Broken Age Impressions

Broken Age

So the moment has come. Tim Schafer (and his talented team) has finally – FINALLY – created and released a proper 2D point-and-click adventure again. If you ignore the 2D and point-and-click part, this is the first game of its ilk that he made since Grim Fandango, which is, as you might have seen, my favorite adventure game

Since I’m a backer I’ve been able to play for about a week now, though due to other commitments I couldn’t actually have a prolonged session and so I’m not yet done with Act 1. But anyway, these are my impressions:

This is a proper 2D point-and-click adventure in the mould of a Monkey Island or a Sam and Max.

This shouldn’t be a surprise, as the whole pitch was to get back to making that kind of game, but it’s still quite remarkable. There are no forced-in action sequences or cutscenes. There are item combination puzzles and I find myself back in that pleasant head space where I ponder how to make a tree puke so as to collect the emerging sap.

It is a modernized 2D point-and-click adventure, but in a good way

So while Broken Age harks back to the golden age of LucasArts adventures, it doesn’t try adhere to their established paradigms at all costs. There is no SCUMM interface where every action is a combination of a verb and an object. Instead you have a simple objects bar and interact with things by drag-and-drop, and when hovering over an object of interest in the environment, the cursor changes. There is no distinction between looking, talking or grabbing. That choice is made automatically, so it’s context sensitive. One could say a bit of complexity is lost by that, because there are fewer ways to interact with the environment, the granularity is decreased.

I don’t find that too much of a loss though, because there is plenty of dialogue and commentary to be uttered by the protagonist. Actually, the amount of dialogue and general spoken lines is about as much as you’d expect from a LucasArts adventure. To me it feels just right.

Broken Age is an example of good world-building

I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so I’ll just say that the setting and the world building is typical Double Fine – which means it’s a breath of fresh air. It’s so creative and fills me with genuine joy. I’m actually excited to learn more about this world. Every new place is interesting to look at and inviting to explore. The humor, oh it’s Tim Schafer all right. You’ll consistently have a smirk and something to giggle about. But it’s not all sunshine and happy times. There is a undercurrent of something sinister to almost everything you find in this game, which gives it depth and substance. If everything was neat and cute, it’d be like Ponycorn or something else that’s clearly aimed at children. But a very large portion of the audience is going to be people who are a bit older and remember the Schafer’s previous adventure games, and for people of that age, there is always something to mull over and ponder in this game’s fiction.

Nathan Stapley’s art style is wonderful

From the moment I saw Nathan Stapley’s paintings in the game’s production documentary and it was revealed that this was going to be the visual style for Broken Age, my excitement was doubled. His style fits the game’s setting. It’s minimalist yet expressive, so it would fit the lower budget nature of the production. His style can range from cheerful and wacky to melancholic and unsettling, sometimes all in one picture.

"Communting Giant" by Nathan Stapley

The only concern was whether his style would translate well into animation, but they’ve figured it out. The animations are not super fluid, as that wouldn’t be possible with the budget or even desired. Instead, there’s a certain coarse quality to it, like they’re paper dolls with joints. It’s really interesting to look at and one gets used to it quite easily.

Conclusion

All in all, I’ve been very happy so far and really really hope this is a just one of many great Double Fine adventures to come. I know that Double Fine probably will keep going in new directions and explore new genres, but I can’t help but hope that Broken Age isn’t just going to be a one-off, a love letter to Tim Schafer fans. It’s probably the nostalgic fool inside of me, but I’m hoping that a new golden age for point-and-click adventures is truly going to happen now.

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