Broken Age Review: Delightful But Disinterested
Broken Age tells the story of two young people who come into their own, defying the will of their respective parental figures, making decisions for themselves and risking failure.
It’s a fair allegory for developer Double Fine itself, and the story of the creation of Broken Age. Funded by a record-setting Kickstarter back in 2012, the project sees Double Fine striking out specifically without the backing (or meddling) of a publisher. Broken Age sees the developer returning its big-name talent like Tim Schafer to the genre that first brought him acclaim, with no mandates except for Double Fine to make what it wants, how it wants to make it.
So it’s interesting that Broken Age often feels a little thin. Despite its strange and interesting parallel stories, one set aboard a space ship, the other in a less technologically savvy terrestrial society, Broken Age feels like it’s holding back. Its lead characters are flat and maybe even a little disinterested, its puzzles are usually pretty straightforward, and its stories present locations and characters that pop up for one or two lines and seem to fall directly into irrelevancy.
With the chains of publisher tyranny broken, one would think Double Fine would have taken more risks, but Broken Age instead feels like playing it safe.
That’s not to say that Double Fine hasn’t brought its trademark polish and delight to Broken Age, though. The game’s pervasively beautiful art sets a tone that’s echoed throughout in vibrant colors and textures, and it carries a simplicity and ease of play that makes it instantly accessible. Like other point-and-click adventure games, it’s all about solving puzzles by tracking down the right object for the job, and you only need to mouse around a scene to find the right, usually pretty obvious, things to click on.
This is actually only the first half of Broken Age, the game’s first act, and within that framework are two stories that players can switch between freely (although you may never find a need to do so). The first follows Vella, a young girl living in the pastry making town of Sugar Bunting, who is about to be sacrificed to a giant monster called Mog Chathra — a great honor, everyone tells her, but a role she’s understandably none too happy with.
When it finally comes time to be offered up to the huge Mog at the “Maiden’s Feast,” Vella opts out, much to the chagrin and dishonor of her family, and so begins a journey to try to destroy the creature to protect her village. Along the way, she stumbles through a number of goofy locales and across their inhabitants, like a cult that lives on clouds (led by a somewhat shockingly underplayed guru voiced by Jack Black) or a paranoid woodworker who hears trees scream as he chops them (voiced by Wil Wheaton and my second-favorite character in the game).