It’s been a long road for Double Fine’s Broken Age. Conceptually launched as Double Fine Adventure, the game took to crowdfunding website, Kickstarter back in February 2012 and sought $400,000. After making over $3,000,000 and with an original planned release date of October 2012, the game began to see numerous delays. In early 2013, Double Fine head and Broken Age creative director, Tim Schafer came out and stated that the game would take at least another year to complete. Fast forward to early 2014 and Double Fine released Act I of the game (in part, to raise more money to fund Act II). Finally, three years after its original Kickstarter, we’re getting the completed version of Broken Age.
Broken Age is a point-and-click adventure game in the vein of old adventure games like, Grim Fandango, The Secret of Monkey Island, and the often overlooked masterpiece Freddi Fish 3: The Case of the Stolen Conch Shell. In Broken Age, you will be acquiring items, solving puzzles, and talking to an eclectic variety of characters on the fantastic voyage of Shay and Vella.
While released in two separate acts, I’m going to be talking about the game as a whole (Act I and Act II, with minimal spoilers).
Broken Age follows the story of Shay and Vella, which the player can switch between at any time. Shay (voiced by Elijah Wood), is a boy who lives (seemingly alone) on a spaceship called the Bossa Nostra. Each day Shay goes through a routine of tasks and adventures, all while aided by a computer who serves as a mother figure to him. These adventures include a perilous train ride and an ice cream avalanche. You as the player help Shay to break out of this routine and discover that things are not as they seem aboard the Bossa Nostra.
The high-tech, “space” world of Shay is juxtaposed to Vella’s fantastic fantasy world.
Vella (voiced by Masasa Moyo) is a young woman whose world is constantly terrorized by a mythical beast called Mog Chothra. In order to appease the beast, the women of Vella’s village are offered up in a “Maiden’s Feast.” After you help Vella escape the feast, you will traverse an amazing cloud world as well as other locals as you try and put a stop to Mog Chothra once and for all.
The story in Broken Age is great. Both episodes are uniquely varied and transport us to two totally different worlds. The high-tech, “space” world of Shay is juxtaposed to Vella’s fantastic fantasy world. Without getting into spoilers, our heroes stories will become intertwined.
My favorite part about Broken Age isn’t the story itself, but the characters that you meet along the way. Let’s begin with Shay and Vella. Shay is very hesitant about what he wants, and unsure about the things that are surrounding him. One of my favorite things was seeing the confidence that Shay builds over the course of the game. You see a shift in Act II of him now having a game plan and executing it.
Vella is a strong character right out of the gate. Questioning conventional wisdom, she doesn’t want to become another meal for Mog Chothra and does something about it. Always speaking her mind, Vella is quick to help others in need but will put her foot down to do so. I really enjoyed playing as both of the main characters throughout the game.
A knife steals the show in Act II of Broken Age.
You also meet a diverse variety of supporting characters along the way. Some of my favorites include: The King of Cloud Kingdom (voiced by Jack Black) His goofy covertness and fear of heights (living on clouds) is hilarious. There’s also a lumberjack (voiced by Wil Wheaton) who can’t seem to find his crafting way. There’s a variety of other characters as well. A mysterious wolf, a “dialogue” tree in agony, all of your yarn pals, and a knife. That’s right, a knife steals the show in Act II of Broken Age. Man, I love that knife.
You will meet all of these characters (and more) along your journey. They aid you in your quest; whether it’s giving you items, relevant information, or just providing comedic relief. It’s important to always make sure you exhaust the dialogue options with characters. This will lead to helping you solve puzzles.
Like the golden age of adventure games, Broken Age is full of puzzles. An item you pick up within the first five minutes of the game might not be used until four hours in. Trust me though, every item has a purpose. So how are the puzzles? Like most games, there are hits and misses.
One of my favorite early-game puzzles has you figuring out how to get Shay to float on his own in space and get to a certain point in your ship. This was one of the first “aha” moments I had throughout the game. Up until this point, I was only looking at items individually. It was this puzzle that made me combine two items and see how they worked with one another.
One thing I recommend is to make sure you vigorously search each area of Broken Age with a fine-tooth comb and click on everything. One of the mid-game puzzles has you collecting a specific item for two guards. This item is found in an area explored earlier in the game and I missed it the first time. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what item these two wanted. Eventually, I went back to the beginning of said area and just made sure to click on everything and I found the item I needed. It was my own fault for not being thorough enough. I do believe one thing Broken Age could do better would be to give the player a better understanding of what is intractable. The cursor changes, but if you don’t hover over that specific object, you’d never see that change. Most of the puzzles can be solved practically. They’re not devilishly hard as long as you use logic and have the appropriate items. So again, click on everything and talk to everyone.
This was one of the first “aha” moments I had throughout the game.
Some of the puzzles are misses though. There’s one in the beginning of the second half of the game that really irked me. It involves knots. I won’t get too into specifics, but just know, if you mess up, you have to trek across (basically) the whole world to get back to a certain character, who gives you an item, to go all the back and try and solve the “puzzle” again. It was tedious and when I thought I was giving the right clues, the game thought otherwise. I actually resorted to closing the application on my PS4 when I would get the puzzle wrong so the game would load me back at the specific spot and I wouldn’t have to trek all the way across the map again. I’m still not sure what I was doing wrong. Boo.
The music in the game is great. It’s a playful score throughout and has some suspenseful moments during those heavy story set pieces. The art in Broken Age is beautiful. It has a very vibrant, colorful, pastel painting look to it. Each one the worlds looks completely different and brings with it some beautiful design. Every new screen you traverse is full of adventure and beautiful little details. The characters also look great.
With the art looking so good, It brings me to wonder why they added a “retro” mode to this game. With a press of the R3 button, you can change your view to this pixelated … well, mess. I understand what they’re going for and they’ve done this in previous games (see, Grim Fandango Remastered) but where in those games it made sense, I don’t think it fits here.
The art in Broken Age is beautiful. It has a very vibrant, colorful, pastel painting look to it
I played Act I of Broken Age on the PC with a mouse and keyboard. Playing through it again (as well as Act II) on the PS4, I think it plays great. It’s a simple control scheme, but a fluid one. Triangle pulls up your inventory and then you use the D-pad to switch between items. My one complaint is that when I would hover the cursor to move over areas in the bottom left of my screen, sometimes it would pull up my inventory when I didn’t want it to. It’s a minor thing. There’s also a way to speed up your cursor (holding down R2) but not a way to speed up the walking speed of your character. Overall, it plays fine. I haven’t gotten a chance to try the game on the PlayStation Vita yet though.
As stated earlier, it was no easy road for Broken Age to get here. It showed us that while sometimes publishers put creative handcuffs on developers, maybe they can serve a purpose and help a company stay on track. One thing’s for sure, Double Fine has been transparent throughout the whole process. They even made their documentary available to all on YouTube.
So, was Broken Age worth the wait? The answer is yes. Double Fine has crafted a beautiful, smart, character driven adventure game. Being an adventure game fan since I was young, it’s great to see the genre still flourishing. If you are a fan of adventure games, like puzzles, or just want to laugh out loud, I urge you to pick up Broken Age.
A code for Broken Age was given to us by Double Fine for review; I played the game on the PS4. It took me about 6 hours to complete. I also “backed” the Double Fine Adventure Game Kickstarter back in 2012.