- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A pint-size warrior looks to rebuild his shattered world in a new third-person role-playing game Bastion (Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and Supergiant Games, reviewed for Xbox 360, rated E10+ for players 10 and older, 1,200 Microsoft points or $15), downloadable from Xbox Live Arcade.

With omniscient guidance from a bearded old man, our hero, the Kid, (think the tougher elder brother of Braid’s Tim) finds himself exploring floating islands to restore his civilization and find survivors of the Calamity.

With stunning visuals and hand-painted artwork throughout, a player controls the Kid while watching locations emerge before his eyes during visits to the shattered realms of Caelodonia. Imagine wood planks lying in front of the hero’s feet as he walks or blocks of grass or stone pathways that appear along with structures and foliage to complete a wharf or hanging gardens as the Kid tumbles into an area.

I felt a bit like I had been thrust into an Elfquest graphic novel set in Middle Earth as, suspended in midair with colorful and wispy backdrops, it often was hard to concentrate on the combat.

Of course, no matter how artistic a video game is, its presentation can work only as well as the action. Thankfully, a player should find plenty of trouble to keep him busy amid the splendor.

Always armed with a pair of weapons and a shield, any complex role-playing fodder takes a back seat as our hero finds a battle at nearly every location. He fights cute flying slugs called Squirts, Gasfellas (anyone remember the wizard Orko from Masters of the Universe?), aggressive crows called Peckers and bulbous Scumbags, to name few.

The attacks quickly can become the button-mash variety as the Kid often somersaults and attacks, wielding weapons such as a machete, a Fanged Repeater, a Scrap Musket (a potent shotgun), a bow and land mines.

Under the resource-management aspect of the action, the game’s namesake, Bastion, refers to the Kid’s headquarters where a player builds structures including the distillery, armory and forge as he finds and installs magical cores from his travels.

After a quick respite at the compound for a chance to upgrade a weapon, decide to carry the restorative Bastion Bourbon and maybe take a puff on a hookah, the Kid ventures out again using the Skyway.

He then can continue to reclaim his brethren’s lands, stop at a Proving Ground to hone weapons skills or even worship at a shrine (a way to make the game more difficult).

Throughout, the old narrator Rucks is quite the talkative type with the growl of Michael Madsen and patient, helpful voice of Sam Elliott as he guides the Kid through his trials.

Of particular note to the design’s narration, part of the game’s magic required recording thousands of lines of dialogue that change depending on the hero’s real-time situation. My soundtrack usually included the old man riffing on the many times I fell into oblivion. It easily makes the story feel like a personalized experience.

Overall, Bastion’s ton of cartoon-museum-quality visual moments, the on-the-fly commentary and always-frantic combat deliver a tempting combination.

It’s certainly well worth the $15 entrance fee to this beautiful adventure.

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