When it comes to Point-and-Click Graphic Adventure games, Tim Schafer has always been a significant pillar for the genre, being involved in some of the most critically acclaimed titles throughout his career with LucasArts. The Secret of Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle, Grim Fandango; we haven’t seen an original Adventure game reach the same amount of praise and recognition that those titles managed to obtain during the ‘90s, leading people to believe that the genre as a whole would never be explored again. However, I can safely say that it isn’t the case anymore with how the complete Broken Age adventure turns out to be. Not only was it one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns of all-time, raising over three million dollars for the cause, but Broken Age is also one of the most beautiful story-driven games I have ever experienced. It has all the right components of an old-school Point-and-Click experience, but has that modern tone, feel and look that makes you forget about the dated, passive nature of the genre with its gorgeous aesthetics, clever puzzles, relatable characters and genuinely enthralling writing.
Opting to tell the story of two characters whom stories intertwine with each other along their respective journeys, Broken Age is a highly captivating take on a “coming-of-age” story, where the main protagonists have the opportunity to take control of their destiny and make a change for the better. On one end, there’s Shay, a teenage boy trying to break out of the boring routine lifestyle he has been forced to deal with his entire life aboard a spaceship that provides his everyday needs, and on the other end there’s Vella, a teenage girl seeking to become more than just a mere sacrificial pawn for the humongous Mog Chothra creature to protect her village.
It doesn’t seem like much looking at it from an outside perspective, but once you get into the personality changes of the characters, key plot points and narrative payout, Broken Age’s storytelling becomes unlike anything you have ever experienced. Yes, it’s wacky at times and may not deliver the satisfying conclusion you would come to expect, but it makes sense in Tim Schafer’s quaint vision for Broken Age, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I found this Adventure game to have a lot more of an emphasis on character interaction than any other experience in the same vein, with new dialogue trees constantly popping up as you learn more detail from the characters. While it does have you listening to dialogue segments for a lengthy amount of time, I was still genuinely entertained and captivated by what they had to say because you need that information to help you out on your journey, just like any Adventure game for the fact of the matter.
While the parallel lives aspect is certainly one of the key features in Broken Age’s plot, it’s the characters’ personalities — main and supporting — that makes it so memorable. Not only is the writing hilarious (laugh-out-loud funny at times) and creative, but the ensemble voice cast present in the game, including personalities like Elijah Wood, Masasa Moyo, Jack Black, Wil Wheaton and Jennifer Hale, makes each character feel real and authentic in this painting-come-to-life world. Every single character you encounter as Shay or Vella is whimsical in its own unique ways, and brings out an effective, relatable story arc to the entire experience. Shay and Vella certainly depict the story of teenagers becoming adults and taking responsibility for their actions. They are both strong and empathetic, which is something that a lot of younger players will be able to relate with as they go about the 10-hour-long journey.
What makes Broken Age come together as such an aesthetically pleasing game is definitely due to the emotion it leaves you with after capturing your attention with a certain background, area or theme song. Just its style alone brings out a sense of characterization to the entire reality, which comes to no surprise as both the art style and musical score of this adventure are absolutely fantastic, with artists and composer who have worked with Schafer in the past joining forces in this effort. The soothing arrangements for each character and the quick, up-beat tracks when the action kicks in truly capture the substance of Broken Age’s world, while the cartoony, hand-drawn style fits with the game’s lighthearted tone, despite fleshing out a plot with relatively serious themes.
The reason why Adventure games are such unique experiences is because of the brilliant puzzle design that goes along with the narrative. Broken Age is no exception, but it does so in a way that is really unique and clever. Broken Age consistently tells you what you have to do in order to move on to the next scene, but the path to get there is entirely up to you, encouraging exploration, interacting with NPCs for little hints and tips, and trial and error with the items that make it into your inventory. The characters have a different answer for every combination you decide to try out, even if it doesn’t make sense ultimately. This makes every item obtained have some sort of convenient nature, and has you constantly interacting with the environments and objects to see what will come out of the action. It’s not about pixel hunting like it used to be in the past, but more of interpreting the slightest detail in the world in creative ways to find the solution to the puzzles.
While your objectives are little clearer in Broken Age, it doesn’t mean that the puzzles are simple and easy to complete. If fact, there are quite a few “head scratchers” that will leave you wondering how would anyone figure this out on their own, as you feel like you have tried everything that is possible. While the “figuring out” part is one of the many reasons why Adventure games are so great, it can be frustrating to be stuck in the same spot for hours on end, leading to you looking up the answer in a guide because you just want to make a little bit of progress. It’s quite disappointing to see that there isn’t an in-game hint system present to help out players in need instead of removing all sense of immersion when they hunt the solution outside of the game. Just the slightest clue would’ve made puzzles feel like less frustrating chores when they stump you. That said, the answers to the puzzles always make sense in some sort of weird and interesting ways, further enhancing the experience’s cleverness. You truly feel like a genius when you accomplish something in Broken Age, and the satisfaction that accompanies this feeling is indescribable.
The title also takes advantage of the fact that it has two playable characters by having puzzles that require exploring one side of the story to uncover an important element that will help you figure out the solution in the other character’s world. This is mostly used in the final portion of the game, but provides a level of depth to puzzle solving that has never been established in other Adventure games. This will definitely baffle you if you don’t think outside of the box.
Broken Age simply proves that the Adventure games are still relevant in this iteration and sequel-heavy industry. It may be a niche genre that hasn’t been fleshed out in interesting ways in over 15 years, but when you have characters, aesthetics and puzzles that can resonate with old and new players, you cannot use its unique concept to diminish it from other high-quality titles on the market. Broken Age is an indie-developed project with AAA production values all around that may or may not inspire you in a peculiar manner, and just furthers the statement that video games are an art form after all. Tim Schafer, all the people at Double Fine, and the 87,000+ Kickstarter backers should be proud of what they have created, as Broken Age ranks alongside some of the most important Adventure games of all-time.
Original Author: Maxime Chiasson