It’s hard to pick up a game months after you last played it and know what the heck is going on. Most people would rather start over than try to figure out what they were supposed to do or where they had to go next. With Broken Age, players didn’t have a choice. The adventure game debuted in January 2014 as Part 1 of 2, so those who started playing it then (including me) had to sit back for over a year before we could see the second half of the story.
The wait was definitely worth it.
When I played Part 1, I adored the characters and the predicament they got themselves in. Vella Tartine was a young girl about to be sacrificed to Mog Chothra, a giant monster coming to destroy her confection-proud home of Sugar Bunting unless the townspeople offered up their maidens to be eaten. Vella had other ideas. She wasn’t about to be monster chow without a fight. So she gave one… and escaped unscathed only to find herself far from home.
Shay Volta was a young boy living a too-safe and too-boring existence aboard a spaceship, where his daily interactions consisted of listening to talking kitchen utensils, playing games with excitable yarn people, and suffering the coddling of his mother, who appeared to him as a giant yellow sun face on a computer screen. When a mysterious wolf appeared onboard and gave him a special mission, Shay leapt at the chance of adventure, oblivious to what it truly entailed.
Not normal childhoods by any means. Both Vella and Shay sought to escape the fates written for them, and both succeeded, finding themselves in a whole new heap of trouble by the end of Part 1. Boy met girl, girl tried to punch boy, and then boy and girl switched lives.
That ended the adventure last year, but now players can finally finish it. Continuing where you left off, though, might be a challenge. I remember Part 1’s puzzles being relatively normal in difficulty for an adventure game. In other words, they took a lot of trial and error but weren’t too insensible. Part 2 (not that these “parts” exist anymore now that the game is complete) is a lot harder and at times incredibly frustrating. Many of my issues this time stemmed from forgetting where I could go even though I had been everywhere before. A year is a long time to spend away, so when I started Part 2, I neglected whole sections of the map because I forgot they existed. Shay’s spaceship isn’t too big a place, but Shellmound and the surrounding forest and cloud village are a lengthy trek from end to end.
At least being able to switch between Vella’s and Shay’s stories with a click of the mouse offered me a small reprieve. It was helpful to look at a different set of problems whenever I got too stuck.
I might have forgotten the smaller corners of Broken Age’s world, but I remembered the characters well. The story makes up for every frustration and elevates the puzzle-solving to an enjoyable task even when you’re aggravated and out of ideas. You grow to love the characters, with their humor and quirky animations (made better by Broken Age’s painterly style)—like the talking, barfing tree that hates humans or the hipster lumberjack Curtis. And the thread uniting Vella’s and Shay’s situations is strong. They’re more than two teenagers who go looking for danger. They find purpose through exposing the lies in their cultures, bringing people together, and inspiring others to act toward positive change. They are bigger than themselves.
Vella is an especially progressive character, unafraid of a challenge, bold enough to be herself, and able to throw a punch with the best of them. She never lets her gender get in the way of what she’s able to do or say, and the other characters don’t treat her any different. She’s equally (if not more) as capable as Shay at saving the day, and she leaves a remarkable impact on those she meets, including her own family. Vella’s story is about revolution—saving herself and her people and leading them into a better future by encouraging them to stand up and fight for it. She sets her sights on what’s ahead even though she has to leave her family behind.
While Vella left Sugar Bunting in Part 1, Part 2 gives Shay the chance to explore outside his spaceship for the first time in his life. He gets to experience a world that was long denied to him, but his maturity shows in the way he helps others and tries to get his family back together so they can finally go home. In doing so, he helps Vella reunite with hers. The parallels between these two characters make for a richer, deeper story overall.
I can forgive Double Fine for making me wait this long for a story this good. It’s hard to talk about Broken Age without spoiling it—what happens in the middle changes everything for the characters, allowing them to experience the world from a different perspective when no one else can (or will). It’s easy to love the characters you meet: little dancing Hexipals, the adorable Rocky making cupcakes in the shape of her missing sister, and a dreamy-eyed navigational robot whose yarn-weaving takes us across space.
You even come to admire the way Shay and Vella look totally calm even though their world is falling apart. Because you know they’re going to fix it.
Broken Age is available for PlayStation 4, PS Vita, PC, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, and Ouya. This review is based on the PC version.
Stephanie Carmichael writes about video games, comics, and books when she’s not helping teachers and students have fun together with Classcraft, an educational RPG. Find her on her blog or on Twitter.
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