The second half of Broken Age is out, just a scant two and a half years after the original Kickstarter promise. And while perfectly fine on its own as an entertaining, beautiful, and engaging adventure game, it takes a step down from Act 1 in many regards. That, however, shouldn’t stop you from giving it a chance.
Spoiler warning: seeing as how this is a review for the second half of a two-part game, it will naturally contain spoilers for the first half. If you haven’t played that yet, this isn’t the kind of spoiler you can forget. It changes the entire foundation of the two characters’ stories.
Act 2 picks up directly after the events of Act 1, finding Shay coming out of his crashed ship and Vella coming up on the beach to her defeated monster. Surprise: they’re one and the same. But after Vella takes a swing at Shay, the two accidentally switch places and now much work with their counterpart’s old friends and family to fix the situation.
This is a rather interesting premise. Shay, in a world far beyond anything he’s been able to explore before, is mesmerized by the whole endeavor. And by going through a series of microcosmic worlds already influenced by Vella, we see the consequences. Some are good and some are bad, but all of them are intriguing. We see an old place through a new filter.
The same goes for Vella, though in a slightly different tact. She is exploring the innards of what she once thought was a beastly god monster who demanded maiden sacrifices. It’s not that she is in a world beyond her own like Shay, but rather her life’s institutionalized truths were altogether lies. And to find out the impetus behind the lie is something far more nefarious is shattering.
There are, however, two noteworthy consequence to this. The first is that while the actual plot of this second half is definitely a good one, it lacks the impactful themes and inquisitive nature of the first half. There is no notion of childlike curiosity and there is no push to find a deeper happiness. Instead there is the establishment of evil and the necessary defeat of it, a seemingly base concept compared to the first.
Next is that a great deal of Act 2 is dependent on Act 1. This doesn’t just mean narratively where stories and characters carry over. (Some jokes, as well, require past knowledge.) No, this is also a second half in terms of the puzzles. There are a lot of hints and setup in the first act that will facilitate progress in the second.
Heed Tim Schafer’s advice and play Act 1 again before you start Act 2. There are several puzzles that will only make sense after you solve them (or, more likely, accidentally stumble upon the solution) if Act 1 isn’t fresh on your mind. Either involving hugs or motivations, it’s almost impossible to just “figure out.”
It’s not just a problem of knowledge, however, in Act 2. Many of the puzzles this time around become instilled with a sense of paranoia once you realize that information necessarily crosses between the character boundaries. There are at least two times where you have to progress as either Vella or Shay to get information for the other character. Otherwise you will be brute forcing your way through a lot of things.
More than that, until you realize that fact, you will think you’re just not being smart or perceptive or logical or creative enough. This will most likely lead you to backtracking all over the place and seeing if you can combine anything in your inventory with anything on the screen. It wastes a lot of time not knowing that these two worlds move forwards through interfacing facts. It’s narratively smart but frustrating in practice.
All of the aesthetics, though, remain superb. The visuals are so deliciously sweet and overflowing with tantalizing beauty, words and sentiments that further apply to the characters. As previously siloed characters meet each other and interact, it’s dangerously smile-inducing to see how joyful everyone in this world can be. (Also, Dutch the talking knife and utensil counterpart to Shay’s spoon is one of the best characters in years.)
This naturally extends to the voice actors, the folks that bring the levity to bouncy life in the recording booths. From the side characters to the main cast, everyone is acted and written to a T. Just from their opening words, each one is personalized to being a unique entity, not just someone that will give you clues or holds something you need.
While this game is still incredibly easy to recommend, it does come with a set of faults not present in its predecessor. They’re not even faults, really, but retrograde developments from before. It’s a little disappointing in that way, but Broken Age Act 2 is still smart, funny, gorgeous, and worth playing.
+ Still great to look at with plenty of witty and intelligent writing abound
+ Some puzzles are devious in the way that make you feel like a genius
+ Interwoven and swapped story settings are fascinating
– A lot of futile backtracking in puzzle exploration (read: not solving)
– Not many new environments or characters to see
Final Score: 8 out of 10
Game Review: Broken Age – Act 2
Release: April 28, 2015
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Available Platforms: PC, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, Ouya