On July 20, Supergiant Games kicks off Summer of Arcade 2011 with Bastion. Like Limbo, and Braid before it, Bastion is a twee indie offering with an artsy-fartsy aesthetic and some bold ideas in the gameplay department. If it's slipped under your radar thus far, now's a good time to start paying some serious attention.
Bastion's big hook, its equivalent of rewinding time or grisly death animations, is dynamic narration. A fair-haired youth wakes on a floating piece of rock suspended in a mysterious void. As he opens his eyes, takes his first steps and wanders off into the unknown, his story is told by a mysterious disembodied voice. This voice is deep and rich, a real treat for the ears, describing every action - the drawing of a sword, collecting of an item, defeating of an enemy - as if it were written in the pages of some ancient tome.
Should you fall off the edge of the level, the voice will recall "no, that's not how it happened", and the story will pick up before you made the fatal error. Performing an action, and then having this voice narrate it is immensely satisfying, giving everything you do in the game a strange sense of purpose.
As you wander about the water-coloured landscape, the ground rises up from the dark abyss below, neatly falling into place beneath your feet before you have a chance to fall. As you stroll off into the darkness, the world literally forms around you. It's a neat trick, complimenting the dynamic narration nicely; the game feels like it was built just for you.
Despite the vibrant hand-drawn visuals, there's a distinctly post-apocalyptic vibe to the world; it's a scene of beautiful destruction, only conforming to order as it falls into place under your feet. The world is in turmoil at the hands of an event called The Calamity, but by journeying to Bastion, The Kid - as the narrator refers to him - can put things right.
The Kid has ten weapons at his disposal along the way, each upgradeable via armouries dotted about the world. I only got to see three of these; the Cael Hammer, the Scrap Musket and the Brusher's Pike - melee, close range, and long range weapon respectively. Combat was a simple one-button affair, but enemies were plentiful, and choosing the right weapon for the right situation seemed important.
By the end of the demo, I'd fought my way to titular Bastion, and was surprised to find that it introduced another key gameplay mechanic. Whilst a haven at the end of the world, Bastion is also barren and it becomes your job to rebuild it. Before leaving, I was able to build an armoury on a designated plot of land, noticing space for several more buildings. How this side of the game might develop is very interesting.
Braid, I'd like to point out, happens to be one my favourite games of all time. I was incredibly fond of Limbo, too, and it sits pretty at number two on our best games of 2010. Tom Orry said Braid was a game "like nothing you've ever played before", and gave it a big fat 9/10 in his Braid review. Emily Gera called Limbo "a puzzle game that is littered with ideas and an artistic eye", and then also proceeded to dish out a 9/10 in her Limbo review. Both were the defining games of their respective summers. Bastion, I feel, could be the same.
Following Bastion in the Summer of Arcade are the eagerly anticipated From Dust, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, Fruit Ninja Kinect, and Toy Soldiers: Cold War.
If you buy all five, Microsoft will give you Crimson Alliance for free.
Bastion is due for release on Xbox LIVE Arcade on July 20. A PC version will follow later this year.