The story of how Broken Age came to be is almost as interesting as the story contained within the game itself. After setting new Kickstarter records for funding and creating a new trend in game funding, Double Fine, led by Tim Schafer, were able to bring their dream of a classic point-and-click adventure to fruition. Due to budgetary and schedule reasons, the game has been split into two “acts,” and the first act has now been released. After millions of crowd-funding dollars and months of anticipation, Broken Age has a lot of expectations behind it, so was it all worth the hassle?
In Broken Age, you take control of both Shay and Vella, two very different characters living in two very different worlds. Shay lives on a spaceship and is doted over by his “mother,” the ship’s AI computer. He goes on programmed “adventures” that seem to be crafted for children much younger than Shay, and any sign of true danger is immediately squashed by his “mother.” Vella lives on a seemingly primitive world, and is being prepared for a special ceremony that she may or may not want to participate in. The great beast Mog Chothra is on his way, and the Maiden’s Feast is the only way to keep the town from being destroyed. How these two are connected is one of the mysteries of Broken Age, but before you even worry about that, you’ll do a lot of adventuring as you swap between the two while you solve puzzles and talk to other characters along the way.
Broken Age is very much a classic point-and-click adventure title. The game is heavily story driven, with some light puzzles and a lot of character interaction. Playing Broken Age requires nothing but the mouse. You click to navigate, then click on objects or characters to interact with them, and occasionally you use an item from your inventory to solve a puzzle or complete a task. If you are a fan of the genre, this is exactly what you were hoping for from Broken Age, and it is all here just as you wished for.
The writing, in typical Double Fine fashion, is stellar. Humor is used sparingly in Broken Age, but when it hits, it hits perfectly. The overall story is a fascinating tale that will have you theorizing and guessing for a while, even after the first act comes to a close. The characters of Vella and Shay, as well as the diverse cast of characters that populate their disparate worlds, are fully realized and will endear themselves to you almost instantaneously. I found myself spending more time in some areas than was necessary just because I enjoyed interacting with the characters so much.
The voice acting only made this attachment grow stronger. Double Fine has gotten some of the best voice talent in the industry to work on Broken Age, and it shows in the final product. Elijah Wood, Jennifer Hale, Jack Black, Wil Wheaton, and a ton of other talented people bring the cast of characters to life in a way that is both charming and familiar at the same time. Dialogue is handled in traditional form, with you choosing between a set of options that can change depending on the person’s answer. You never really shape the dialogue with your choices, so it is more about getting through all the options to be sure you didn’t miss anything. This is mitigated by the fact that you will usually want to hear all of the dialogue available simply because it is so much fun to listen to.
Broken Age truly sings in its visual design aspects, with the characters and their worlds being some of the most gorgeous that you will find in a game. The hand-drawn art style for Broken Age is something that must be seen by every gamer. Blending Double Fine’s trademark quirkiness with this type of art style has created a world that is both amazing to look at and fun to explore. Whether you are on Shay’s ship or Vella’s planet, there is always a feeling of wonder at the world you are inhabiting, which is exactly what players are looking for from adventure games like Broken Age.
The important stuff is all there in Broken Age - the story, the characters, the art, and world design. These are the pillars of point-and-click adventure gaming, and Double Fine has built them all well. The gameplay is also classic point-and-click, and this is where I had the most problems with Broken Age. By sticking so closely to the traditions of the point-and-click genre, Broken Age might be a godsend to hardcore fans of the genre, but if you are just jumping in or expecting a more modern experience, you might be disappointed.
Some of the puzzles in Broken Age end up being exercises in frustration as you walk back and forth searching for the item you obviously missed, only to find that the answer was so obtuse as to be ridiculous. Going through your inventory and trying to use every item regardless of whether it makes sense or not has a detrimental effect on player enjoyment that I was hoping Broken Age would avoid. It happened rarely, but some instances were quite annoying and could have been avoided with a bit of innovation in this area. The brilliant design of having two playable characters assisted with the frustration, since whenever I got stuck I could switch characters and play that thread for a while before coming back with fresh eyes. Die-hard point-and-click adventure fans might disagree with this criticism since it is a staple of the genre, but I was hoping that Double Fine would take this opportunity to innovate and tone down some of its more frustrating elements.
Broken Age is a true adventure game. It gives you an engaging world populated with captivating characters and sets you off to find your way. While the story isn’t complete yet, it is shaping up quite well, and I can’t wait to find out what awaits Shay and Vella in the next act. While some elements of the formula could have used more innovation, the ones that really mattered were all honed to near perfection. Fans of point-and-click adventures need to play this game, and newer players will still be able to jump in and enjoy the experience. Now if only Double Fine could hurry up and get Act 2 done.