I finally had a chance to crack into Broken Age and sample its particular flavor of adventure-game-goodness, and have had some distance on that experience that I felt like writing a little something about it. I think the last point-and-click adventure game I played was probably Telltale’s Back to the Future, unless you count The Walking Dead, which I feel like was an altogether different kind of experience. There have certainly been a great deal of indie point-and-click offerings lately, but they haven’t drawn me in like the days of Full Throttle or Grim Fandango, and even the games I mentioned playing recently didn’t leave a huge impression on me. There’s a unique whimsy that exudes from Tim Schafer’s games, and it’s his ability to craft a believable, yet bonkers world that feels grounded in its own rules, that keeps me coming back.
Broken Age is a story about childhood defiance, and the themes of child-parent relationships feel as though they come from a place of experience. Parents want to keep their kids safe, but also want them to flourish in a world that is unsafe. Without talking too specifically about the story, Broken Age does a decent job of exploring both sides of this relationship to its extreme conclusion. The game is full of interesting characters that are well voice acted, and for the most part serve as conduits for some thoughtfully comedic writing. Only a couple of characters spring to mind that fell flat – one of which seemed to serve as more of an outlet for Bay Area stereotypes – but that’s a good ratio when the game has such a broad cast, even in just this first act.
The story is brought to life through a beautiful hand-drawn art style that looks straight out of a modern children’s story book. However, the writing has that Pixar quality of reserving a wink and a nudge for adults, while remaining still something that could be enjoyed by a younger audience. Indeed, the art style is so strong here, that I wonder where else games could have gone if they continued down the 2D path instead of moving to 3D in the 90s. With the funding and budget for this game being so public, it seems like it was absolutely the right move to make this game in a 2D engine; I’m not sure this level of visual fidelity could have been achieved otherwise.
As a person who played many point-and-click adventure games in the 90s, my view on the puzzle difficulty is probably skewed, but I didn’t find the game to be all that difficult. Any time I didn’t immediately know the solution to a puzzle, I simply needed to go through all the dialogue options with another character, and the solution would reveal itself. The gameplay consists of what you’d expect from the genre, the loop of talk to characters, find items, use items to solve puzzles, is all present and accounted for here. There are some interface nuances that feel like they were designed for touch devices. By default, items are used by dragging them, and there is an ever present inventory pop up in the lower left of the screen which occasionally interfered with navigation, but much of this behavior can be changed in the options. It’s an adventure game through and through, so all backers can rest easy that Double Fine delivered on that front.
The first act of Broken Age felt complete, with its own fascinating arc, but ends with an unexpected twist that left more questions than answers. Throughout the game there’s a sense that something is amiss, and the way this act wraps-up plays on that feeling masterfully. It probably goes without saying that I am highly anticipating the next installment, and if Double Fine can keep up the quality, there’s a good chance this will be one of my all-time favorite adventure games.