This is the Kickstarter that, for better or worse, started it all.
Tim Schafer and his studio, Double Fine, raised over $3 million to bring back the beloved, but mostly forgotten, adventure game genre, and Broken Age is the result. It's a point-and-click game in the classic LucasArts mould with modern, lavish production values. You can see, and hear, where all that money went, from its gorgeous hand-drawn visuals to its A-list voice talent. It's a stunningly beautiful game, with all the charm, warmth, and personality we've come to expect from Double Fine.
There are two main characters, Shay and Vella. You can switch between them at any time, although there's no direct connection between their stories - at least in this first episode. Anyone expecting the multi-character puzzles of Schafer's Day of the Tentacle will be disappointed; the link between Broken Age's two protagonists is a thematic one.
Shay's story takes place aboard a spacecraft called the Bossa Nostra. Since the destruction of his home planet when he was a baby, he's lived there alone, raised by the ship's computer; a doting, overbearing mother who still treats him like a toddler. He spends his days completing obviously fake 'missions' created by her, like rescuing sentient stuffed animals from an ice-cream avalanche, and is growing tired of his repetitive and coddled existence.
Vella, meanwhile, lives in the town of Sugar Bunting, and has reached the age where she's to be offered up as a sacrifice for a monster called Mog Chothra. While the other girls in the village consider becoming a snack for the beast an honour, Vella - spurred on by her grandfather, one of the only townsfolk who disagrees with the ritual - decides to try and escape her fate.
Both stories, although set in vastly different worlds, are about people trying to escape from a life they no longer understand. While this is interesting from a story perspective, it does make the character-switching slightly redundant. We felt no real urge to hop back and forth between them, and instead played Shay's story to completion first, before moving onto Vella's.
"Broken Age's stories are about people trying to escape from a life they no longer understand"
Being an adventure game, puzzles are a big part of Broken Age. But unlike LucasArts adventures of yore, there are no absurd leaps of logic required here. No rubber chickens with pulleys in the middle or shrinking sweaters so they fit a hamster 200 years in the future. In fact, it's pretty easy. Puzzle solutions are often staring you in the face, and there's none of the tiresome pixel-hunting that was so rampant in those old games.
But, honestly, it doesn't matter. When you think about why you loved games like Full Throttle and Grim Fandango, it wasn't because of the puzzles. It was the stories, the characters, and the worlds they inhabited. In that respect, Broken Age is a triumph. Its environments are vibrant and imaginative, with art that wouldn't look out of place in a big-budget animated film. The dialogue is witty and well-acted, with an easy charm not often found in video games.
Our only real complaint is the simplified interface. The cursor is context-sensitive, which means you don't get to choose how to interact with an object: be it look, touch, etc. This was a regular source of humour in old school adventure games, but in Broken Age clicking only has one outcome. We don't know if this omission was intended to make the game easier to port to tablets, or a more fundamental design decision, but we miss having that extra layer of control.
In a post-Walking Dead world, Broken Age can feel old-fashioned - but, hey, it's supposed to. It's a loving and faithful homage to a school of game design that has long since been forgotten, and Schafer clearly still has a knack for this sort of thing. You won't struggle over absurd, logic-bending puzzles as you might have in the '90s, but otherwise this is a successful revival of the other elements that make those games so fondly remembered.
A beautiful hand-drawn adventure with lavish production values and great writing, but notably lacking any real challenge in its puzzles.
- A witty, charming script
- Gorgeous art and animation
- Puzzle solutions are too obvious