Broken Age Act I

The minds at Double Fine, which brought quirky adventures like Psychonauts and Brutal Legend, have now produced another quirky adventure in Broken Age.  Act I of this episodic series is now available on the iPad and if you have yet to experience it on the PC, then you owe it to yourself to get it on the iPad, which is translated pretty much perfectly.  In between its colorful graphics, its unpredictable story, and memorable characters, this point-and-click series is off to a very promising start.

Broken Age follows the stories of Shay and Vella as they venture through seemingly separate story lines.  Shay is on a deep space vessel, bored out of his wits and coddled by a wildly overprotective computer.  That changes quickly, however, when he meets a mysterious figure clad (for some unknown reason) in a wolf costume.  Life suddenly becomes more exciting, and more dangerous.

Vella’s story picks up in her hometown on the day when she is to be sacrificed to Mog Chothra, a horrifying beast that devours a few maidens from each village every year in return for not wiping out their homes.  Vella isn’t too happy about being sacrificial monster food, however, so she takes control of her fate.  Journeys are undertaken.  Puzzles are solved.  Hijinks ensue.

Broken Age, or its first act at least, can be a joy to play thanks to its witty sense of humor and how the game uses that humor to deliver dark subject matter.  Both protagonists start off the game refusing to accept the horrible situation that they find themselves in, which everyone else seems to be perfectly fine with.  Shay is essentially a prisoner on his ship, while Vella’s village is celebrating her sacrifice and calling it an “honor.”  Shay and Vella come across as being the only people in the game who sense something wrong in the world that needs to be changed while everyone else lives in a state of indifference and idiotic denial.  It is this idiocy that ultimately makes the game a funny one.

Broken Age is a very traditional point-and-click experience.  You examine objects in the environment, keep a few items in your inventory, go through conversation trees, and solve puzzles.  This gameplay translates seamlessly onto the touch screen of the iPad, which also renders the game's graphics flawlessly.  Like a lot of games in the genre, puzzles struggle to find a balance between being way too easy and way too hard.  Generally, Broken Age opts for the easy side.  Most of the things you can do are accomplished simply by exhausting all options in your inventory or dialog trees.   Puzzles that require you to figure out how things work and come up with a complex solution are rather rare.  I don’t mind this terribly, since tough point-and-click adventure games can get very boring very fast.  With that said, Shay’s section has some strong points that require learning how to navigate his ship and which can’t be solved with trial and error.

Unsurprisingly, Broken Age is not impressive technologically.  Like Grim Fandango and Psychonauts before it though, its character design and colorful scenery are the main attractions.  When it comes to dialog and voice acting, it exceeds the average for this genre in both quality and quantity.  Many characters offer optional dialog that tells you a little bit more about who they are or the world that they are in.  The protagonists also offer a huge variety of context-sensitive remarks.  When you fail at solving a puzzle they typically offer an explanation of what went wrong, rather than repeat one or two generic failure lines like “I can’t use that here” over and over again.

Between its story, flavorful presentation, and adequate point-and-click gameplay, there is a lot to like with this episode of Broken Age.  It has the makings of a classic.  If it fulfills its potential, we may speak of it in ten years with the same reverence of which we speak other Tim Shafer classics like Psychonauts and Grim Fandango.