In July of 2011, independent developer Supergiant Games introduced Bastion to Xbox Live gamers. It brought a world of unique RPG fun to the platform with a great story and superb graphics. A month later, the developer released Bastion for PC via Steam, followed by its debut on the Chrome Web Store in December and the Mac App Store in April of this year. This month, the game has made its way to the iPad.
Boasting the same artistic graphics and exciting gameplay, Bastion aims to bring an amazing console and computer game to tablets. Is this edition worthy of all the high praise the game has received elsewhere? I’m going to take a full look at the game as if I’ve never played it before, so join me to find out.
This game will not work with the original iPad — iPad 2 and new iPad only — and requires iOS 5.1 or higher.
Immersed from the Start
First off, let’s define “bastion.” According to Merriam-Webster, it is “a projecting part of a fortification” or “a fortified area or position.” In other words, it’s Helm’s Deep — a stronghold. This game is a stronghold of swashbuckling madness.
Terminology aside, once you finish the 530.9 MB download, the first thing you’ll notice when launching Bastion is that there’s no main menu, just two loading screens followed by the first level. It’s clear that the developer wants you to be absorbed in the gameplay from the very start. The Mac and PC versions of the game do not follow this routine and actually have a menu with difficulty settings. Instead of the latter, the developer has included an Infinite Lives option in the settings menu. It’s not enabled by default, but I recommend using it if you’re on a arduous level.
The Story is Basic, But That’s Okay
It’s usually nice when a good game has a good story, but we all know that’s exclusively for Assassin’s Creed and the like. Even Braid had a story that was a clone of Super Mario: save the girl — and the world, if necessary. In Bastion, you’re The Kid, who is the second survivor of the Calamity, an event that destroyed Caelondia, your home. The Bastion is a tool that can be used to recreate all that once was in this land using Cores that you recover from enemy territory. After completing the second level you meet Rucks, the only other survivor of the Calamity. You use the Skyway to access other areas on the map and eventually meet a few other survivors, restoring the world to what it once was. There’s another plot twist, but I’m not going to spoil it.
The Controls Can Be Wonky at Times
My biggest fear about an iPad version of games like this is the controls. RPGs almost always have the same controls on a computer: use the A, S, D and W keys to move around while shooting with the mouse. If you have a trackpad, well, it’s going to be a mess. On a console, however, things are ten times easier since you can use the two mini joysticks to control the character and the triggers to fire weapons. The iPad is unlike any of the other control schemes, unsurprisingly.
If you’ve ever played one of the LEGO games on an iPad — specifically Harry Potter: Years 1–4 — then you know what to expect here, but even those expectations are still going to be a little high. Bastion uses a tap-to-go-here control scheme, which functions exactly as you’d expect: if you want to go somewhere, you should tap that place on the screen. The problem with this is The Kid will get stuck on one of the ledges with nowhere to go. Thankfully, he doesn’t walk off to his death on his own.
There’s another control scheme available in the settings titled Classic Controls, but it’s not much better than the default one; it’s especially hard to get used to. Instead of having a joystick in the bottom left corner of the screen — which would be nice, but I understand that it wasn’t preferable because of the limited space — you can drag your finger around the screen in any direction to move the character. It’s more effective in a precise manner, but not overall. When you’re fighting something, for instance, it takes some time to get used to tapping the weapon’s buttons.
There was a time when I couldn’t collect a bucket of green apples without entering the Distillery nearby. If that happens to you, just drag your finger to control the direction The Kid is moving instead of tapping the bucket.
In my use, there are ups and downs to each control scheme and the default one does work better than the Classic Controls. I would use the latter if there were a joystick, but there’d have to be two so I could effectively aim at a target while moving. That doesn’t matter for the Fang Repeater though, since you can’t fire while moving. In conclusion, the Classic Controls are better for people who want to control what they’re shooting at with something like the Breaker’s Bow.
That’s just one of the challenges that comes with the iPad iteration of this game. You’ll encounter another when you’re trying to hit something with your hammer and The Kid just won’t smash that one object. For this, I’ve found a workaround that’s easy but takes a little time to get used to. Just like with the apples, instead of tapping the item you want to demolish, try dragging your finger over to it and holding it there. You can also double tap the screen to evade, but that might land you off the edge into the great abyss.
Switching weapons can sometimes be a difficult task due to the button deciding not to function properly or my finger not tapping it at just the right spot. When I’m fighting off a plethora of Squirts, it’s nice to be able to switch to my Fang Repeater (it’s actually a pistol with rapid-firing) if needed.
The Gameplay is Easier than on Other Platforms
After playing Bastion for a few hours over the weekend, I discovered that playing it is easier on an iPad than a PC, Mac or Xbox. Why? Because the developer included an auto-defend system for every weapon, which ruins the point of even having that weapon. When I play the game on my Mac it’s a challenge to shoot the Breaker’s Bow at anything without either missing entirely or skipping the Power Shot (if you release at just the right time, extra force will be added to your arrow and the enemy will likely be razed). The iPad version is ten times easier and fully automatic.
Tap a destructible object (rocks, wood that’s not below your feet, etc.) and The Kid will level it.
The whole point of a game is for you to play it not for it to do things for you. When you’re using a Breaker’s Bow, the only thing you can manually do is a Power Shot by tapping the weapon icon at the right time. (You can also do something similar to this with the Bullhead Shield by tapping the shield button at just the right time to perform a Counter Strike.) I blame the lack of being able to actually shoot targets using the bow on the default control scheme since the Classic Controls will allow you to shoot whatever you want.
You still have to move around to make sure you don’t die, which is a good thing, but other than that the game often plays itself when you use the default control scheme. I find this to be a shame since it’s the only way I actually want to control The Kid and it’s not so laborious a task as the Classic Controls. But hey, maybe they meant for you to play it using the Classic scheme and just don’t know it yet.
Creative and Aesthetic Graphics Make This Game
If you’ve ever played the renowned Braid, indie game developer Jonathan Blow’s artistic pièce de résistance, then you know what good art in a game is. Bastion actually reminds me of Braid in some ways; the textures and world’s uniqueness have a certain similarities. Overall though, I think it’s the effort that went into designing the beautiful Caelondia. The more you play, the more you can see how hard the designers worked to make this the most well-designed iPad RPG out there.
My one complaint in the graphics department is that things aren’t quite optimized for the new iPad’s Retina display. The developer never directly says that they are, but it does explain that Bastion “looks even sharper and more colorful on the New iPad.” I expected to see full Retina optimization, but after glancing at the small 530.9 MB download I knew that it wasn’t going to happen. Unfortunately, even some of the fonts seem to be images rather than vectors, which means that they don’t even look clear on a Retina display.
I spoke with a representative from Supergiant Games about the Retina issue and he said, “Bastion is a memory intensive game so [they] needed to find the right balance between graphical fidelity and performance, while making sure the game was stable.” The developer is “happy with where [they] landed on this, though it meant making some trade-offs.” All of that makes sense; Bastion was built for an Xbox 360 first, after all. I’m just disappointed to see that many static images and fonts that aren’t anywhere near clear.
Sound Effects, Music and Narration
I’m both an audiophile and avid listener of soundtracks, so I am usually surprised when I hear a quality and original soundtrack combined with cool sound effects. Bastion did not disappoint my expectations in this area — it actually exceeded them. The music, composed by Darren Korb, is unlike anything I’ve heard in a game and it fits this title so well. I’d describe it as a sort of country tune with some techno sounds, synths and even what sounds like a harp. Tracks like “Build That Wall” are more folk than country, and they make the gameplay experience all the better.
If you’re going to play this game for more than five minutes, I recommend using a good pair of headphones. The iPad’s speakers just don’t do the sound effects justice. Even speakers — a surround sound system, for instance — aren’t as immersive as headphones for a game like this. The developer even recommends at the start of the game that you use a pair of headphones for the best possible experience. You’ll be able to hear the bullets you’re firing with your Repeater; things will rumble when you slam that hammer on the ground; and the spirits that you consume will actually affect that head of yours.
Bastion has more than great graphics, fun gameplay and an exciting soundtrack. As you make your way through the story, a narrator (Logan Cunningham, a.k.a. Rucks) gives you a full rundown of how things are going, the history of Caelondia and some tidbits about himself. This guy makes the game a comedy at times with lines like, “And then, he falls to his death … I’m just foolin’.” There’s more to an adventure than the journey, and sometimes the voice of a peculiarly humorous stranger makes things unique and entertaining.
Great Game, Poor Default Controls
I love playing this game, yet I find myself resorting to the Mac version because it’s easier to control using my trackpad than an iPad’s touchscreen. That sounds kind of sad, doesn’t it? Regrettably, it’s true. I’m hoping that the developer will sort out a better way of controlling Bastion than the tap-to-go method because it’s not very effective. While I could be using the Classic Controls, they happen to lack all ease of use and I’ve found them hard to become acquainted with.
The folks at Supergiant Games did an amazing job of bringing the rest of Bastion to the iPad. There are several things I’d like to see, like AirPlay mirroring, the aforementioned controls improvement and full Retina support, and I’m sure they have these on the roadmap when new hardware arrives. AirPlay mirroring is one thing that many users enjoy about games like Firemint’s Real Racing 2. It’s the new way to play on the TV and your iPad seamlessly, and I understand the hype behind it. For a title like this, it’d be a game-changer.
Suggestions and such aside, the only reason you shouldn’t buy Bastion is if you can’t stand graphics that are a tad blurrier than you’d expect on a Retina device.