Quick disclaimer for this review: I have 9.6 hours on record for this game, but the time played for the game is actually half of that (at around 5 hours), as I revisited the game to replay the first part and screw around for achievements, before giving up entirely. I've included some spoilers for the game under warning. Be aware of it if you don't want spoilers.
Having that said: It is now three years later. The Double Fine Adventure kickstarter asked for $400,000 to make this game and they were given $3.45 million to do it. Double Fine, rather than budgeting themselves to stay within that target, sold the first half of the game on Steam so they could raise money for the second half. They already had more money than they needed, but they still sold a half-finished game to bring in more funds, bringing up to around the $4 million mark. It also took them over a year to release the second installment of the game.
Broken Age is like eating a beautiful, delicious cake, and finding out that Double Fine saved money on frosting by using leftover spackle. Then you have to watch Double Fine eating better, more edible cake, bought with your money.
The game itself is, admittedly, gorgeous. The art style and animations are very well done. The voice over talent, too, is pretty decent. I'm tired of hearing Wil Wheaton drone his way through video games, but Pendleton Ward and Jennifer Hale are welcome sounds for your ear-drums. That's where the general positivity ends.
The story is abysmal. You play as two characters, Shay and Vella. Shay is trapped on a spaceship under a domineering, overly-loving computer named MOM, with basically no life. Vella is about to be sacrificed to the Lovecraftian "Mog Chothra" monster because "tradition." You control each character in turn, and can switch between either, but they're both sectioned off and unrelated adventures for the most part. In Act 1, the game does a pretty decent job of setting up mysteries: What is Mog Chothra? Who is Marek the Wolf? Why is the ship's computer, MOM, so seemingly hell-bent on imprisoning Shay? Who is the mysterious man in the DeadEye Mountain and how does he have technology like we see on Shay's ship? Why are we still pretending Wil Wheaton has a career in acting when he only ever plays himself with a beard?
In Act 2, these questions are swept under a rug quickly. Players are plied with half-hearted exposition, contrived answers, and massive plot holes that are never filled. Characters from the first game are given completely different rules and motivations than before, but offer no explanation for their behavior change. Shay is useless in the grand scheme of the game, and affects NOTHING of the outcome, when you get right down to it. Acts 1 and 2 favor Vella heavily as the "get ♥♥♥♥ done" protagonist and she gets most of the interesting story as a result. Getting into spoiler territory below.
The portrayal of the characters is severely infuriating, too. Shay is a poor protagonist, especially in light of Vella's achievements throughout the game. Shay affects almost nothing story-wise and, in some cases, actually causes problems for Vella as a result of his actions. He is infantilized, both by his overbearing mother and his reliance on child toys for assistance. At one point in Act 2, he is actually, literally replaced by a blow-up doll, while other characters comment on how useless he is. Vella, by contrast, is smart, capable, solves most of the game's big puzzles, directly fights the game's main enemies, and we are told explicitly that she is the most important character in the game because her blood is coveted by the enemies.
The enemies of Broken Age are introduced in the last hour of the game (if you complete Shay's half of Act 2 first) and they barely make an appearance until the last 15 minutes. They are cadaver-white, mutated humans, that have been using eugenics to "purify" themselves and they use the Mog Chothra ships to secure targets for eugenics testing or something. The game kind of skips over most of the exposition when it comes to their history, character, and motivations, confining it all to a single conversation with Vella before she fission bombs them back to the stone age.
The end result is that Shay is a useless boy, easily replaced, and isn't capable of resolving issues without his child toys. Vella is a strong black girl using death lasers and nuclear bombs to take on the (essentially) Aryan Establishment, who desperately want her blood so they can fix their failing genetic structure. The game ends when Vella melts both Mog Chothra ships together into a literal bridge between the "normal" world and the Plague Dam, offering no further information about what the characters do, or how the story ends.
If I wasn't so aware of Tim Schafer's personal politics, I'd almost assume it's unintentional, but it comes off as preachy, pretentious, and frustratingly lackluster.
The place where this game truly, truly fails... is the game-play. That's a cardinal sin in gaming.
Some of the puzzles for Broken Age are clever. They remind me of old-school gaming, where the solutions to problems generally involved the inventive use of a otherwise off-the-wall item to resolve issues. In the entirity of Broken Age, I'd say there's about a dozen examples of this and it works well for the game. The problem is the other several dozen puzzles, which are not intuitive, inventive, or explained. I'm going to save you all time right now and tell you that one of the puzzles in Act 2, regarding a Boa Constrictor, requires that you stop playing the game for three minutes and wait. The game does not tell you this and does not give an immediate or clear indication that the you should wait. It's not explained before this that the snake will get tired and fall off so you can collect him. It was only after getting frustrated and looking up what to do with the snake that I, and my friends, realized you had to stop playing the game for a few minutes to progress in it. Another cardinal sin.
The WORST PUZZLE IN THE GAME is a wiring puzzle, in which you have to rewire helper robots to perform different functions. This isn't easily explained, the instructions aren't listed in a spot that is easily accessed, and even then, they're not marked as instructions on how to fix up the robot. You have to perform this puzzle at least 5 TIMES, although that number skyrockets if you don't know what you're doing, and the answer is ALWAYS randomized, so you can't just look it up. Trying to figure out this rewiring puzzle easily took up over 45 minutes of my time before the game gave me a hint that the answer was somewhere in Vella's half of Act 2. It was another hour before I found the instructions and realized what they were for. The fact that I had to perform the rewiring puzzle another 4 times after this, for different robot "modes", was just lazy and not fun in the slightest.
The rest of the puzzles in the game either had really boring solutions (like raising/lowering the pH of a mixture, which was more time-consuming than difficult), or they were just run-of-the-mill item fetch quests for things that shouldn't be issues. Shay has a cupcake, at one point, with icing on it and you need to take the icing off, but Shay refuses to just take the icing off. Why the hell is this even an problem!?
This is a gorgeous game beset by a lot of gameplay and story issues. Double Fine CLEARLY rushed through development on Act 2 and it shows. There are massive plotholes, the game has no real ending, and the puzzles they set up are lazy in Act 2. The fact that Tim Schafer says this game is a success and he plans to do another kickstarter is reason enough not to support this game, especially after the SpaceBase debacle.
Game is pretty, but dumb and not fun at some parts. Save your money, buy a better adventure game.