Hewn handholds and knee-high hedges are there for a reason. Think of them as the worldwide baby-proofing done by game designers, who must ensure that their protagonist is able to make it from one side of the adventure to the other without getting lost, or fatally slamming against an unbeatable obstacle. It's an unrealistic tweaking of life, but there's no fun in Lara Croft going home because that one chasm was just too wide.

The hero of Bastion treads literally upon this convenient truth, with a path rising from the earth miles below and solidifying his journey, piece by piece. From a purely selfish standpoint, it's awfully nice to have proof that the world does evolve around you.

It's unclear what force has shattered the world, but its savior-to-be, The Kid, isn't in danger of getting lost amid the floating fragments that remain. If the quest expects you to go in a certain direction, an incomplete piece of land will signal you to approach and trigger the rise and assembly of a new environment. Acting as more than just a clever visual effect, it's an effective and immediate way to entangle you in the core of the story. It seems that nothing exists and nothing happens without your presence. You may be surprised to learn that the environment doesn't form according to a fancy, procedural algorithm. Developer Supergiant Games have done it the old-fashioned way, manually determining where and when tiles, trees and market stalls come flying up from below to form a vivid, hand-drawn realm. Bastion's seemingly anachronistic approach forms most of its charm, with the isometric viewpoint, simple combat, colorful enemies and youthful protagonist all unearthing memories of The Legend of Oasis and Swagman -- two Saturn games that were unusual in their disregard for the kind of 3D graphics that impressed everyone at the time.

As you wander the beautiful, broken world and attempt to restore The Bastion, a floating haven and potential remedy for the world's disjointed state, you're accompanied by the voice of an unseen storyteller. His gruff Eastwood twang sounds like it mandated a spittoon in the recording studio, though it never assumes a commanding tone -- it's friendly, reactive and draws the game's action and plot very closely together. Even an unprompted assault on crates and pots (the chronically mistreated bystanders of every quest) warrants a casual description. Either the narrator loves the sound of his own voice, or he has a deep appreciation for the smallest wrinkles in the tale.


Bastion's art and sheer earnestness make it easy to like, but I suspect the combat will push people straight into love and, if not, mild disappointment. It's Diablo-esque clobberin' busywork, with a steady stream of rewards in the form of items and XP, followed by new hammers, swords, bows, potions and guns. The slow-burn acquisition of skills and escalation of weaponry is, as always, good reward for beating a horde of enemies to a pulp, but if that payment isn't enough the sluggish fighting itself won't cover the deficit. The visual imagination seen in the enemies -- like the Scumbag, a rotund, stitched-together balloon with arms -- just doesn't carry over to the ways in which you defeat them, and the more resilient opponents don't put up a fiercer defense so much as they drag you into a battle of attrition.

Bastion does have one solution in mind: Visiting certain shrines allows The Kid to alter encounters across the game, boosting the difficulty in exchange for greater rewards. However, the problem isn't just tied to challenge -- the slow pacing and simplicity of the fights subdue excitement, even if there's a blip at the end when the XP comes spewing out. I'm willing to chalk this up to a slow start, though, and I expect the issue to be eroded by wily enemies, more powerful weapons and, of course, different expectations. Bastion isn't just about the combat.

It's about a kid -- the Kid -- who wakes up to find that the world has been smashed to bits. Despite my few reservations, I hope there'll be a great adventure in learning just how it all comes together.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.