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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Broken Age.

TranscriptEdit

Using my best swears to critically pan games like Call of Duty: Ghosts is like flinging perfectly good cake rolls at a brick wall; you can pan that shit like a Colorado river but it's gonna make its money back anyway! And while that was frustrating enough, Kickstarter has allowed Double Fine to take things to a whole new sodding level!

Tim Schafer said "I'd quite like to get back to my roots and make adventure games like Grim Fandango and Day of the Tentacle" and everyone said "Good idea, here's $3.5m!" So we have a game that was successful before it was even fucking released! Before anyone even knew if it was good! Tim Schafer could've released a fucking escape-the-room flash game and it would've made the money! He could've released Space Quest IV, or Leather Goddesses of Phobos 2, or a pile of owl droppings on the end of a length of rope and made the money back! And as a critic, that's worrying, but at the same time slightly liberating, to know that nothing I say about Broken Age matters widdly-wong. Hey, Broken Age is a game about the life of a brine shrimp swimming up a stream of piss! It isn't really! But you don't care, do you? You've already bought it!

My problem with Kickstarter is that no-one knows what they want until they've got it. I didn't know I wanted, say, Driver: San Francisco until I had it, and then I wanted the shit out of it, but if you'd asked me beforehand if I wanted a game that played like Miami Vice got Quantum Leap stuck up its bum, I'd've told you to stick a few other things up its bum. If you ask people what they want, they'll say they want the things they already like, which goes nowhere. But Kickstarter is basically built on appealing to that stubborn desire to wallow in a nostalgic comfort zone like a dolphin in Mother's homemade custard.

Having said all that, for a game founded on nostalgia for '90s adventure games like Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle, Broken Age is less reminiscent of those, wherein you'd build instructions from verb lists to solve arcane puzzles while exploring a lovingly-crafted environment that has funny dialogues like a triple-cunted hooker has pubic lice in that you're still finding new ones after three or four run-throughs, and more reminiscent of the modern-style adventure games, wherein you walk to a thing, click on the thing, and then get a trophy for clicking on the thing.

Not that Donkey Island or Day of the Testicle had unimpeachable gameplay; yeah, some of those verbs got a bit redundant, and the pacing would grind to a halt while you sought the thread of logic that starts with stabbing an inflatable clown doll and ends with an Egyptian mummy winning a beauty contest, but Broken Age is at the other extreme; I breezed though the whole thing without stopping because solutions were obvious the second every piece was in play.

My eyes rolled like a fucking ferris wheel when one of the first inventory items you acquire is a remote-controlled toy robot with four flexible grabbing arms, because this is an object whose existence makes no sense within story context; why would a fussy parent leave a child alone with a grabbing device that can only possibly lead to severe eyeball injury or a premature sexual awakening? No, its only purpose is to provide a witheringly contrived solution to a blitheringly specific problem later on. All I'm saying is that the '90s adventure games I remember would probably have made us assemble such a thing ourselves from an electric wheelchair, a handful of eels, and four freshly-severed limbs.

But the gameplay of adventure games is like the little diseased, withered limb on an elm tree; story is the trunk, dialogue is the leaves, and character is the newly-in-love couple breathlessly giving each other one at its base. Broken Age is a game about breaking routine and broadening your horizons (ironically, Kickstarter backers.) It's divided between Shay, a teenage boy alone on a spaceship with a computer that smothers him with affection while ensuring he cannot leave, and Vella. a teenage girl in an idyllic village community whose family are planning to sacrifice her to a Lovecraftian nightmare, in which case, Shay should probably just fucking suck it up.

You can switch between the characters freely, but the stories never affect each other so there's no bloody point unless you're a film student and want to practice creating an edit on the fly. It's only at the very end that you learn how the stories are connected, and what I liked is that that game kind of wrong-foots you about it, letting you think at various points that maybe Vella might be Shay's mum, or Shay is Vella's carpet fitter and– no, wait, maybe Vella is Shay going through an awkward phase! The eventual end-of-act reveal is intriguing and well-executed like the guillotining of Alfred Hitchcock.

I did Shay fist, and that was probably smart because his is the far stronger of the two stories; there's a very "Schaferian" juxtaposition going on with the light and colourful chocolate-box playroom environment, mined with the unexpected coffee creams of sinister undertone: the borders of the prison are blurry; you wonder whether Shay is escaping from it or just digging into another layer of fantasy and hazelnut clusters; if you will, a sort of "I have no mouth, and I eat ice cream" [laughs] Critic-critic, smarm-smarm! Most importantly, it's cohesive. What is Shay's issue? He's trapped in a prison with a mad computer. How do we resolve this issue? We escape from the prison. There! A universal story for the ages we can all get behind!

Meanwhile, Vella's story is a mess, like a forgotten 2 A.M. kebab. What is Vella's issue? She wants to stop a giant monster from attacking her people. How do we resolve this issue? Not a fucking clue! We faced it at the start of the story and were completely helpless, so let's just bumble around some villages hoping it'll show up again, and we can think of a way to kill it. And we do! At the last moment, a method for killing the monster conveniently plops from the game's bum. And if you're going to deus ex machina, go all out, guys! Have a giant Tim Schafer descend from the clouds and piddle all over it!

And it's hard to want to help Vella's people when they're all perfectly content to appease the monster but also don't lift a finger to stop Vella from killing it. What a dynamic fucking bunch! "That's the joke!", I hear you argue. "Then why aren't I laughing?", I retort. It makes me think sadly of Grim Fandango, where there were characters who made me laugh and had agendas and relationships and lives outside of standing in one place reciting expository dialogue and exchanging gifts for contrived puzzle solutions.

So at the end of all that, I'm into Broken Age enough to want the second act; it might've been a mistake to split them up because this seems like a story that only comes together once you've got the full picture, but it's not as engrossing as Grim Fandango and not as laugh-out-loud, roommate-irritatingly hilarious as Psychonauts. Maybe I should judge it by its own merits and stop dragging in comparisons to older games? Maybe, but the game was fucking funded on nostalgia for those older games. It's like saying "you can't expect a racehorse to run as fast as his dad did." Then why did you charge so much for his spunk!?

AddendaEdit

  • Yearning to breathe free: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • So when the second bit comes out are they gonna call it Come Back Together Again Age
  • Well having said all that I now quite fancy a kebab

ScreenshotsEdit

Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells · Fifth Console Generation · The End is Nigh, and Yonder: Cloud Catcher Chronicles · Pyre · Splatoon 2 · Hellblade · Agents of Mayhem · Sonic Mania · Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle · Destiny 2 · Metroid: Samus Returns
Q4 Knack 2 and SteamWorld Dig 2 · Cuphead · Hob and A Hat in Time

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