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Broken Age (PC) artwork

Broken Age (PC) review

"This is one of Schafer's finest works and, if the second act is just as good, I'm certain it will be one of my games of the year."

It's been awhile since Tim Schafer created an adventure game. His last outing was 1998's Grim Fandango, one of my all-time favorites. Naturally, I was more than excited to hear that Schafer and his company Double Fine were using Kickstarter to finance a new point-and-clicker. Their crowdfunding effort was a massive success and now, after a two-year wait, Broken Age has arrived. At least, the first act has...

The story begins after you select one of two protagonists, Shay or Vella. Both are young characters trapped in an environment they've grown tired of. Shay lives on his spaceship with only the overbearing on-board AI to keep him company. The surrogate mother computer treats him like a child, restricting his access to certain areas of the ship, and only allows him to go on “safe” missions to save the annoyingly cute “Yarn Pals” from trivial disasters where their lives really aren't threatened.

Vella, meanwhile, lives with her family on a planet that's under constant threat from a monster known as Mog Chothra. In order to ensure the world's safety, all of the villages sacrifice their young daughters to him during the “Maiden's Feast.” Vella despises this ghastly ritual and would rather kill the beast than appease him.

Broken Age asset

Both of them break out of their predicaments and start a more adventurous lifestyle, with Shay using the guidance of a stowaway to go on more thrilling missions, and Vella embarking on a quest to destroy Mog Chothra.

These coming-of-age tales, while different, share common themes and are filled with Schafer's wit and charm. Only the man behind Full Throttle and Psychonauts could come up with concepts such as a spiritual guru obsessed with the surface area of clouds, a paranoid hipster lumberjack and a talking spoon that's a little too concerned about Shay's eating habits. Despite the subtle seriousness of Broken Age's plot, characters such as these appear throughout and provide ample chuckles.

I couldn't help but have a huge grin on my face as I played. Part of the reason (besides the jokes) was the simple setup. As with classic LucasArts titles, the only requirement in Broken Age is that you be ready to move the mouse cursor and interact with things on the screen. Instead of a multitude of verbs to choose from (“take”, “push”, “pull”, etc.), however, the game uses a drag-and-drop system to pluck items from the inventory so they can be used on objects or people for puzzle solving purposes.

The puzzles are clever and contribute to an overall smooth experience. There is some degree of difficulty with a few of them, but I never found myself getting frustrated. More often than not, I felt the answer was close at hand, and I was more than willing to keep going until I found it. This smart design left me feeling dumb once I reached a solution, since all of them in hindsight were obvious and logical.

Minimalist approaches like this are what adventure games do best, and it was a masterstroke to not incorporate anything nonsensical and abstract. Not only does this modernize the game to a degree, but it gives the narrative a proper pacing that never once gets dull.

Broken Age asset

The art and sound design keep the game lively, as well. The visuals compliment each of the characters’ personalities and plots. Shay's ship is both dark and eerie and bright and playful, which explains his disdain for the childish fantasy he is forced to occupy and his thirst for more adult activities. Similarly, Vella is surrounded by all things cheerful and vapid as she attempts to break tradition by actually confronting problems instead of letting them run her life.

All of this is accompanied by a wonderful orchestral score and superb voice-acting efforts courtesy of Elijah Wood, Masasa Moyo, Wil Wheaton and Jack Black. They do their part to sell Schafer's comedy and truly give Broken Age a Saturday morning cartoon vibe, albeit more sophisticated.

Even though I had a lovely time with this game, there are some issues that need to be addressed. I encountered a few glitches during my playthrough. Thankfully, none of them broke the game, but it was a little jarring when at least one cutscene stopped one or two seconds short, or when I clicked on the spot I wanted a character to go only to have them shuffle around a bit and move in the wrong direction.

I also noticed that the writing gets a little out of whack when you decide to explore and break sequence. For instance, instead of immediately speaking with the stowaway after opening up the rest of Shay's space vessel, I decided to check everything out. This caused me to find items that I would need for later puzzles, and to hear Shay make observations about things that had yet to happen.

Minor grievances aside, Broken Age: Act 1 is a polished four-hour journey filled with amusing and interesting characters. It's whimsical, fun and contains a twist ending that left me begging for more. This is one of Schafer's finest works and, if the second act is just as good, I'm certain it will be one of my games of the year.


Tayo's avatar
Freelance review by Tayo Stalnaker (January 17, 2014)

Tayo is a lifelong gamer hailing from Portlandia. After a stint reviewing movies and music for his college paper, he co-founded the Dangerous Kids video game podcast in 2009. Now he's writing about games instead of yapping about them into a microphone.

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