Before delving too deep into the world of Broken Age it's important to note two things. First, this is a Kickstarter-funded project, meaning it sought out a specific audience — point-and-click adventure fans — and found it in spades. It's a game developed on its own terms, not by a marketing team.
Secondly, Broken Age is an unfinished product — it is only part 1 of a planned two-part adventure. And so, for a game whose story is its key selling point, and an obvious extension of its puzzle mechanics, there is going to be some disappointment when the game's intermission comes. But, those thoughts only surface after Broken Age hits that mid-point. Up until then, it's a wondrously transportive experience built by true masters of a bygone genre.
Broken Age's story follows two characters, Shay and Vella, whose lives are ruled by routine and tradition. Shay spends his days and nights in outer space, performing various "rescue missions" that are nothing more than distractions, a playful form of imaginative release created by his ship's AI computer. However, one specific decision by Shay throws his usual routine into flux and puts him on a star-charting adventure filled with alien creatures, covert operations, and, of course, a ton of puzzles.
Vella, on the other hand, lives in an age where every town specializes in a specific industry — her town is called Sugar Bunting and they specialize in baked goods — and each must participate in a ritual called the Maiden's Feast. In the Maiden's Feast, one or any number of girls from each town is sacrificed to a multi-eyed beast called Mog Chothra. As you might expect, Vella is none too happy with this ritual, and after breaking free from Sugar Bunting's ceremony she seeks out a way to bring down Mog Chothra.
Since this is only part 1 of a two-part game, it's hard to evaluate the story as a complete creation. What is there, however, is enjoyable from beginning to abrupt end, and left me dying to know what happens next. Shay and Vella are compelling and dynamic characters that explore ideas not-often broached in video games — a byproduct of Double Fine's imagination at work — and their stories are well-realized, well voice acted, and well written. My only gripe with the writing is that it isn't as funny as I'd hoped.
If there's one area that Double Fine excels at more than most it's design. From the game's gorgeous, hand-painting aesthetic, to the endlessly clever character and level design, Broken Age is a feast for the eyes. Where many games are too busy pushing polygon counts to their limits, Broken Age delivers something that feels more like a storybook brought to life than a complex series of 1's and 0's. Every area is new and exciting, and filled with a ton of detail, which makes the requisite pointing and clicking all the more fun.
And trust us when we say there will be plenty of pointing and clicking. As we mentioned in our first impressions post, Broken Age is a point-and-click adventure game in the purest sense. Players will move between areas collecting items and solving mini-puzzles while also working towards an overarching goal. In most cases, the end-goal is fairly evident, but it's the execution that requires some clever thinking, and a ton of exploration. For some, the idea of going back and forth between areas looking for items might be off-putting, especially since the game provides very few clues towards a puzzle's solution, but it's a very specific design decision on Double Fine's part, one that hearkens back to a time before GameFAQs and video walkthroughs.
Where some games might put in mechanics that help players suss out a solution, or keep them on the right track, Broken Age abandons those notions in pursuit of a true point-and-click adventure game. At times that can be frustrating — knowing the solution, but not knowing how to achieve the result — but the game smartly allows players to switch between Shay and Vella at-will. That way, players can find relief in a new character and locale before returning to the seemingly impenetrable puzzle with fresh eyes. And make no mistake; solving puzzles in Broken Age is a rewarding experience where every bit of progress feels earned. At the same time, there's no shaking the fact that Broken Age's gameplay is built for a very specific subset of gamer, and anyone outside that demographic might come away frustrated or disappointed.
However, those who are willing to embrace Broken Age, not as a modern reinvention of the point-and-click adventure but as an excellent example of why the genre is so beloved, will come away more than satisfied. The story is wholly engaging, the design is bursting with imagination, and the puzzles deliver that all-important feeling of accomplishment. There will be some who perceive the game's specific design decisions as flaws, and they aren't necessarily wrong, but they were likely never going to enjoy Broken Age anyways. Broken Age falls into a very specific genre, one that rarely gets much attention anymore, and makes a strong case for why it should.
Have you had a chance to play Broken Age as part of your Kickstarter reward? What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.
Broken Age: Act 1 is available now for PC. Game Rant was provided a PC code for this review.
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