In the ‘90s, Tim Schafer was a hero - one of the brains behind point-and-click adventures such as The Secret of Monkey Island. But then adventures went out of fashion and life moved on.
But in 2012, after 16 years away from the genre that made his name, Schafer made his fans an offer: fund me on this new-fangled Kickstarter thingy and I’ll make another adventure. Two years and $3.3m later we get Broken Age, but has Schafer’s experiment paid dividends?
Sticking to tradition
Schafer promised an old-school adventure and that’s exactly what he’s delivered.
Broken Age harks back to the days when LucasArts meant top-notch point-and-click adventures, rather than second-rate Star Wars cash-ins. That means we get a proper story to experience and some puzzles to solve... but little else besides.
That may sound a little threadbare in an era of multi-faceted blockbusters such as Mass Effect, but as Telltale’s superb take on The Walking Dead proves, when it’s done well story plus puzzles can equal greatness.
Shay and Vella
Broken Age introduces us to Shay and Vella, two teenagers who live separate lives but are equally keen to escape adult authority.
Shay lives on a spaceship where a doting computer mum keeps him trapped in a childish routine of ice-cream avalanches and early learning space missions. So when a chance for real adventure appears, he quickly signs up.
Vella, meanwhile, lives in Sugar Bunting - a bakers’ town threatened by Mog Chothra, a monster that will only leave if fed young women. Vella’s on the menu but defies the town elders by deciding it’s better to fight than become monster munch.
Hitting the funny bone
Shay and Vella’s parallel stories, which players can flip between at will, are strong reminders of why Schafer was able to convince people to hand him $3.3m of their cash.
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Broken Age’s charming and imaginative world is backed by fine dialogue and characters that imprint themselves in your mind. It’s genuinely funny, too, boasting a witty sense of humour that’s only marred by a spate of laboured double entendres about poo. On top of that Act 1 ends with an ingenious twist that will leave you gagging for Act 2’s conclusion - you'll have to wait until the end of the year for that, though.
When not being charmed by the story, Broken Age boils down to cracking puzzles by using the right object, in the right way, at the right time - classic point-and-click stuff.
There’s no way to fail, only ways to get stuck, but since Broken Age constantly drops hints about every solution that practically never happens. And that’s a problem. Of course no-one wants to return to the bad old days of having to restart because you ate a custard pie that turns out to be the only way to kill an impassable yeti, but the lack of challenge means that there’s little sense of achievement.
Sound and vision
With its easy puzzles and linear story Broken Age feels more ride than game, but at least it’s a beautiful ride. The distinctive artwork feels like a stylish children’s book brought to life and is so good that it feels near criminal to use the retro mode that makes the game look like it came out in 1992.
The audio hasn’t been neglected either. There’s a memorable score performed by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and in-game dialogue from stars such as Jack Black and Elijah Wood. In short, it’s an audio-visual treat.
But neither the lovely presentation or witty writing is enough to entirely make up for the lack of challenge - Broken Age is simply too shallow and short.
It’s a backwards-looking game, decked out in rose-tinted specs and hoping to revive past glories. Perhaps that's all the Kickstarter backers were after, but we can't help but feel a little underwhelmed when the likes of The Walking Dead have done such a marvellous job of modernising the traditional adventure game. Beautiful though it is, Broken Age just isn't in the same league.
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Broken Age: Act 1
Funny but far from revolutionary, Broken Age is a pleasant stroll down gaming’s memory lane