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Broken Age Act One: Kickstarter's darling is a charming, shallow half-game

Hayden Dingman | Jan. 20, 2014
After all this time, it's finally here--the game that kickstarted Kickstarter, that brought crowdfunding to the mainstream. Once known only as Double Fine Adventure, then renamed Broken Age, it was a golden promise: point-and-click adventure legend Tim Schafer was going to take the gloves off the wall for one more fight, returning to the genre that made him famous with games like Grim Fandango and Day of the Tentacle.

And then we come to the puzzles — the other half of the adventure genre, and the part that's harder to get right.

Broken Age is easy. I say this as someone who is typically terrible at adventure games. I got stuck daily during The Longest Journey, and Secret of Monkey Island? Forget it, I got stuck on the first real puzzle.

Now, the act of "getting stuck" is subjective. The places where I'm going to get stuck are different than the places you'll get stuck, because you're not going to make the same connections I do.

But wow. Let me say it again: Broken Age is so easy. I got stuck once, and it was nothing a night away from the computer couldn't solve. I've seen people posting consistent numbers for how long this first half took them to beat, so I know it's not just me — four hours is the norm, with three for those who ran through the game and never bothered to interact with the (sparse) scenery or skipped over the voice acting because they read subtitles faster.

On the one hand, simplicity is good. One of the reasons point-and-click adventure games "died" to begin with was the absurd, opaque logic behind most of the puzzles. "How would I ever figure that out?" was a common refrain with those 90s LucasArts games.

There's a balance, though, and Broken Age feels a bit too much like Shay's "Baby's First Spaceship!" setting. Broken Age wants you to solve puzzles, but the solutions are often so glaringly obvious that there's no satisfaction when you've moved on — no "a-ha!" moment.

Once you remove the difficulty, adventure games play like one long, interactive film with a few dialogue choices. This can also make for a good game (see TellTale's output recently) but Broken Age's dialogue isn't a game in and of itself — it's simple dialogue trees, straight out of those classic adventure games. You go through each option one at a time, people say things, you listen. You're not making moral choices here, nor would I expect Broken Age to be that kind of game.

But what is offered...if you're coming to Broken Age because you want a challenging, wacky adventure game in the vein of Day of the Tentacle, you're going to be disappointed.

Personally, the story on offer was enough to keep me engaged even as I churned through the puzzles, but if you're coming to Tim Schafer's table hoping for a classic LucasArts adventure...well, just don't. Don't come to the game expecting that.

Bottom line
Broken Age gets a lot right — certainly enough that I'd call this Kickstarter story a success — but it's a shallow victory. "More" is the key word, here. I want more depth to the characters, more dialogue for incidental characters, more difficulty for puzzles, more objects to interact with.


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