success, then I have the answer for you: yes.

Broken Age focuses on two characters from different ages. Vella is a member of the baker village, and it’s her time to sacrifice herself to the beast known as Mog Chothra; however, Vella is clever and strong–she’s not willing to keep sacrificing innocent maidens to appease the monster. In the other age, we have Shay, a boy who spends his days inside a spaceship run by an overprotective, motherly computer. Shay comes across a stowaway who shows him the danger outside his pampered space prison. Both characters share similar goals in that they just want to pursue their own destiny; and while they’re blissfully unaware, their stories are more intertwined than they could imagine.

Broken Age’s charm is the glue that holds this point-and-click adventure together. I cared equally for Vera and Shay’s fates, as each were strong, determined characters albeit with different flaws and goals.  Humor is bountiful; however, it’s not enforced. Double Fine is more interested in creating an engaging story, and humor is simply the icing. In addition, Double Fine has recruited top notch voice actors including Masasa Moyo as Vella and Elijah Wood as Shay. Other actors include Jack Black, Jennifer Hale, and even Pendleton Ward, who do their finest to bring these quirky characters to life. In addition, the graphics look as if they were hand-painted, and the soundtrack perfectly reflects the aesthetics. It all provides a charm that alleviates the frustrations from pointing and clicking over and over again.

How you experience Broken Age largely depends on your taste in point-and-click adventure games. Double Fine mostly spells it out on its Steam page; among the features are nearly every staple of a point-and-click adventure game. This means that both the same strengths and weaknesses of old point-and-click adventures games are prevalent in Broken Age. You’ll listen to repetitive lines when you use an object incorrectly, and you’ll spend considerable time rubbing objects against each other when your brain can’t conform to the game’s logic—sure, why not get sap from a tree by forcing it to puke?

But with these staples comes a bit of streamlining. No longer do you have to select multiple actions as with the Secret of Monkey Island or repeatedly right click like in Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers. Instead, simply click the item in your inventory to examine it, and click and drag when you want to use it.  If you would like to interact with the environment, you simply need to hover over key objects; when your cursor turns into a circle made of dashed-lines, you’ll have found something interactive.  Old school fans may be disappointed that the game doesn’t strictly follow the same mechanics as, say, The Secret of Monkey Island. I gladly welcome Double Fine’s streamlining, considering that it minimizes my interaction with the user interface.

Where it becomes a bit too streamlined is in the difficulty. On the Steam page, Double Fine promised that there would be at least one puzzle that would frustrate players to the point of looking up an online guide. I never came across that puzzle, if it even exists. Old school fans may be disappointed in how considerably easy this game is, as compared to, say, any of Sierra’s library—I still have night terrors about Gabriel Knight 3. It’s not that big of a problem; the structure of the puzzles remains consistent with other point-and-click adventures, and in some cases they can get creative, though to go into further detail would spoil, perhaps even ruin, portions of the game’s content.

There is one scene with a snake that I thought would be important; however, it turns out that it was just filler. Without delving too much into spoiler territory, it turned out the snake had nothing to do with Act I, although I suspect it will come into play for the second act. Instead, I simply had to retrace my steps to a previous area.  By bothering the snake, I only added unnecessary hours to my total playtime.

I suppose now would be a good time to address the elephant in the room. As most backers know, Broken Age was a huge success on Kickstarter; however, Double Fine may have become too ambitious, and as a result we have an incomplete game. I’m not a backer, so I don’t share the same frustrations; however, I can tell you that Double Fine ended the first act competently. While it’s a cliffhanger, it still answers questions while raising new ones. It also shows how connected the two protagonists’ stories are, and I was delighted to pick up on the foreshadowing.  That said, the game is short, and I took maybe 4 hours to beat it. Keep in mind that many of minutes I spent involved randomly rubbing objects with one another in hopes that something may happen.

But for what’s it worth, Broken Age is a damn good point-and-click adventure game. Even though it doesn’t look like something from the DOS era, it still mechanically feels old school yet fresh. Purists may take some issues, and newcomers may not understand the appeal, but those with an open mind will find plenty to enjoy from Broken Age, and I’m sure they’ll continue to enjoy Act II when it’s finally released.

 This review is based on a digitally downloaded version of the game for the PC provided by Double Fine.

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