Broken Age will be released in two parts. We plan on doing a formal review once it is complete. Until then, here are our impressions of the first episode.
If I took a lesson out of the first act of Double Fine's Broken Age, it's that we control our own fate. It's a theme that the game proudly sees through from the beginning of both of its concurrently-running stories, all the way to its cliffhanger ending. It's a wonderful story of dual destinies, all cleverly tied together in gripping, emotional, and humorous fashion.
Vella lives in a peaceful village, where all appears to be well on the surface--all except for a looming monster called Mog Chothra that feeds on human sacrifices held during its Maiden's Feast. Vella is the chosen sacrifice, but her story is about a refusal to blindly accept her fate. In sabotaging her sacrifice, Vella sets out to change the world and come of age on her own terms. Meanwhile, Shay's story is slightly different. He lives aboard a spaceship of manufactured safety, where daily "missions" unfold like something out of preschool television. Like Vella, his story is about finding the meaning of growing up and finding himself against a computer that seeks to imprison him in perpetual childhood.
Broken Age is an engaging narrative that unfolds with classic adventure game mechanics. It's point-and-click at its most basic: players click on characters for conversations, pick up random items, and find practical applications for each one to move the story forward. Fans of classics like like Grim Fandango and the Monkey Island series will feel right at home.
All of the puzzles are simple to solve at first glance, but some are just obtuse enough to require a fair amount of thought. The idea of combining inventory items to craft a solution is a brilliant one, even if it takes a moment to realize that this is a viable tactic. Only once did I truly find myself at a loss to the point that I had to do some serious backtracking, but for the most part, Broken Age unfolded at a brisk pace with enough puzzles to leave me feeling engaged.
Just like the aforementioned classics, Broken Age features entertaining dialogue at every turn. Every character is given witty and engaging dialogue, made better by some truly memorable voice over performances. I found myself laughing at a good number of them, like Vella and Curtis the Lumberjack's conversation about stools or Vella listening to a talking tree's lament about humanity's treatment of wood. I can't imagine anyone not getting a smile out of Broken Age's script.
Players can switch between both Vella and Shay's stories, but given that each tale lasts a couple of hours, there's no real reason or incentive to do so. If anything, switching back and forth does more to disrupt the mood set by each individual story. Once you get into the groove set by Vella's journey to kill Mog Chothra or Shay's mission to escape his overbearing computer, you'll want to see those stories through to the end.
I'm amazed by how well Broken Age has pulled off its double narrative. The first act leaves just enough mystery to put together some thoughtful discussions, while waiting for the climactic ending that the game is building to. It's a story that Double Fine should be proud of, and one that should satisfy its numerous Kickstarter backers.
This review is based on downloadable PC code provided by the publisher. Broken Age: Act One will be available digitally on January 28 on PC and Mac for $22.49. The game is not rated.