BASTION / Warner Bros. / PC
Bastion's art style and "world revival" theme takes a lot of cues from Legend of Mana, but the gameplay is more a mishmash of old isometric adventures like Landstalker and Light Crusader with the controls of an FPS. Though apparently this is yet another one of those "underdog" (I can't bring myself to say "indie" when its published by Warner) titles that everyone loves, it's that control and gameplay that drove me away from it after only a few hours.
You play as a little 90s-Squaresoft-lookin' character called only The Kid, and he wakes up with no further ado in the midst of The Calamity. Apparently, when he went to bed, it was a peaceful world, but now it's floating in the sky and also crumbling. You'll make your way to the Bastion, apparently the last place fortified against all the evil spirits roaming about, and try to rebuild the world from there by finding Cores in various dungeons.
You gain EXP as you kill beasties and level up, which increases max HP, but otherwise each dungeon is a self-contained experience. You move the Kid with WASD and aim a reticule freely with the mouse, with the left button swinging a melee weapon and the right firing a range weapon (you get to pick from a selection that you'll find along the way.) He's also got a Shield that makes his front nearly impervious when Shift is held, and the Q button uses your currently selected Super Ability, of which you only get limited charges. You can also do a dodge-roll with the Space bar.
This gameplay style is fine when the game is at a moderate pace, but Bastion is all about mobbing you with shit tons of enemies (that often also have super-long life bars), and spawning them right on top of you constantly. All the required rolling, blocking, shooting and whatever else just gets too frenetic for the PC keyboard setup in the midst of these ridiculously long, ridiculously enemy-filled firefights. The Xbox 360 pad is an option (if you have one) and feels considerably more intuitive, but still leaves you with the problem of dragging the reticule about with the right analog stick. And often you're just so mobbed that even if your muscle memory for every one of the game's moves is mapped and perfect, you're still taking a shit ton of cheap hits anyway just due to the sheer bulk of enemies and projectiles all over the place.
The funny thing is, the game isn't *hard*. The designers seemed to realise that they didn't balance the game very well, so their presumably last-minute solution was just to throw shit tons of healing potions and extra "super weapon" charges at you whenever things get hairy. The end result is that you feel like you're just kind of bulldozing mindlessly through it all.
I've seen fans of the game grudgingly acknowledge this flaw, but claim that the narration and storytelling redeems the experience entirely. That didn't work for me. The narrator - apparently the most beloved quality - is almost a dead ringer for Ron Perlman doing his "Waaar" speech at the beginning of the Fallout games, save that he has more of a Southern/Beatnik affect in this one. In fact, I was shocked to find out it *wasn't* Ron Perlman, just apparently some relatively unknown dude who sounds uncannily like him. From the beginning I felt the whole corn-pone thing was laid on a bit thick, and it only gets more grating as the game goes on since he just *keeps doing it forever and constantly.*
It extends to the soundtrack with its weird fusion of Western steel guitar twang and stuff that sounds like Asian Dub Foundation ... just not as good as either. Aesthetically, frankly, the game is a complete mess. The "Squaresoft in watercolor" hand-drawn art clashes with the pastel-y, Flash-y sprite work and the "Disgaea random dungeon" level background style. All of this goes on to further clash with Mr. Take 'Er Easy There Dude narrator and the Asian Twang Foundation soundtrack. And then there's the story. The characters are barely characterized at all, so it's very difficult to care about them, or about the fate of some world that's apparently just a colorful amalgam of random junk inhabited by a bunch of Flash game spirits.
Bastion is a mess. An intriguing mess, and one worth checking out at the right price (like a Humble Bundle donation where you get better games along with it to soften the blow.) But a mess nonetheless, and probably overrated by most of the critical reviews to this point. I'll give it a 3/5 just because it wasn't *bad*, and I'm notably cranky in my old age, but halfway through it I just said to myself "You know, I'm honestly enjoying absolutely nothing about this" and uninstalled it. Which is fitting for the Legend of Mana lineage, because that was pretty much exactly my experience with that game as well.