When I was a kid, I used to spice up the daily trudge to school with a succession of exciting diversions.
A spot of pre-parkour wall-scrambling outside the doctor's surgery, 'shortcuts' through the park, impromptu conker or snowball fights (depending on the season) with fellow pupils. The path may have been familiar, but with a little imagination the journey was anything but.
The exact same mixture of familiarity and imagination permeates Bastion, a wonderful new action-adventure title for your iPad.Same old same old?
You won't do anything inherently new in Bastion. You set off from a small hub world into a series of relatively linear levels in which you bash enemies, collect loot, fight boss monsters, and return to base to power-up.
There's a character progression system, whereby you improve your weapons with items found in the field. You can also improve your core abilities through alchemy, take part in weapon competitions for prizes, and plenty more.
None of this is remotely original, but Bastion succeeds by making familiar ideas feel bold and new.World building
A large part of this is Bastion's setting and approach to storytelling. It's one of the freshest, most beautiful game universes we've even seen on iPad, and it has one of the finest soundtracks as well.
You play The Kid, a mysterious young warrior who wakes up to find the world he knows all but obliterated in The Calamity - an end of days scenario that's wiped out almost all life in the fantasy realm of Caelondia.
As you step out of your crumbling home, the world around you hangs on nothing, loosely held together by disintegrating paths and walkways. Indeed, you appear to be stranded on a tiny island until you set foot near the edge, whereupon your path assembles before you very eyes.
It gives the impression that your character is almost rebuilding the world as he goes, and it's a stunning visual conceit that never grows old.Over to our commentator
This impression of an epic story being constructed as you go along is heightened by Bastion's narrator.
Rather than being a character who spouts a bunch of exposition in between levels, Bastion's narrator actually commentates on your game as you play it.
Start smashing the nicely deformable environment up with your hammer and our wizened old storyteller will comment on it as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
Fall off the edge of the world with a poorly judged evasive roll and any clumsiness is covered over by a wry comment on the nature of this unusual world.
The tone throughout is colloquial, melancholic, and portentous. It simultaneously instructs and entertains while successfully building a mythology around your central character worthy of a Sergio Leone film.Solid foundation
Of course, you can have the best setting and the most original narrative device in the world but if the game isn't much cop it'll have as much foundation as The Kid's haphazard world.
Fortunately, while Bastion's mechanics are familiar, they're also expertly realised. Initial worries over the new touch-based control system (this was an Xbox 360 title originally) dissipate once you select the classic virtual controls. Yes, the semi-automated touch-to-move controls are far from a success in this action-driven game, but no matter.
While I'm no lover of console games shoe-horned into a touch-driven device, Bastion gets it spot on. The virtual D-pad is responsive, and buttons for your melee or ranged attacks are well-situated. Evasive rolls are within reach, and just about the only blind spot I found was when trying to hit the 'shield' button while in a pinch.
Fortunately it's only really needed in a few specific situations when a quick glance down will generally see you right. Besides, Bastion is forgiving enough that any control foibles can be easily overlooked.Bastion of taste
Bastion proves a number of things. It proves that the iPad can host top-notch console games when sufficient attention is paid to the controls.
It proves that a decent narrative and involved gameplay still have a place on a platform that's increasingly saturated with light and breezy casual games.
Most importantly, it joins the likes of Horn in proving that spending as much time on creating a rich and detailed world as you do on solid game mechanics is very much worthwhile.
Want more? Check out our growing collection of Bastion articles!