At Tim Schafer’s urging, I restarted Broken Age entirely once “Act 2” was released last month. I hadn’t touched the game since I burned through “Act 1” in 2014, so it made sense to refresh myself on the minor story beats, seeing as Act 1’s doozy of a cliffhanger closing has stayed bouncing around in my mind all this time. Magically, I remembered the majority of solutions to puzzles and dialogue navigation, so the first chunk of the game didn’t take too long to get through once again. Plus, the full game now comes stocked with Achievements to pop, many of which are rewarded for exploring all options, something I do often in adventure games.
Look, here’s the thing. I’m a backer of Broken Age. I did not contribute much to the Kickstarter–in fact, I got in on the action after Double Fine already met its goal–but I was still one of many that helped bring this adventuring air bubble to the surface. I feel a closeness to it, a connection, certainly reinforced by watching the documentary as each unfiltered episode was released, seeing the problems and answers to game development unfold. It’s a special game, and while I loved the story from beginning to end, especially the vibrant, unique characters, I just found myself depressed over the spike in puzzle difficulty for the second half.
Because I hold the story in such high regards, I will spoil very little of it here. For those that don’t know what the four-one-one is, let me steal some words from Broken Age‘s official website:
Broken Age is a timeless coming-of-age story of barfing trees and talking spoons. Vella Tartine and Shay Volta are two teenagers in strangely similar situations, but radically different worlds. The player can freely switch between the characters and their individual stories, helping them take control of their own lives, and dealing with the unexpected adventures that follow.
Right. Let’s talk about puzzles. In the first half of Broken Age–and yes, it is hard to think of the game as a single entity after it was cut in half to get it out to the public even though now one can play it and never realize that there ever was a cliffhanger to hang on to for months–the majority of the puzzles involved using an item on something. Pretty typical point-and-click adventuring stuff, and occasionally you’d have to navigate through some specific dialogue lines or combine items with one another. The number of screens and people to interact with for both Shay and Vella were severely limited or doled out in small chunks to not overwhelm players.
Once Broken Half‘s second half starts, the puzzles raise the difficulty up to eleven. That’s a Spinal Tap reference, I think. I’m not even kidding when I reveal that I couldn’t get past Vella’s first screen, eventually having to look up an answer. It turns out that this puzzle required you clicking on a specific part of the rope, whereas all previous puzzles never asked for such specificity. I figured just highlighting the rope would’ve been enough, but nope. Later on, there’s another rope puzzle that I’ve seen many on the Interwebz complain about, but I actually got through it just fine, as well as found it amusing. The puzzles I really struggled with involved wiring Hexipals for various purposes, as well as tricking someone into believing Vella was somebody else. Both involved a lot of remembering numerous, highly specific details and backtracking. They are also randomized and tiresome, and it is extremely frustrating when you know what you need to do, but can’t do it because you can’t remember if the boy in that faded family picture is wearing red or green shoes.
That all said, I do think Broken Age is a good game, if not the most fun to play during the later parts. Go to it for the characters and dialogue and the jokes you get to tell a barfing tree. Don’t be afraid to try those chatty utensils are everything and everyone, as some of the best writing is hidden in their responses. I urge you to look up puzzle solutions for the later section of the game, if only to remain in the world and see how everything ends. I do have to wonder if this made any non-fans of point-and-click adventure games into fans or if it was just a one-off for them. Time will tell, and you never know…maybe in twenty years–y’know, after adventure games are claimed dead and done once again–we’ll get another crowd-funded game from Schafer & Company. I’ll play it, but no more wire-based puzzles please.