Bastion for iPad review
After being rapturously received on console, PC and even web browsers, it was only a matter of time before painterly action-roleplaying game Bastion set its sights on iOS. Casual description does it few favours – games about beating up beasties in exchange for experience points are a dime a dozen on the app store, after all. Where Bastion differs is in its storytelling. A near omniscient narrator commentates your progress as you play, picking up on your decisions and mistakes as well as furthering a sombre, opaque tale with a voice that redefines the very concept of gravel. Contained, cool and wry, it adds a huge amount of character to what otherwise might have been an overly straightforward affair, as well as lending Bastion the eerie sense that it’s watching you.
Keeping things small also works in Bastion’s favour – there are but four characters, not including the nameless hordes of monsters you’ll need to clobber and shoot, each of which plays a pivotal role in both the plot and the maudlin tone of the game. Two of them even get musical numbers, though fear not – it’s about as far from West End cheese as you can get.
As for the action, it’s half-way between rampant tapfest and vaguely strategic shooter, as you switch between an upgrade a half-dozen different weapons from hammers to pistols to bows to bally great cannons, all of which serve vital purpose in different situations. Unfortunately, touchscreen doesn’t prove an entirely natural fit for a game which originally required relatively fine control – complicated special moves are a chore, and it’s all too easy to accidentally end up tumbling off the side of the floating city Bastion is set within. So, it’s not quite the equal of its original version, but its major strengths do carry through to iPad and you’ll certainly be able to bludgeon your way through.
Despite being a start-to-finish tale, there’s plenty here to ensure longevity, and much more of it than is common to iOS games. As well as hard-to-find collectibles, there’s a raft of challenge rooms to unlock weapon upgrades and more backstory, and a New Game + mode that both ramps up the challenge and whose narrator has some awareness you’ve already played through once.
Really though, it’s all about the narration: those calm, grandfatherly/cowboy tones documenting your progress and creating at least as many mysteries as they deign to answer. On the one hand Bastion is a whirlwind of cartoon action, but on the other it’s about going to a very particular place and a state of mind. Iffy controls be damned, this is comfortably one of the app store’s finest RPGs.
A beautiful game both visually and in atmosphere, Bastion is fortunately not so bogged down on its own grandeur that it forgets to be a reliably compulsive stream of action too. The controls do feel on the awkward side, but not to the extent that this stops being a magnetic, highly memorable few hours of storytelling and monster-bashing.