It’s been over a year since the release of Broken Age Act 1, and three since ‘Double Fine Adventure’ first became a runaway Kickstarter success. In its complete form, Tim Schafer’s painterly coming-of-age tale is undoubtedly a mess – but it’s still a pretty, cuddly, charming, twee mess.
It’s all a bit Wes Anderson. Broken Age Act Two doesn’t deliver on the promise of the first game. We get the difficulty we were asking for, but not the expanse which more than a year’s break between acts led us to expect.
Act Two’s big disappointments lie in re-hashing the first half. Of course, the mechanics and gameplay are essentially the same. There are more complex puzzles here, which often transport us to very simple mini-games. But essentially, Act Two sticks to the same point-and-click object puzzle structure from Act One.
The big problem is we don’t meet substantive new characters, but instead revisit largely the same cast and locations from another perspective. Playing through, you can’t help but think there is a budgetary rather than storytelling motive behind this. Part of the problem of expectation around Broken Age was its profile as a very public beta test of the Kickstarter idea – and the long wait for essentially more of the same may leave a sour taste for many.
But for all the repeated situations, Act Two’s puzzles are more sophisticated and more difficult, but also more frustrating. With the recent re-release of Grim Fandango, we were re-reminded that adventure game puzzles weren’t always a joy, and the same is true in the latter half of Broken Age. Solutions are found scattered in-between the two main plotlines, so those attempting to play each character through in turn will be frustrated.
When this works, it work well. As was the case in the last act, you can switch back and forth freely, allowing the player to create their own thematic connections. It’s fun to let Vella’s more battle-hardened personality impact upon the cotton-woll-coddling characters we met as Shay.
But some solutions feel a little strange in terms of in-world implications. We have to answer questions about Shay as Vella that she has no way of knowing, and that raises weird issues of non-dietetic storytelling. How could Vella possibly know things learned by the player in Shay’s storyline? It may be nitpicking, but it creates a strange disconnection of character motivation.
On certain levels the character switching works as a gameplay mechanic, but it’s easy to forget about the original puzzle you’re looking for an answer to if you don’t happen to be in the right place at the right time. The failure dialogue strap-lines don’t help here – Double Fine could have spent a bit more time playtesting, and realised just how many times players were going to hear a particular joke. Again, this lack of dialogue diversity highlights possible financial constraints on the studio.
There is still a lot to like about Broken Age. Clocking in at around nine hours – depending on your puzzle-solving finesse and luck – Broken Age Act Two is a substantial addition to the game. The story has enough twists and turns to keep us guessing, although player shouldn’t expect everything to be tied up in a neat bow.