No doubt Bastion has its share of flaws, but in the end the good far outweighs the bad and it's definitely deserving of a playthrough by just about everyone. The gameplay, the art direction, the music and sound are all excellent, but there are just a few nagging bits that dragged it down for me personally. It's best to start out with the art and the narration, as those are Bastion's immediate appeals.
The art, as you know if you've seen any video or screenshots, is amazing. The hand drawn backgrounds appear before you as you traverse the level including plenty of destructible objects that can be bashed in for fragments of the old world, the currency in the game. The overall motif of the game is a sort of exotic, alien western populated by no shortage of bizarre creatures native to Caelondia such as Anklegators, Squirts, Rattletails, Lunkheads and more, but each level introduces new environments that always keep the game feeling fresh and making the player feel like they are progressing through this world. At some points it was difficult to tell what was destructible and what wasn't, and I ended up falling off the map a few times because I wasn't able to tell where the physical ground stopped and the background art began, but it's hardly worth mentioning. You gain a sixth sense for that sort of thing as the game goes on and it happens less and less. Another big appeal for this game was the "interactive" narration, and while it is charming every time you see it happen, it's utilized far less than I was expecting. It's funny to hear him say "The Kid just rages for a bit" when you begin smashing objects left and right, or "It's easy to lose your way in the Wilds" when you retread old ground in a level, but I can count on one hand the number of times I noticed a direct relation to what was being narrated and what I was doing, which is a real shame. I went into the game thinking this was going to be a major part of the game, but it happens less and less as you go on. Perhaps it's because the developers didn't want the tongue-in-cheek narrator stepping on the toes of the increasingly dark and serious storyline of the game, but either way I wish there was more of the narrator-player interaction.
The gameplay is traditional hack and slash with counters, special attacks, customizable perks in the way of liquors you can equip, and plenty of upgradeable weapons to choose from (perhaps too many upgradeable weapons, I'll touch on that in a bit). The game has a varied collection of enemies for you to fight, each with their own strategies, strengths and weaknesses. Anklegators (Essentially a land narwhal that pursues the player underground until it's ready to strike) need to be lured out into the open before being attacked, but what happens when the game pits one of these at you in addition to a Lunkhead (Leaping armored frogs that must be attacked from behind) and a few Pincushions (immobile plants that shoot thorns at the player in a continuous stream) all at the same time? The player must use their loadout that they've customized, their evasive and defensive manuevers, and decide how they're going to complete the encounter, which almost always proves to be tricky and fun. Back at the Bastion, the level hub and also the main plot device of the game, players can use their Cores they've gained in the levels to populate the area with helpful structures, and Shards let the player upgrade those structures even further. The distillery let's players customize which liquors they want to equip which grant bonuses such as more health or a higher critical chance all the way to more loadout-specific benefits such as a higher counter-attack damage and doing more damage when falling on enemies. The Arsenal let's players customize which weapons and special attack they want to bring into battle, and the Forge let's them use upgrade materials they've found or purchased in the world to further enhance their effectiveness. One great thing about Bastion is that it doesn't limit what combination of weapons you can equip. Where most games would require you to have one melee and one ranged weapon, you can equip any combination in Bastion and it really makes you feel like you can take on the game however you want. The Lost and Found let's players use their fragments gained in the world to purchase upgrade materials, special attacks, and unique liquors that can't be found anywhere else, and the Memorial presents a number of goals that the player can attempt which will reward them with more fragments.
The Shrine is my by far my favorite structure in Bastion. It gives the players a number of optional difficulty modifiers (similar to skulls in Halo) which reward those brave enough to activate them with substantial experience boosts throughout the game. Activate more than one and the rewards can be quite steep, granting the player up to 75% more experience, but also making the game much more difficult and in some cases even bizarre and unpredictable. While I love the modifiers such as those that slow the player when getting hit or make enemies drop grenades when defeated which let you scale the difficulty of what some might call a rather easy game for veterans of the genre to something more challenging, some just seem tedious and poorly thought out. One modifier randomly deflects attacks, and another causes enemies to become immune to attacks for a time. These don't make the game harder or the fights even necessarily more interesting, they just become longer and more frustrating. All the modifiers are optional however, so I suppose this is more of a nitpick than a significant complaint. What IS a significant complaint, perhaps only for me personally, is the frequency of which you get new weapons. If I remember correctly, you get a new weapon almost EVERY SINGLE LEVEL, excluding optional weapon challenges you can choose to play on the map screen. Not only that, but most of these levels are designed around using that particular weapon, and only rarely do the developers give you an arsenal mid level to allow you to switch back to your previous weapon if you don't want to use the level-specific item. It begs the question, what is the point of upgrading your items, customizing your loadout with special attacks and liquors, and creating a battle plan if the game is going to force you to use a new weapon (which you haven't had time to upgrade) every level? I get what they were trying to do. They want you to mix up your strategies on the fly, adapt to everything they throw at you, but a new weapon every single level? I don't get a chance to appreciate any of these weapons if you stick a new one in my hands EVERY SINGLE LEVEL. Some players might like this aspect so this point is largely a personal complaint, but it certainly feels like the game is undermining itself by giving the player all these tools to customize their playstyle and then ripping a whole through them at the beginning of every new stage. I also have to mention that many of your special attacks are tied to your weapon, so if you pick up a new weapon that takes the place of the weapon tied to your special attack, woops, I guess you get no special attack that level.
Thankfully the music is amazing. It's a mix of instrumental western tunes, some arabian sounding themes, and even a few voiced songs by the characters' voiceactors. It's a good variety and a few even became stuck in my head. The story is somber and at times vague, but even though most won't remember Bastion for its story it does a good job of keeping the player's interest and making you eager to find out how it will all shake out.
Bastion has its flaws, but at the end of the day it's still a fun game. It's been in a million bundles and it goes on sale for only a few bucks, so there's really no excuse to not at least give it a shot, and if you're one of those who have it sitting in your library for a rainy day like I did, give it a try, it's worth it.