Tag Archives: Vella

The full Broken Age, now with trickier, disheartening puzzles

broken age gd final thoughts

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.

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Broken Age’s first act clicks it big, but cliffhangs

Broken-Age-Act-I-SS-Girl-Dialog-Tree copy

Many moons ago, I got in on the hot Kickstarter action that Double Fine snowballed with their plans to make an old-school point-and-click adventure game. Well, a modern one of those, I mean. And since then, I’ve been following along dutifully with the game’s progression–codenamed Reds, truly named Broken Age–via the roughly monthly 2 Player Productions documentary videos, which do a fantastic job of showing how all the pieces ultimately come together to be a final product. Some of it is more interesting than other aspects, but regardless, it’s a rare glimpse into a process generally kept to the shadows. Kudos to Double Fine for being so open, as honest as allowed.

Let’s see, let’s see. Broken Age is, more or less, about death. Some people want it, some won’t ever get it, and some are brought up believing it is their destiny to die. To be more specific, it is about two young teenagers “seeking to break the tradition with their lives.” Vella Tartine is one of the lucky girls to be chosen as a human sacrifice for Mog Chothra, a monstrous, tentacle-tossing beast that eats up people at celebrated events called Maiden’s Feasts. Smartly, she has decided this is not how her life should go. On the flip side, or more like the space side, we have Shay Volta, a young boy living a very cushioned and solitude existence on a spaceship. That is until he meets Marek the wolf, who is probably just a man in wolf’s clothing. With Marek’s prodding, Shay begins to shake things up on the spaceship, which leads to a number of problems. The connection between Vella and Shay, other than thematic, is still not known, though Act 2 will most likely delve into this area of interest.

And so Double Fine set out to create a modern point-and-click adventure game harkening back to the kind Tim Schafer worked on many years ago. Alas, I’ve never played any of those: Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle, Maniac Mansion, Grim Fandango, and so on. I know, I know. They are all on my germinating to-do list. However, ever since I chipped in on the Kickstarter, I’ve begun playing a lot more adventure games, each of varying degrees of difficulty, and so I kind of know what they aiming for. That said, Broken Age is pretty easy. The puzzles are never overwhelming and obtuse–absolutely zero pixel hunting–and you only end up with a few items in your inventory and so many screens to explore at a single time. When you run out of ideas, just try every item on everything, and you’ll move forward. Also, ladders are vital. I got through Act 1 just fine, and that’s honestly okay, but I’d love to see more of a challenge in Act 2.

Obviously, Broken Age looks nothing like the games that came out twenty years ago. Though there is a way to unlock retro mode for the fuzzy-loving purists. It’s gorgeous, an absolute treat for the eyes, paintings come to life. The cute, colorful art style comes mainly from Nathan “Bagel” Stapley, and it really enforces the carrot-on-a-string trick of adventure games, where you often just want to see what the next area will look like. I enjoyed Vella’s locations more than Shay’s, but there’s a fantastic amount of detail here, and everything really does look like they exist in a singular world; the documentary vids reveal that, while Stapley did a majority of the art assets, others did work on repainting parts of some scenes, as well as probably other things. Don’t worry about any of that though, just lose yourself in the fluffy, floaty clouds.

Initially, I was put off with the announcement that Broken Age was being split into two separate acts, for financial and deadline-related reasons, all explained in the documentary vids. I mean, I think we can all agree that The Hobbit has suffered greatly from being sliced and diced, though it does work for episodic games like The Walking Dead, but only when it is clearly designed to be episodic. This was not the case, and for now, it’s a bit of a bummer that Broken Age‘s first act ends just as the plot comes together and really gets interesting. I’m sure once act two comes out and you can skip from one to the other in a single breath, it’ll be a much more solid experience. Until then, we’re left alone on a beach, jaws in the sand, waiting and wondering.

2014 Game Completed Comics, #14 – Broken Age (Act 1)

2014 games completed 14 - broken age act 1 facebook

Every videogame that I complete in 2014 will now get its very own wee comic here on Grinding Down. It’s about time I fused my art with my unprofessional games journalism. I can’t guarantee that these comics will be funny or even attempt to be funny. Or look the same from one to another. Some might even aim for thoughtfulness. Comics are a versatile form, so expect the unexpected.