Broken Age marks Tim Schafer’s return to the adventure genre, making it his first adventure game since Grim Fandango. Broken Age Act 1 is a point-and-click adventure game for PC, Mac and Linux (with additional platforms forthcoming). Double Fine Productions handled both development and publishing duties on the game. Production on Broken Age involved a massively successful Kickstarter campaign in which Double Fine raised more than $3 million dollars.
During production, Double Fine offered “slacker backer” options allowing people who missed out on the Kickstarter to pre-order the game and receive backer rewards. In July 2013, Schafer announced that production was taking longer than expected. To ensure the game would release in a timely manner and the project would not run out of funds, Broken Age was split into two acts – the first of which is now available with Act 2 to follow.
Anyone who purchases Broken Age Act 1 will receive Act 2 for free upon release. Broken Age Act 1 is an excellent beginning; it draws players into the conflicts the that Vella and Shay must deal with while providing superb characterization and hilarious dialogue.
Vella Tartine is a young girl from Sugar Bunting, a baking village that used to be known for its fierce warriors. Every year villages all over the land hold a Maiden’s Feast. The Maiden’s Feast involves sacrificing the most desirable young ladies in the village to Mog Chothra. It is a great honor for a family to sacrifice their daughter to Mog Chothra, and the Maiden’s Feast keeps the village safe. Vella is selected to take part in the feast this year, but she doesn’t feel the village should sacrifice young ladies. Instead, she thinks the village should fight back and kill Mog Chothra.
The warrior’s spirit that Sugar Bunting used to be known for is alive in Vella. Needless to say, no one else in Sugar Bunting feels the same. As such, Vella must participate in the feast, except her strong feelings to fight override her desire to protect her family. She devises a plan using the other maidens’ items to escape Mog Chothra’s clutches. Once she escapes, she realizes that she may have doomed her village and her family. When she reaches Meriloft, a cloud city in the sky, she decides to save Sugar Bunting. Vella’s plan takes her to an eclectic mix of locations full of quirky characters. Despite her adorable pleas for help, no one wants to join on her quest. So, Vella has to go it alone to achieve her goal of killing Mog Chothra and saving her family.
Shay Volta is a lone survivor of a doomed planet. He is trapped on a spaceship that has long forgotten its initial purpose. AI, resembling Shay’s lost parents, controls the ship. The main issue for Shay is his overbearing mother AI that still treats him like a baby.
Shay’s days are mundane and routine. He wakes up, eats breakfast, performs a purposeless mission, eats lunch, another mission, eats dinner and then goes to bed. The next day is the same. And the day after that. It is a life without meaning, without struggle and without excitement. When Shay finally breaks the monotony, he discovers a stow-away on his ship. This mysterious traveler allows Shay to gain the excitement he desperately needs.
Both Vella and Shay are dealing with lives they don’t feel are satisfying. Vella doesn’t want to give into a destiny that involves her death at the hand of a monster, while Shay doesn’t want to give into a life of complacency. Each character deals with growing up with parents they wish would act differently. The writing is clever and continually funny. The numerous characters that Vella and Shay interact with during the first act are lovable weirdos that have a great sense of self and workable internal logic that dictate their silly and inane dialogue.
While there is plenty of humor, Broken Age tells two compelling coming of age stories. It is fascinating how two separate stories interact with each other, giving some extra depth to the story. As a single part of a whole, Broken Age Act 1 does a great job of giving players two satisfying stories that end with an exciting twist that makes the wait for the second act difficult.
Broken Age features simple and sweet point-and-click gameplay. Players control both Vella and Shay by clicking around a large number of different areas. Movement, investigating and initiating conversations all occur through mouse clicks.
Gameplay is a leisurely event allowing players to move at their own pace. When exploring the game’s locations players should employ a thoroughness because you never know what point of interest might yield important items for puzzles.
The bulk of gameplay is the game’s various puzzles that range from relatively simple ones to some real brain scratchers. Broken Age is a pure adventure game, putting a huge emphasis on exploration and puzzle solving. The exploring in the game feeds right back into the puzzles because diligent explorers will uncover items necessary to solve them. Puzzles are clever and the game gives plenty of subtle hints to point to various solutions. Players will feel a sense of accomplishment when they solve the tougher puzzles. One of the hugest benefits of the puzzles in the game is that they never become too overbearing to detract from the main draw of the game, which is the hilarious story. Broken Age’s gameplay works extremely well with how the narrative unfolds, resulting in great pacing and continuous fun.
Graphics and Sound
Broken Age is a beautiful game with gorgeous and lush painted art. There is a huge imagination and wonder to the numerous areas in the game. From the bird-littered skies of Meriloft to the childish decor and isolation of Shay’s spaceship, the game is full of fascinating locations. The character designs are charming. The different villages are full of unique characters with themed costumery. The various living objects are adorable and distinct. The animations add depth and personality to the characters.
It is one thing to write funny dialogue, but it means nothing if the delivery is weak or the timing is off. Luckily, the voice cast gives wonderful comedic performances that nail the timing and delivery of Schafer’s dialogue. While it is impressive to have Elijah Wood providing the voice of Shay (and he does a good job), Masasa Moyo is perfect as Vella. She gives such a funny and compelling performance. Vella may be one of the most memorable characters of 2014 and much of that is thanks to Moyo’s performance.
Broken Age Act 1 is a spectacular adventure game. It tells two fascinating coming of age stories that smartly play off two separate worlds and character conflicts and ends with one hell of a cliff hanger. The dialogue is hilarious, boasted by adept comedic performances by a fantastic voice cast. Visually, Broken Age is dazzling with lush art that looks like a painting come to life. The gameplay is clever, featuring numerous brain-scratching puzzles. Whether the game lives up to the hype is entirely up to how Act 2 plays out, but Broken Age begins superbly.