Broken age is the result of Double Fine’s pioneering Kickstarter project which set out to allow point-and-click maestro Tim Schafer to resume work in this neglected genre. This is significant even if it doesn’t directly affect Broken Age, because most gamers will have at least heard of the likes of Monkey Island, Grim Fandango, or Full Throttle. Expectations are there, and I don’t plan on ignoring those even in the spirit of being objective. Is that fair? Possibly not, but the Kickstarter was built on those expectations, the game was funded on them. It doesn’t change my opinion of the game, but I will be referring to past glories.
That was an ominous start, I admit. Don’t worry, I’m not going to spend four paragraphs slating Broken Age because it isn’t as funny as Monkey Island or Day of the Tentacle (it’s not), or as stylish as Full Throttle or Grim Fandango (it’s not). It’s a departure from past glories, and quite rightly so since a long time has passed since this kind of game was last made.
So what is it then? Well, it’s a clever and imaginative point-and-click, refined for the 21st century rather than re-invented. At its heart it’s comparable to the best of the old guard – the puzzles are often obtuse and a little bizarre, but rarely to the point where you’ll be hunting down the solution online. It also has a very distinctive art style which, while not quite up there with Grim Fandango, is both appropriate and attractive. The GUI is similarly well designed, hiding away until you need it, although personally I preferred the convenience of the old SCUMM system. From a technical and aesthetic perspective it’s very good.
The writing is where it falls slightly short for me. Again, this is certainly influenced by prior experience of Schaeffer’s other games. The story takes place in two narratives told in parallel – you can flip between them at any time, but they remain distinct from each other. Neither try to be funny like Monkey Island or Day of the Tentacle, so you can forgive them for not being, but they didn’t quite make up for that by grabbing me in other ways. Both are quite twee, rather like weird fairy tales.
I’ll start with the boy’s story. Waking up on his spaceship you spend the first act learning about his past and how he comes to be living comfortably in space. It’s cute, a little surreal, and kind of dull. It does liven up later, but for me it was the weaker of the two. It also had the better puzzles, so was enjoyable despite my lack of engagement.
The girl’s story is much better. Hers is a quest for salvation, and she’s a far more likeable and interesting character. Rebellious and intelligent, she is trying to save herself and her people from a monster from whom they have no particular desire to be saved. This is also the stranger of the two environments, and while her motives and character are clear the same can’t be said for most of the people around her. The more obtuse puzzles reside in this part of the game and could be a little frustrating when paired up with the bizarre settings.
Overall Broken age comes out well. It has its ups and downs, but taken on its own is worth playing. For someone looking for the humour of the old classics though, I’d recommend looking up Size Five’s Ben There, Dan That and Time Gentlemen, Please.