In a way, Broken Age is the best and worst adventure game.
As a general rule, most reviewers like to stay away from trailers, let’s play videos and of course, other reviews before getting to play a specific game, since other critiques and opinions can taint their own. That’s almost impossible with Double Fine Productions’ Broken Age, a point-and-click adventure game that became famous overnight for making millions of dollars through a crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter. Without a doubt, the Double Fine Adventure (that was the game’s working title,) proved two things: that thousands of players still want to play classic adventure games in this day and age and that developers with compelling ideas don’t need traditional publishing means to fund and release their projects. With a modest crowd-funding campaign, Double Fine inadvertently changed the state of the video game industry, but is Broken Age any good? The answer to that question depends on your relationship with the genre and your tolerance for obscure puzzles.
In the game, you play as two completely different characters whose stories are somewhat related. Vella (short for Velouria) lives in a small village where a traditional festival known as the Maiden’s Feast is about to take place. As part of the event, a gargantuan creature known as Mog Chothra claims a maiden as a sacrifice. Vella is supposed to be the next maiden, but she refuses her fate which takes her on an adventure to faraway lands. Shay, on the other hand, is an apathetic teenager living in a spaceship and he’s in charge of every trivial problem that may happen in the universe. Needless to say, the overbearing presence of his robot family and the lack of excitement in his life make Shay miserable and he’s constantly seeking for exciting new adventures. It’s worth pointing out that you can alternate between these two characters at almost any point in the game, so should you get stuck in one time-line, you can switch to the other character and come back when you want.
If you’ve played a point-and-click adventure game before, especially the ones from the Lucas Arts era, there’s not a lot to explain gameplay-wise. Performing different actions is as simple as pointing and clicking on items, this simple premise is used to interact with NPCs, selecting lines of dialogue, picking up items and combining and so on. When you’re not talking to NPCs, you’ll be trying to solve some of the puzzles that punctuate your adventure. Unfortunately, some of the puzzles (particularly those from the second part of the game) are more frustrating than I was anticipating, so from time to time, I found myself clicking on everything around me just because it might work. While tedious, this was more than effective, so I ended up relying on this practice more times that I should have. The rest of the time will be spent interacting with other characters via dialogue trees and despite looking simplistic, this is one of the best parts of the game, mainly because the writing in the game is so good and laugh-out loud funny.
Nevertheless, my only problem with the game are its puzzles. Throughout most of this adventure, I didn’t have a lot of problems with the brainteasers and a couple of occasions I had to use external resources, such as an online hints guide. But as I was reaching the end of the game, those problems intensified and I eventually got to a puzzle where I couldn’t, for the life of me, understand what I was supposed to do. Even after reading some hints, I didn’t understand what the game was asking me to do. To prevent these, the developer could have integrated a hint system into the game. After all, they know that most players will have to use a guide at one point or another, so why not integrate that into the game instead of encouraging players to leave the game to look for external resources? But there’s nothing like that, so I had to use Steam guides or look for walkthroughs online which took more time and effort than it should have.
Visually, Broken Age really stands out among its peers. All the backgrounds look hand-painted and the characters are unique and detailed. Despite looking great, the game doesn’t require a beefy PC to work and that’s definitely a plus for a point-and-click adventure game, since the core audience isn’t always up to date in terms of hardware. Although I had trouble with specific puzzles, it’s worth pointing out that I always knew what I needed to interact with to progress, since the most important items or non-player characters are prominently shown somehow.
In a way, Broken Age is the best and worst adventure game. On the one hand, the story is charming and heartwarming, the game looks really good, the voice acting is marvelous and the music is pleasant to listen to. But on the other hand, some puzzles are obscure and hard to solve without a guide which can frustrate most players (especially those who haven’t played a lot of adventure games.) Hundreds of thousands of players wanted to play a point-and-click adventure game in the style of Lucas Arts and, for better or for worse, developer Double Fine provided exactly that. Be careful what you wish for, I guess.