On Broken Age

broken age tree

A few weeks ago I played through Broken Age, the “Double Fine Adventure” that went through a rollercoaster of development, release, and fan-relationship troubles.

It’s an adventure-game-ass adventure game, and being true to the lineage of a very particular time period in adventure games, it is profoundly frustrating. My own experience of the game went something like this: I stumbled through the first half generally understanding what I was supposed to do, and the second half seemed to be something akin to the experience of slamming into a brick wall at 400 miles an hour.

I have no idea how one would solve the puzzles in the back half of that game without randomly using objects on various characters and locations until the problems solved themselves. It is not a good time, and I ragequit the game (something I think I have done maybe three or four times in my entire life) after reaching a puzzle that continually reset itself in the last ten minutes of the game. The sequencing kept getting mixed up, and I just straight-up turned it off and uninstalled it from my console.

I wasn’t going to write about this experience at all, but I saw that Mathew Kumar had written this about the game:

I don’t think that in the “twenty-tens” or whatever we call them we should really accept games where you know what a character has to do, and it would be easy for them to do it by themselves, with no items or whatever, and yet you can’t do that. This is a game where you have to work out which specific person will lick icing of a cupcake (even if the hero Shay doesn’t want to eat it, he could just scrape it off!) Where you can’t give someone a Heimlich manoeuvre, you have to do something that is actually totally counter-intuitive screens away (which I won’t spoil.)

Now, I get it. It’s a puzzle game. You want to have puzzles to solve. But could they be… better? And the game’s “dual” nature—you can switch between two heroes, Shay and Vella—is totally a wash. There’s none of the interaction that made Day Of The Tentacle so incredible, and the mechanic is used to give characters information that they would never know without the invisible hand of the player-god. It’s actually sort of immersion breaking, so that blows.

I enjoyed, pretty much, none of the puzzles in this game. But I’m fond of Broken Age. It’s too pretty, too well-acted, and too charming to totally discount. It’s just weird to almost recommend the game saying “just play the whole thing with a direct, spoiler-free walk-through.” Or even worse, “watch a long-play on YouTube.” But it feels like what I’d like to do; it’s worth experiencing, sort of.

That’s the real conundrum at the heart of Broken Age. It’s a game that has all the trappings that might make me like it, but the actual execution drives me away from it. It’s like a beautiful painting hanging in the most hostile museum space.

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