Review: Broken Age
I haven't played a traditional 2D point-and-click adventure game in a while. In fact, I don't even remember the last one I played. Maybe it was one of the Pajama Sam games. I usually avoid playing them now as I don't find the gameplay all that engaging, but I got this for free so I decided to give it a shot.
Broken Age is a 2D point-and-click adventure/puzzle game that follows two separate stories about teenagers struggling to carve out their own destinies separate from the expectations set for them. You take control of these characters, Vella and Shay, as you play through each of their stories. As you progress, you will meet various wacky characters and will be tasked with solving quite a few different puzzles. This game is filled with puns and wordplay, so if you like that kind of humor, you'll enjoy talking to all the characters.
I'm not usually very good at point-and-click puzzle games. Usually my frustration stems from two common problems: 1) I will often get stuck on puzzles and will stare blankly at the screen while not being able to progress, and 2) sometimes I won't be able to tell what I can interact with, which usually feeds into problem one. While Broken Age largely follows the point-and-click playbook, it does introduce two interesting mechanics that conveniently address both of these problems. The first of these mechanics is the ability to switch between either of the two main characters' stories any time you want by opening your inventory and pressing triangle. This can conveniently be used as a way to take a break from one story if you get stumped on a puzzle, a strategy I employed often. When you switch off of a story and then come back, you resume exactly where you left off, so there's no backtracking. The second mechanic that really helped out was the ability to cycle through all the interactable objects in a scene. This is accomplished by moving the right stick, which will take you to the next interactable object and highlight it. Both of the mechanics were greatly appreciated, and really help to improve the experience for players that may get stuck.
Other than the aforementioned mechanics, Broken Age's gameplay is exactly what you'd expect from this genre of game. Navigation is performed with the left stick and selecting objects or selecting a place on the ground will make your character interact with the object or move in that direction. Examining objects and talking to characters will help you figure out what to do next, as well as provide background information on the world around you.
The world of Broken Age is beautifully rendered in what appears to be hand-drawn artwork. All the different locations you visit are very visually distinct from one another, each with their own style. Additionally, all the characters you meet each have their own whimsical designs and totally fit in with the areas you find them in. Each character is also fully voiced with an excellent cast of voice actors, including Elijah Wood, who voices Shay. Everybody's lines are delivered expertly, with great pacing for joke setups and payoffs. You could really feel the love and effort put into writing the game's dialog.
While the dialog was expertly written, I unfortunately can't say the same for the story. Don't get me wrong, the setup and overarching theme of the story is great. I love the very personal stories of the protagonists, who are frustrated with the paths laid out for them. They each have roles they are expected to fill, but are unsatisfied with following. Each longs to make their own destiny that breaks from the status quo, and each sets out on a journey of their own to accomplish that. The greater theme of the story is about taking a hard look at the information you've been told by superiors, and questioning weather the way something has always been done is the right way to do it after all. However, where the story goes wrong is in the last quarter of the game. After working though the first half of the story, you come upon some key revelations that have greater implications for the world the game takes place in. The problem lies in the game's inability to follow through with this and see it through to a satisfying conclusion. After working through the earlier parts of the story and struggling through a very complicated final section, the game sort of just ends. The only closure you get is in a slideshow during the credits of a few drawings depicting events that take place after the game ends. This all led to me feeling like I never really got the satisfying ending I was hoping for.
In summary, Broken Age is a game with great potential that ultimately falls flat due to what feels like an abrupt ending. While the artwork, dialog, voice acting, and central themes are executed extremely well, the story fails to bring it all together in the last five yards. The game does have its good points; I certainly had a decent laugh more than once at some of the jokes, and a couple of the puzzles really gave me an "aha!" moment when I finally solved them. Additionally, I appreciated the character switching mechanic, which really helped ease some frustration. While I'm not the biggest fan of point-and-click games, the earlier parts of Broken Age did keep me entertained. I would recommend this as a game for younger kids to play, as I feel like it has a good message and is a very wacky looking game. However, this one just wasn't for me.
Heisengerm Rating = 2/5
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Publisher: Double Fine Productions
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux, Mobile, PS4, PS Vita, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Release date: January 28, 2014 (Act 1); April 28, 2015 (Act 2); September 13, 2018 (Switch)
Reviewed on: PS4 Pro