Review: Broken Age
Broken Age is a game that helped define the Kickstarter era by raising a record-breaking $3.45M in independent funding. Much of that support can be attributed to the love many now adult gamers still have for classic point-and-click adventure games that project instigator Tim Schafer worked on in the 1990s (Full Throttle, Day of the Tentacle, and others). Inevitably, a fair amount of Kickstarter drama followed which overshadows many reviews you’ll find online.
This review is written from the perspective of a point and click adventure fan who played the game well after its original release—I bought it for less than $5 during Gog’s winter sale. As of this writing, it’s back at $15, but you can wishlist the game to be alerted when the price comes down. It’s available for many platforms, including Linux and the Nintendo Switch.
Broken Age follows in the tradition of the genre, but unlike other entrants like Thimbleweed Park (review), it eschews pixel art in favor of a more modern look and feel. The world of Broken Age is beautifully drawn and animated, and none other than Elijah Wood (Lord of the Rings) lends his voice to one of the two lead characters, Shay.
The story is told from the perspective of Shay and Vella, who live very different lives. Shay lives on a spaceship whose computer coddles and infantilizes him. Meanwhile, Vella is a young girl apparently destined to be sacrificed to a horrific monster in a ceremony called the “Maiden’s Feast”, which is meant to prevent the monster from destroying the whole town.
During dialog sections, the game zooms in on the character who’s speaking. Key characters are voiced by well-known actors like Elijah Wood and Wil Wheaton. (Credit: DoubleFine. Fair use.)
As the player, you can switch between the two characters, and you will eventually learn how Shay’s and Vella’s lives are connected. The story is told with a lot of humor, and the full-screen art and professional voice acting create an immersive feel. The game respects the Fourth Wall and avoids gaming humor, instead inviting you to focus fully on the story.
The controls are simple—you can access your inventory at the bottom of the screen when needed, and click items or characters to interact with them—but that doesn’t mean that the game is too easy. The puzzles get progressively more difficult, and for the most part, they do make sense: pay attention to what characters are saying and what you’re seeing on the screen, and you can figure things out.
This changes towards the end of the game, when some very tricky puzzles depend on illogical knowledge-sharing between the two characters, and the characters’ goals become confused and confusing. In short, the ending of the game feels a bit rushed and underwhelming, which is a shame because the overall story is both clever and interesting.
Regardless, this is a game with a lot of heart that advances the genre rather than just wallowing in nostalgia. It’s great fun to explore its worlds, interact with the quirky characters, and unravel the central mysteries of the story. I reached for a walkthrough during the frustrating parts, and overall got more than 10 hours worth of fun out of my $5 investment.
4.5 out of 5 stars, rounded up because the good parts are really good, and the game represents a step forward for the point-and-click genre, especially in its art direction.