Broken Age: Act I — (Caitlin’s Take)
Two years ago, almost to the day, the Double Fine Adventure Game Kickstarter funded at 833% of the goal amount it had asked for, smashing all sorts of Kickstarter records.
A little while back, Act One of the Double Fine Adventure–called BROKEN AGE–was released to the masses. Both Margaret and I got our copies from the Kickstarter, and I’ve since played through Act One. What follows is my review of the game, but be warned: THERE BE SPOILERS EVERYWHERE.
BROKEN AGE is a game that’s split down the middle with two main characters, Vella and Shay. Vella lives in a baking-themed village called Sugar Bunting. Shay’s residence is essentially a giant nursery/space ship. Context clues suggest they’re both about 14-years old. When you start the game, you pick a character to start with, and during the course of the game you can swap which one’s story you’re playing through. This becomes especially relieving if, like me, you occasionally have to stop yourself from putting a fist through a screen because you’re convinced you have the solution to a puzzle but the game keeps telling you you’re wrong (aka my “WHERE IS THAT GUY SO I CAN GIVE HIM THE STUPID CLOUD SHOES?” moment).
Also, after playing through Act One the first time, you might be interested in switching back and forth at particular times because of how the story unfolds. . . . more on that later.
Let’s start with Shay.
Shay lives on a space ship, which would be the fulfillment of some sci-fi geeks’ wildest dreams . . . but it certainly isn’t something he’s thrilled about. The ship is controlled by an overbearing, mother-like computer. If you thought living with your mom during your teenage years was difficult, try living with her being able to watch your every move every second of every day. Then add to that that she still insists on washing you every morning, and feeds you cereal while you’re in what is basically a high chair.
The start of the game is pretty basic. You go through Shay’s morning routine, you click on the screen to make him move around/pick up objects, you go on “Dangerous Missions” that would be super fun for a two year old (but have Shay struggling to stave off death via boredom), and you lather, rinse, repeat. Actually, if you don’t figure out how to break out of the routine, the game will eventually limit you to one mission–saving a runaway train.
Now, if you were a really, really bored 14-year-old boy who was being driven crazy because his Mother-Ship was treating him like a two-year-old and hovering over him all the time, and you’re presented with a situation where there’s a cliff in front of you. . . .
Of course, the sharp rocks at the bottom of the cliff are actually soft, just in case you fell by accident. Hooray.
In any case, this is really where Shay’s story really begins. Apparently he isn’t the ship’s only non-knitted resident. He meets Marek, a guy who’s wearing a wolf suit for kicks and totally not because he’s shifty as all get-out. Marek informs Shay that there is WAR raging ALL ACROSS THE UNIVERSE and Shay MUST HELP the INNOCENT CREATURES that are stuck in the middle of these horrible conflicts.
Marek’s totally not lying through his wolfy, wolfy teeth; why would you think that?You assist Marek in saving several creatures (via a crane-game like puzzle, probably one of the more frustrating aspects of the game), but when you fail to rescue a few, Shay gets upset. The next time he tries to rescue more creatures than is advisable. This results in the ship detecting the unusual activity from Marek’s computers and shutting the whole operation down. Shay, undeterred, agrees to help Marek override several key functions of the Mother-Ship so they can “save more creatures.”
For all you Mother-Ships out there, this is the kind of stuff that’ll happen if you overprotect your wards and they finally get a chance to rebel.
Ultimately, Shay does get complete control of the Mother-Ship, but something goes horrible wrong, there’s an explosion, and if you haven’t finished Vella’s story by this point you switch immediately to her half of the game.
Vella’s story starts with a big party.
Everyone at the party is really excited, except for two people–Vella and her Grandfather.
Grandpa Beastender is upset because Sugar Bunting used to be a town of warriors, not bakers, and he feels the whole town has gone soft. Vella is upset because said town of bakers has elected her as a maiden for the maiden’s feast . . . which is to say she’s going to be a maiden set out as part of a feast for a monster called Mog Chothra.
Moreso than Shay, Vella seems to have a good head on her shoulders, immediately asking the important questions, such as:
Alas, this doesn’t really sway anyone in her family to her side, as their options are “Feed Mog Chothra” or “Watch as the rampaging Mog Chothra destroys the town, killing everyone.” Also, everyone’s convinced it’s a really big honor for Vella to get eaten (except sensible Grandpa Beastender).
So, despite her cleverness, Vella winds up baked into a cake-dress, facing down something that’s a cross between an Elder God and a jellyfish.
Still, Vella is a fighter, like her Grandpa Beastender; through some very last-minute negotiating with her fellow maidens (as in, they get eaten shortly after negotiating), Vella gets the hell outta Dodge.
Vella’s ultimate goal is to bring down Mog Chothra–but in order to do that she must escape a city in the clouds, find a powerful enough weapon to defeat the creature, and get herself set up as a maiden for another town’s maidens’ feast in order to get close enough to Mog Chothra to kill it–which she does!
Here’s where things get interesting. A familiar figure emerges from the mouth of Mog Chothra:
Vella, once again proving she’s a badass, reacts to this by taking a swing at Shay. Shay dodges, which results in Vella getting stuck inside Mog Chotrha (how’s that for some horrible irony? She STILL winds up “eaten” after all that.), and Shay stuck out in an environment where the Mother-Ship can’t help him (but neither can Marek, so that’s a plus).
And that’s where Act One ENDS.
After you’ve played through the story once, you begin to realize where Shay’s activities “saving creatures” correlate exactly to what happened at the various Maidens‘ Feasts you learn about throughout the game. This brings up a whole lotta questions, especially since there are references to the Maidens‘ Feasts in the earlier parts of Shay’s story, and you meet a guy who appears to have been in a situation much like Shay’s while you’re playing Vella’s half of the game.
The story and the dialogues are really the high point of the game, but they are on equal footing with the stunning visuals throughout both Shay and Vella’s stories.
The two biggest complaints I’ve heard about the game are “It’s too short!” and “It’s too easy!”
On the game’s length, I feel that’s a particularly hard argument to make. Sure, we’re only expecting an Act Two (no Act Three/Four/+), but there’s no rule saying Act Two has to be the same length as Act One. And, perhaps I should remind you of another game everyone hated because it was too short.
I WILL be annoyed if I discover after the Second Act that the game could have been longer/more complex if they hadn’t given so many funds to secure the voices of Jack Black, Wil Wheaton, and Elijah Wood when they could have had other people voice their characters and not lost anything.
As for the game being too simple . . .
Well, maybe it’s just me but I have a hard time with ANY point-and-click adventure, this one included. It seems that I think completely differently from the dev teams on these things. Sure, there were a couple of puzzles I literally solved by just being curious instead of clever, but I spent an hour or two walking around in Vella’s section, trying to find a guy to give oversized cloud shoes to (expecting he would give me something to advance the game) when the apparent solutions was to tie said shoes to a ladder I had. Because that totally made sense to me when THE GAME HAD REPEATEDLY SAID THAT THE GUY NEEDED BIGGER CLOUD SHOES THAN THE ONES HE HAD. I had this same issue with a whip cream gun later in the game. I thought I could use it to confuse a plant-creature on the hull of the Mother-Ship, I was actually supposed to use it for propulsion. If I remember correctly, there was also at least one item in Vella’s inventory I never found a use for (don’t quote me on that, it might have been Shay’s or it might have never existed).
To me, BROKEN AGE was worth the $15 or so I pledged for it. It was fun, beautiful, and engaging. The end of Act One has me chomping at the bit for more. There’s so much left to explore. What actually happened to the girls “eaten by Mog Chothra” since Mog Chothra was actually a machine? What is Marek under that Wolf suit? How do you get past the snake outside the Lumberjack’s house? Can Shay survive for more than five seconds outside the Mother-Ship? Is the Dead-Eye God one of Shay’s ancestors? What is Project Dandelion–a cover story, or actually something more sinister? Is Sugar Bunting still in one piece, and, if so, is Vella’s family looking for her?
I am so looking forward to Act Two.