Review: Broken Age (PS4/PSV/PSTV)

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Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • PlayStation Vita

Extras:

  • PlayStation TV Compatible Yes
  • Cross-Buy Yes
  • Cross-Save Yes
  • Cross-Play No
  • Cross-Chat No
Title: Broken Age
Format: PlayStation Network Download (PS4 2.1 GB) (PSV 1.6 GB)
Release Date: April 28, 2015
Publisher: Double Fine Productions
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Original MSRP:
ESRB Rating: E 10+
Broken Age is also available on PC, Mac, Linux, Ouya, iOS, and Android.
The PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita download versions were used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
If you had asked most gamers about the state of adventure games in 2011, most probably would have told you the genre was dead. That changed in early 2012 when Tim Schafer, a veteran of the genre known for games such as Grim Fandango, started a Kickstarter for a new adventure game. That game, which would eventually become Broken Age, raised over three million dollars in a month and showed that there were still fans of the genre that were ready for more. Three years later and Broken Age is finally getting its full release. The first act of the game was released previously on other platforms, however this version is the full game with both acts.

Broken Age is the story of two teenagers, Shay and Vella. Shay is the only passenger on a space ship, supposedly the last survivor of his planet sent on a mission dubbed “Operation Dandelion” to find a new home. However, having been raised on the ship, he feels more of a prisoner as the ship’s AI “mother” continues to baby him despite him now being a teenager. Eventually, Shay is able to find his way into a sectioned off area of the ship where he finds that not everything is as he was told.

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Vella is the daughter of a family of pastry chefs who has been chosen to represent her town in the upcoming Feast of Maidens. The Feast is an event that happens every fourteen years, when a monster named Mog Chothra comes to town and the maidens are offered up as a sacrifice. The town considers this the right thing to do, as they have always been told that offering maidens to the monster will stop it from attacking. Being chosen as a Feast Maiden is considered a great honor, however Vella wonders if there isn’t some other way the town could fight the monster rather than letting it do as it pleases.

… the absurdity that is a barfing tree or a talking knife …
Adventure games can live or die based on their stories, so fortunately Broken Age’s story is very interesting. I did find Shay’s part a little boring at the beginning, especially in comparison to Vella’s, however the game pulls everything together and by the end of the First Act I was completely engrossed by the story. The two character’s stories are not as completely separate as they first seem and the end of First Act brings everything together in an explosive way. Without spoiling anything, the Second Act is the more interesting of the two. It begins to show the effects the protagonists have had on their surroundings and explains some of the unanswered questions left from the First Act while the story races towards its conclusion.

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The story is greatly helped by the humorous writing and I genuinely laughed at some of the dialogue and characters in the game. Leave it to Tim Schafer to find the absurdity that is a barfing tree or a talking knife. The humor really helps during some of the longer dialogue trees in the game, some of which can turn into an exposition dump as the game tries to relay a ton of information at one time. Broken Age also does a good job of managing that humor with the personalities of the characters. At its core, the story is a coming of age tale for the two protagonists and does a good job of allowing their personalities to shine through the craziness of death lasers and floating cloud cults.

Broken Age’s gameplay harkens back to the older style of adventure games (in comparison to, for example, Telltale’s recent games). This “point and click” style revolves around talking to characters, finding items, and interacting with the environment. Finding the right item to use in a situation or the proper way to combine items in one’s inventory is the puzzle aspect of the game. Fortunately it manages to avoid some of the more obtuse puzzles that older adventure games are known for. And the ability to switch between the two characters, each with their own separate storyline, is a great way to take a break from a particularly troubling puzzle. My issue instead, although minor, was simply that I occasionally missed that some object was interactable thanks to the game’s graphics.

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Visuals:
Broken Age uses a very beautiful 2D graphic style with a bright and vibrant color palette amid the softly painted background style. The art style used in the game makes it look like the kind of painting one would see in a children’s picture book, which is a good fit for the kind of story it’s telling.

As I mentioned before, the game manages to mesh everything together too well. So well, in fact, that I there were a few situations that I didn’t realize I could interact with some objects. Still, that’s almost more of a testament to how well Double Fine has managed to craft the graphics than a fault. And the player’s pointer does change shape when over an object, so moving it slowly around an environment can help find which objects that you can and can’t interact with.

… Adventure games aren’t dead and Broken Age is proof …
Audio:
Shay, Vella, and the others get a lot from the story but the game’s voice work also helps breathe life into the characters. Broken Age pulls in some well-known talent for its voices such as Elijah Wood, Jack Black, and Wil Wheaton, who do a great job with the game’s script.

Even most of the voices that I didn’t recognize, such as Masasa Moyo the voice of Vella, were great in their roles. Some of the audio magic is saved for the soundtrack too. The music is well adapted to the environments of the game from the light wispy music for the town in the clouds to the mechanical tones of the inside of a ship.

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Online/Multiplayer:
This game is single player only.

Conclusion:
Broken Age is a clever little game. Once I made it through the slow opening section with Shay, I began to find myself more and more an enrapt spectator of the world and story of Broken Age. A few twists felt a little telegraphed but overall I thought it was well told with well realized characters.

The whole package of music, voices, and graphics come together with the story and characters to make a fantastic end product. Adventure games aren’t dead and Broken Age is proof that a return to the basics of the genre can still provide a game that modern fans can enjoy.

Score:
8.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Vita’s built in screen capture feature and the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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