After a seemingly endless wait — which ended up being a little over a year — Tim Schafer and Double Fine Productions finally completed Broken Age, their crowdfunded point-and-click adventure game. Previously I reviewed Act I of the title. This review is for the complete product.
In Broken Age, you control two teenage characters. Shay is living on a spaceship that meets his every need — washing him, dressing him, feeding him, and thinking up juvenile rescue missions for him to complete (such as rescuing sock puppets from a runaway train). His home is literally a mothership, just not in the way you usually think of one. Meanwhile, Vella is living in the peaceful town of Sugar Bunting — except it’s time for all of the towns in the region to make their sacrifices to Mog Chothra, and she’s trying her best to avoid becoming monster chow. These two storylines don’t have anything in common at the start of the game, but they eventually intersect in Act II, where you have to help Shay and Vella reach their happy endings.
Broken Age is played using a friendly point-and-click interface. Left clicking allows you to move your character and interact with the current scene’s hotspots, including people to talk to and objects to pick up or examine. Right clicking brings up your inventory panel, including a button to switch characters. For most of the game Shay and Vella aren’t in contact with each other, so switching between them isn’t required for any puzzles. It’s just there if you get stuck while playing one and want to try out the other for a while.
The majority of the puzzles in Broken Age are inventory-based, where you pick up objects and then have to figure out how and where to use them. The inventory objects are always easy to find. Double Fine didn’t try to add difficulty to the game by hiding things in dark corners, so solving the puzzles is just a matter of being thorough plus smart — or warped — enough to see how things relate to each other. Nicely, Double Fine added in a lot of responses for trying objects in the wrong places, and you can find a lot of amusement, for example, by using the talking silverware you find at every conceivable hotspot.
The puzzles in Act I of Broken Age were pretty easy, to the point where that was my main complaint about the game. In Acts II and III, the going is a little tougher. The puzzles aren’t as obvious, some are misleading (like a knot-unraveling puzzle), and others require information only available to the character you’re not playing. I actually got stuck a couple of times and had to seek out some help. As a result of the added difficulty, it took me about twice as long to play Acts II and III as it did Act I, and so the entire game took me about 12 hours to complete, which is just right for an adventure game.
Acts II and III are also different in that they’re darker than the first act. Act I was a total charmer, with amusing dialogue and cheery colors — as long as you didn’t think too much about the towns sacrificing girls to Mog Chothra. But in Acts II and III, the trajectory of the story is revealed, and it involves sort of a fantasy version of the Nazis, complete with their own set of Holocaustian ideals. This just seemed wrong for what is otherwise a bright and happy adventure, especially since the game introduces and ignores the darker themes at the same time, which is a little off-putting.
To better effect is the game’s graphics and sound. Double Fine used simple 2D locations and characters, but the artistry is colorful and detailed, and the faces of the characters are expressive, so everything looks just fine. Meanwhile, the voice acting is terrific, and it includes solid work by Elijah Wood, Jack Black, and Jennifer Hale (aka female Shepherd from the Mass Effect games). There isn’t anything wrong with the production values of the game.
Overall, Broken Age is a fine game. It has some thematic issues, with dark — and perhaps inappropriate — content hiding behind its cheery facade, but otherwise it has everything you might want in an adventure game: characters you can root for, reasonable puzzles, and an entertaining playing experience. Plus, who could possibly dislike a game that includes the slogan “Cupcakes Against Lies”?
Reviewed By: Steven Carter
Publisher: Double Fine Productions
This review is based on a digital copy of Broken Age for the PC provided by Double Fine Productions.