Review: Broken Age (PlayStation Vita)

Broken Age: Official GBAtemp Review

PlayStation Vita 3,248 views 4 likes 6 comments
Reviewed by Krista Noren, posted May 4, 2015
May 4, 2015
  • Release Date (NA): April 28, 2015
  • Release Date (EU): April 29, 2015
  • Publisher: Double Fine Productions
  • Developer: Double Fine Productions
  • Genres: Point-and-Click Adventure
  • ESRB Rating: Everyone 10 and up
  • PEGI Rating: Seven years and older
  • Also For: Android, Computer, OUYA, PlayStation 4
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
    Co-operative
Double Fine’s kickstarter project Broken Age has finally reached a full release. Is Tim Schafer’s latest game as legendary as his previous works?
Krista Noren
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Broken Age initially planned to release as a full game, but because of funding issues during development, it ended up being pieced out into two divided acts, each released about a year apart. It's worth pointing out that due to the game being separated like that, there’s a large shift in storytelling and gameplay elements between those two acts.

A Tale of Two Kiddies

Broken Age’s narrative is about how two teenagers try to escape from the routine of their lives, and cause a chain of events that eventually drive them to cross paths. The game’s two act story is split up between the dual protagonists of the game; Shay, and Vella.

Shay is a young boy, stuck on a spaceship with no other humans to interact with, and deals with going through a repeated series of the same monotonous events every single day of his life. This routine is enforced by Shay’s overbearing and coddling robotic “mother”, and consists of “daring rescues” to save his plush toy friends from ice cream avalanches and hug monsters. Shay’s wishes of escaping from his entrapment are granted one day, when he meets a suspicious wolf named Marek.

Shay’s naive and sheltered nature allows for some good dialogue, as the player watches him slowly become more cynical towards everything he interacts with. The commentary he makes about the world around him is amusing, and it lends a lot to Shay’s character. It feels like the writers put a lot of time and effort into crafting a solid personality for him, which is a shame, since Shay essentially becomes a bumbling fool that has minimal impact on the story.

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Vella, on the other hand, is a girl who’s lived a relatively normal life in the town of Sugar Bunting, where every resident is a baker. Every few years, the town selects their best maidens to be sacrificed in order to appease the monster Mog Chothra. This year, Vella happens to be chosen as a sacrifice, which is a huge honor for her family. She however does not want to accept her fate as monster food, and goes against the town’s tradition, deciding to make an attempt to kill Mog Chothra.

Vella’s main defining trait is that she’s a generic woman trying to fight against archaic standards, and as a result, Vella is a much more boring character. Her only motivation is defeating Mog Chothra, she has no other characteristics beyond that. This outlook of hers makes every other person and puzzle she encounters feel more like a bothersome roadblock, instead of something fun and engaging, like it should be. She also lacks any of the quips or charm that Shay has, at the expense of her being the one to do anything significant for the plot.

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The game does a great job of setting up an interesting premise for both characters in Act 1, but as the story goes on, it becomes less intriguing, and more bland. Many of the questions brought up in Act 1 are never addressed in Act 2, leaving the player in the dark about a lot of details from the overall plot.

Gameplay

As soon as you start up Broken Age, you’ll be able to choose between the two lead characters. Players are free to switch between Shay and Vella’s stories at any given time, and a few puzzles near the endgame make use of this feature. Since this is a point-and-click adventure game, you navigate by moving your cursor and clicking on objects to move towards them. You will be picking up items and putting them in your inventory, to use later and combine in order to solve problems and puzzles.

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Broken Age’s first act tends to have a noticeable lack of puzzles, and instead focuses on explaining the characters and plot. While the massive amounts of dialogue between those sparse puzzles can be a little irritating, it’s still an enjoyable experience for the most part. Act 2 attempts to fix the deficiency of puzzles, but ultimately fails, as the plot gets completely shoved to the side in favor of copious amounts of perplexing challenges that have no sense to them. The later puzzles give little to no clue on how you are supposed to solve a given task, and those solutions are almost always incredibly inane and ridiculous. These puzzles only serve to drag the game out, and make the experience more time-consuming than it needs to be. Act 2 also reuses locations from Act 1; there are no new places to explore, you’re just revisiting places you've already seen.

Sound and Visuals

Each and every location in Broken Age is beautiful. The art style makes visuals appear as if they are watercolor paintings. These design choices allow characters and settings to stand out and look very aesthetically pleasing. The PlayStation Vita version of the game does have heavy pixelation in in some instances, though, causing many scenes to look shockingly blurry. The Vita port also has some problems with sound too. No matter how high you turn up the volume, the game’s audio is very quiet. There also were a handful of times where the audio completely desynced from what was being displayed on-screen.

Overall, Broken Age was, well, broken into two halves. One that provided a decent experience, with great potential, and the second half, which was a bland, disappointing conclusion, rife with poorly executed gameplay elements.
Verdict
Pros
+ Art style and voice acting
+ Humorous writing for the most part
Cons
- Puzzles are horribly obtuse and tedious
- Recycled assets all throughout Act 2
- Plothole ridden story
8 Presentation
The art style is beautiful, everything is drawn with great detail, which makes for a very visually appealing game. Character animations tend to look cheap and stiff, though. The Vita port also has a few occasional audio and visual quirks.
5 Gameplay
The tedious trudge through the second act is abysmal. Puzzles are far more complicated than they should be, and require lots of backtracking to solve. It requires mindless clicking until you succeed, instead of brain teasing puzzles that give a sense of accomplishment.
4 Lasting Appeal
Since this is a linear, narrative-based adventure game, there’s really no reason to return to it after completing it once. It took just a little bit over 8 hours to figure out every puzzle, and listen to a majority of the dialogue choices that were available.
6.9
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
Broken Age starts out as a great game, but it doesn’t manage to sustain what it does correctly, and ends as a confusing, frustrating, unrewarding mess. The game’s first act is worth experiencing, but I would not recommend playing through Act 2.
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