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Broken Age, Act One Review: Double Fine's Adventure Grows Up

A charming little love letter to old-school adventure games.

By Mike Williams. Published 3 months ago

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Mike Williams Primary Reviewer

If you're old enough, you remember those times you struggled against your parents' wishes as a child and teenager. You wanted to know more about the world than what they'd let you experience. Maybe you stayed out late one night, dated that boy or girl they warned you against, or just ate food that was bad for you. Growing up is about those thousands of quiet and active rebellions that teach you about the world you live in and help you define yourself as a person.

Broken Age is about reliving those feelings. Broken Age is about growing up.

Get on your best cake dress and get eaten by a monster. Normal Sunday.

The game that began as the Kickstarted Double Fine Adventure stars a young pair named Vella Tartine and Shay Volta. In Vella's story, she's been offered up as one of her villages sacrifices to a giant beast called Mog Chothra. Every year each village in her world offers up their best young women to Mog Chothra to keep the peace. It's a joyous occasion, with fancy dresses, streamers, cheers, and other fanfare. The other young women are excited to be eaten by Mog Chothra, but all Vella wonders is why everyone else is so happy about this. 'Why doesn't anyone fight Mog Chothra?' she repeatedly asks, a sentiment which causes people to either laugh at or condescend her. So, she hatches a sketchy plan to escape and find a way to defeat Mog Chothra once and for all.

Shay's story takes place worlds away from Vella's, in the dark reaches of space. In fact, his part of the overall tale takes place completely within the confines of the spaceship where he grew up. Shay is protected by his ship's computer, which acts as his doting mother and watchful father, who make sure he can never get into trouble. His monotonous days of fake heroic missions and bland food are finally broken up by a stowaway on the ship who alerts Shay to the larger universe outside of his tiny, constructed world. From there, Shay conspires to use the ship to save others, while keeping his actions hidden from his digital mother.

Mother watches over you.

Of the two stories, Vella's is definitely the larger and more expansive tale. Of my six-hour playtime, I'd guess that Vella's tale accounted for 2/3 of the game and it's filled with a wider variety of characters. You can switch between Vella and Shay's stories at any time, but there's no real reason to do so. You're better off just playing one all the way through, and then the other. I'd personally recommend doing Vella's story first because Shay's tale adds to hers as you begin to reach the end of Act 1. Yes, Act 1, as the released part of Broken Age is only the first half of the game.

If you're wondering why I'm focusing on the story of the game, it's because Broken Age is a straightforward, classic adventure game. It's not in the recent TellTale Games-style, where you're given the illusion of choice; dialog options in Broken Age give you more information and add more color to the world instead of taking you in different directions. You either directly interact with the world, or you drag items from your inventory to interact with the world. There's only one way forward. It's very old-school.

So, it's good that Double Fine knows how to write and design some interesting characters. You will come across a tree that hates murderous humans, a cult leader with his head literally in the clouds, a talking wolf, and creatures of living yarn, just to outline a few of the inhabitants of Vella and Shay's worlds. The cast just simply makes you smile and the voice acting behind them matches their colorful personalities. Seriously, Double Fine got some great voice acting for this game. Vella and Shay are voiced by Massasa Moyo and Elijah Wood respectively, while the rest of the cast is filled out by Jennifer Hale, Wil Wheaton, Jack Black, Nicki Rapp, Richard Horvitz, and Pendleton Ward.

Just keep talking tree. You'll see how much of a murderer I am.

Everything is bound together by an amazing art style. I have no clue how Double Fine did what it's done here. Everything is a mix of 2D art and what looks to be 3D models (or shading?) in certain places for depth. I could be completely wrong, but they've definitely intrigued me with what's on display here. The painted look of the entire game is just amazing. If games like Banner Saga and Broken Age are what we can expect from Kickstarter titles, then I'm officially no longer worried about these developers stepping up to the plate.

That, outside of its own story themes, is what Broken Age really represents: the full promise of Kickstarter. Fans can finally see what their $3.3 million buys them. If they've kept up with the documentary, they've also gained a glimpse into how the sausage is made. If Broken Age had been a failure, it would've been a high-profile failure and depressed confidence in the idea of crowd-funding. But Double Fine didn't fail. It's not perfect, but Broken Age is a great start and it's well worth the $15 most backers paid for it. ($25 on Steam Early Access is a bit rich for my blood for just Act One, but it may be a worthwhile price for the entire game depending on how long Act Two is.) Set your expectations right and you'll be met with a beautiful game, full of unique and memorable characters.

Arguably the biggest Kickstarter story sticks its first landing. Broken Age is a cute, colorful tale about growing up. While the 'game' part of the experience is pretty straightforward - like an old-school adventure game - the world is full of charming and unique characters. Sit back, figure out some puzzles, and experience the wonderful little tale that Double Fine has crafted.

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The best community comments so far 1 comment

  • jeffcorry 3 months ago

    Looks nice. I'll have to read up on it.

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