By Tyler Grezaffi
You gaze into a painting.
Such a simple, still object can spark so many reactions. It can tell a story. It can evoke a range of emotions. It can give the mind much to ponder. And what more would happen if that painting leapt into motion? What if a melody played from it? If you could, I don’t know, click it with a mouse? Tim Schafer and Double Fine Productions make this all come true in the form of a new point-and-click adventure game for PC.
In 2012, video game company Double Fine launched a Kickstarter campaign in order to fund the creation of a new point-and-click adventure game. A genre that tends to focus more on characters, story, and puzzle solving, it was recently thought dead and is often avoided by large publishing companies since the late ‘90s due to low sales. But the creative minds behind Grim Fandango, Monkey Island, and Full Throttle recognized in fans a longing for a return to the genre. Their goal was a modest $300,000 for production. Fans responded by giving a total of nearly $3.5 million.
Enter Broken Age. After a total of three years in development, the PC received its newest entry into adventure on April 28.
The aforementioned painting was not just for dramatic effect. Upon starting the game, it appears to show a painting of an adolescent boy and girl each in completely different worlds. That’s because everything seen in the game is actually painted by hand and later animated with the help of programmers. The result is an already unique world made even more immersive with each stroke of a paint brush; layered on top are subtle, but welcome, particle effects of light and fog that make the two worlds come alive.
As with many of Schafer’s past adventure games, story takes precedent over today’s usual fast-paced, nail-biting gameplay. The focus is on two main characters: Shay (voiced by Elijah Wood), a boy raised alone on a spaceship with an over-pampering mother computer; and Vella (voiced by Masasa Moyo), a village girl who is given the “great honor” of being sacrificed to a great monster for the sake of tradition; yet their parallel fates seem intertwined in some way.
This may seem like a heavy storyline, but much like previous games such as Monkey Island, hilarious moments and unexpected occurrences await the player in nearly every situation. Among a cast of hipster lumberjacks, dramatic talking trees, and an entire colony of people living in the clouds, I did not come across a single character that didn’t truly contribute to the game. And with appearances by Jack Black, Wil Wheaton, and the great Jennifer Hale, the characters come to life in a way that makes it hard not to smile in between the moments of laughter. The dialogue of the electronic, talking spoon is worth at least one play-through alone.
The gameplay mainly revolves around solving situational puzzles in order to advance the two main characters’ storylines. Players are also able to switch between each character at any point, making puzzle fatigue less of a problem than previous games of this type. If stuck or simply curious about what is happening in the other storyline, the other world is just a click away. This can also enhance the connections between Vella and Shay in order to better understand how their storylines mirror one another, and can sometimes provide hints to problems on the other side. Double Fine does a great job at nudging the player in the right direction to avoid frustration without simply handing them the answer.
Music and sound quality is the lynchpin in Broken Age. Tunes recorded with a true orchestra range from grand rolling melodies to match the open hills of Vella’s hometown of Sugar Bunting, to soft almost crib-like lullabies that set the tone for Shay’s bedroom. The range is enormous, and in most situations, simply sitting and listening is a delight.
Should you have a habit of speeding through games for the sake of beating it, this may not be the best choice for you. Broken Age is short and sweet and meant to be savored. The quality of voice acting alone is worth sitting and listening for the unexpected things they may say. Rushing to simply get to the end of Broken Age would be along the lines of sprinting from the entrance to the exit of the Louvre screaming “I did it!” It’s worth standing in front of that painting to take a moment, breathe, and click New Game.