Point and click adventure games had been a complete mystery to me, appearing to be a thing that was eternally referenced in game journalism which consistently meant nothing to me. Cries of a time when games like Monkey Island, King’s Quest and Grim Fandango ruled the critical gaming world of the 80s and 90s, only to die an innocuous death in the new millennium, appeared to me something as if it was a forgone conclusion that the point-and-click adventure genre was fantastic medium, but one that was of its time.
Yet when Telltale decided to launch the ultra-mega hit The Walking Dead to the world, the world of point-and-click adventure was given a new steroid infused lease of life with Telltale firmly leading the way. Yet, the landscape is now changing with Dontnod Entertainment coming in with the outstanding Life is Strange and Double Fine Productions coming in to the fray with Tim Schafer, the creator of one of the genre’s most acclaimed games Grim Fandango, once again stepping back into the ring to create a point-and-click adventure for a new generation. And so we have Broken Age.
Broken Age focuses on the stories of Vella Tartine (Masasa Moyo), a young girl sceptical of the town of Sugar Bunting’s near universal devotion to the age old tradition of the Maiden’s Feast. Every fourteen years young girls are chosen to be sacrificed to Mog Chothra, a vast beast that comes from the Plague Dam, in order to keep their people safe. Although near universally scoffed, Vella decides to take down Mog Chothra and end the rituals.
Meanwhile Shay Volta (Elijah Wood) is bored by the mundane life upon an intergalactic spaceship searching for a new home after their home world Loruna is on the verge of extinction with Shay seemingly one of the last of his race alive. His days are spent completing “missions” that appear to have not grown up as he did with a daytime computer mother who does not seem to realise that he has matured beyond these childish missions.
Both seek to end to monotony and tradition of their respective lives and, although they are far apart, their lives are intrinsically linked in ways that one would have not thought possible.
Broken Age to its credit manages to deliver a very poignant plot that does not put itself out of reach of children or below the critique of adults, straddling the fine line with complete ease. Which is quite apt when the two protagonists are teenagers the de facto midpoint between these two age groups.
Commenting on the need to break tradition that is followed solely for the reason that everyone prior to the current generation has carried on these practices as well as the need to bring many differing peoples together is quite positive message, especially considering when we live in an age that appears so vehemently dedicating itself to dividing people.
To back up this plot Double Fine Productions have managed to accrue an excellent voice cast. With Masasa Moyo and Elijah Wood taking the principle roles they utterly make each character their own. Yet it is the smaller characters that make the game all the sweeter, such as Jack Black as the dubious Leader of Lightness, Harm’ny Lightbeard, Wil Wheaton as the hylophobic Curtis the Lumberjack and the slightly lumpy sounding Pendleton Ward (the creator of Adventure Time if you didn’t already know) as the Loveable Gus. This game oozes vocal talent from both the big and the small names, making everything just that sweeter to hear.
But not only are the voice great, but the characters as well are fantastically created. Every one of them feels as if an incredible amount of thought and care has been put into them to make them as mad, funny, and weird in their own way.
Yet the visuals somehow manage to top that. Broken Age has a very simplistic feel to it art wise, using bright primary colours for the majority of the time giving a very story book feel to the whole game. But it’s the character models that get the most intrigue, with the use of cut out mouths for the characters. Perhaps it was done so it would feel like actual people reading the characters like a story book and really distinguishes Broken Age as its own game. Yet for me at least, there was always a linger feeling that this was somewhat reminiscent of Angela Anaconda. Yeah, let’s see if anyone remembers that!
It’s also been great to see a game that can crack a joke here and there without it feeling like a constant parody of something else. The jokes felt original, unforced and were definitely unafraid to drop the occasional double entendre just to get a few more sniggers from the people in the cheap seat and I was unashamedly one of them.
But now we get to the puzzles. I will give Broken Age credit in saying that it was nowhere near the difficulty that Grim Fandango was, with the majority of its puzzles not needing me to instantly look to a walkthrough to find out what the hell was going on. Most of it is running around rubbing items against people and scenery and hoping for the best, but when that lightbulb moment occurs and you’ve figured out a puzzle, the feeling is pure ecstasy. While some puzzles verge near irritating levels of difficulty, some of which a reviewer of my standing will not dare mention *cough* wire puzzles *cough*, it’s never enough to make you put down the controller and walk away.
Also, fantastically, should a puzzle become too difficult and you are left bemused by what to do, you can simply switch between Vella and Shay at a moment’s notice. This is a wonderful mechanic as instead of having to complete sections in a linear fashion and swapping between characters only when the story demands, you can flit between one character to another at your own leisure.
At one point I had completed Shay’s story after getting stuck on a Vella section and only when I realised I had nothing left to do did I return and then suddenly was able to do the perplexing puzzle. It really keeps you playing rather than having the time to put the game down and muse about the puzzle somewhere else which is a fantastic positive for Broken Age.
If there were to be one criticism of Broken Age it is that, having been split into two parts over a year apart from one another, the scenery changes little, the characters not at all and there is very little brought in to give Broken Age’s second act a truly distinct flavour. Having said that, while this may have been true for those who got it a year apart, but for those who got it as one whole game it more feels as if the world was used to its fullest with every conceivable puzzles wrung out of the strange
Broken Age is a game inspired from the days of yore, and brought to life through the nostalgia machine that is Kickstarter, excels in the modern world. To have Tim Schafer return to genre that made him a gaming godfather is simply sublime and, be you a novice or a veteran in point-and-click adventure gaming, Broken Age is simply a game you must get on whatever platform you can get it on.