If for whatever reason you grow tired of collecting Cores and advancing the story, you could choose to visit the Proving Grounds, where you can take on weapon-specific challenges at your leisure. The Cael Hammer challenge, for example, asks you to smash 100 objects in the fastest time possible, while for the Breakers Bow you're required to eliminate a set number of targets with as few arrows as possible. Getting first place in each challenge offers a new skill for that weapon as a reward.
In addition to this there are three 'Who Knows Where' challenges to complete, which pit The Kid against increasingly difficult waves of enemy as the narrator fleshes out the backgrounds of key characters in the story. Each challenge comes with its own leaderboards, so you can compare scores with friends. In order to beat said chums, you'll want to make things as difficult for yourself as possible.
At the Bastion's shrine you can invoke the wrath of the gods which – depending on which god you choose – gives your enemies certain advantages. You can make them quicker and stronger, give them regenerative powers and ensure they don't drop any health potions. On the flip side, you'll earn more XP and money. It's swings and roundabouts: The more gods you invoke, the higher the leaderboards you'll climb.
The sound design needs some words dedicated to it before we go any further, as it's fantastic from start to finish. While the instrumental themes have an almost Wild Western twang to them – similar to the score of Firefly, I found – later on in the game this is swapped out for actual songs, with lyrics contributing to the story as a whole. As with Braid, the soundtrack goes a long way in defining the tone and atmosphere of the game.
Comparisons to Jonathan Blow's indie sensation don't end there. As with Tim's time-travelling jaunts and all that nonsense about the atomic bomb, there's a deeper meaning to everything in Bastion. Once the credits roll, you'll flock to the internet, desperate to discover what others made of it. It's not quite as open to interpretation as Braid, but you'll enjoy the conversations it inspires nonetheless.
I'm currently working my way through a second playthrough, hoping to gleam a deeper meaning from the script, and there's a lot to pick up on the second time around. With the main game finished there's the option to start a New Game +, which transfers your XP, skills and upgrades from your first save. There's just under six hours worth of content in a single playthrough, more if you spend time satisfying the requirements of Vigils (achievements, of sorts), which can be tracked through the Memorial in the Bastion.
Bastion is the perfect game to kick off Microsoft's Summer of Arcade, capturing that certain something that Limbo and Braid had in previous years. For 1200 Microsoft Points you'll be rewarded with an experience just as memorable as any retail release this year. It's kind of upsetting returning to the real world after adventuring in Caelondia; without that velvety voice narrating what you're doing, giving purpose to your actions, life isn't quite so entertaining.