Broken Age represents the return of the classic “point-and-click” adventure game; it promised to feature the same wit, humor, and odd-ball puzzles that made games like The Secret of Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle such timeless classics. I grew up during the hey-day of the point-and-click computer games and still have a box filled with floppy discs for games such as Monkey Island, Monkey Island 2 and Day of the Tentacle. My sense of humor was shaped by the comedy that Tim Schafer and Ron Gilbert wrote into their games.
Now, after a controversial development, Broken Age arrives in full on the PlayStation Vita making one thing absurdly clear: it makes good on everything it promised. It is an adventure game that is as deep and rich as any I’ve ever played.
Broken Age tells the story of two young adults with one thing in common; they’re unhappy with their lot in life. Shay is a young man who has spent his life aboard a spaceship and has had his every need catered to by an overly mothering computer. The only excitement in his day is when he embarks on scripted expeditions to “rescue” creatures in peril. Day after day his life trudges on the same, and day after day he goes through the same charade – wishing each time there was something more.
Vella is a young woman who lives in a village of bakers. Every 14 years the village offers up the best maidens in town as an offering to a horrible monster that ravages their land. Despite having such an honor bestowed upon her, Vella wonders why the people of her village cower in fear rather than fight the beast. She has chosen not to be a sacrifice; she has chosen for something better in life.
Shay and Vella are both unhappy with where their lives are going, but they also question what is real in the world around them. More than anything, what they really want, is to peer behind the curtain and discover the truth.
The story in Broken Age is a deep and philosophical one that ironically doesn’t take itself too seriously. Shay lives on a spaceship where his companions are all knitted out of yarn, while Vella comes from a place where young women compete to be eaten by a monster. It’s the juxtaposition of these conflicting ideas that brings an elevated sense of humor to the story…
Wow, that was deep. What I’m trying to say is that despite the underlying story, the surface is full of wild and wacky elements that are not only fun but hilariously funny. Often times this humor is derived from our two naïve heroes entering strange, new situations. Shay is a bit of a bumbling hero, much in the vain of Guybrush Threepwood from Monkey Island, while Vella is a headstrong go-getter with only one thing on her mind. Their dry comments in the oddest of situations would frequently make me laugh out loud, sometimes uncontrollably.
And it’s good to have a sense of humor when playing a puzzle game like this. The puzzles presented in Broken Age feel very familiar and fresh at the same time. They’re the same twisted puzzles I grew up with where clues hide in plain sight and the answer is often more absurd than you’d think. Sometimes these puzzles get solved in a matter of minutes while other times you may have to think about them for a few hours.
The game is broken up into two acts. Act I introduces us to our two protagonists and allows us to guide them on a new adventure. You can play as either Shay or Vella and switch between them at any time. The puzzles are challenging with a number of “A-ha!” moments, but it goes by rather quickly.
Act II starts with you having to deal with the consequences of your earlier actions. Shay and Vella want to peer behind the curtain, but what do they do once they have? The second act is much longer than the first and the puzzles get more intense. In total it took me around 13 hours to complete the entire game.
The interface for the game was designed with a PC in mind, and while it does make the transition to a controller fairly well, it still feels a bit awkward at times since you use the thumb sticks to move an on-screen cursor and interact with the environment. A nice feature is that the right stick will automatically snap to “clickable” objects so you don’t have to scan the entire room for something to click. It works decent enough, but it’s still not very precise. However, the PS Vita does have an advantage over the PS4 version – you can use the touchscreen to select items in the game. It works amazingly well and really speeds things up.
Visually, the game is absolutely stunning. The 2-D art style retains the feeling of the pixilated adventure games of old but adds a brilliant layer that creates a hand-drawn look to the game. The characters have a bold and unique style to them and the environmental art is all top notch. Everything runs smoothly with the performance never being a problem.
Likewise, the voice acting is superb. With notable talents such as Elijah Wood, Jack Black, and Wil Wheaton (whom I didn’t even recognize until the credits rolled), the characters are all given a great sense of depth and humor. And as good as the acting is, the musical score is even better. It’s composition is grand in ambition at times befitting the heroes’ journey, but it can also be tender and intimate. It’s by far one of my favorite game scores to come out in a long time.
As great as Broken Age is, it’s not perfect. I often had trouble with the audio late in the game where the characters would speak but audio would be delayed for several seconds (or get drowned out by other noises). It’s a problem that happened in isolated areas but it was persistent. It also appears to be a Vita issue as the same problem would not occur on the PS4. I also had problems with the game crashing occasionally which seemed to go hand-in-hand with the Vita losing a connection to PSN.
Any other issues I could point to would be nit-picking. It would be nice if there were more areas to explore, and it would be cool if the world felt a little bigger. Some characters get criminally underused while others get a bit too much screen time. In the end, I found it clever how the story would weave back into itself and reuse a lot of the same locations.
Broken Age is a masterpiece. It manages to capture everything that made point-and-click adventure games great in the first place. It is the perfect blend of interesting characters, wacky humor, and head-scratching puzzles that constantly have you wanting more, and represents everything that made these games so wonderful to play.