Developer: Double Fine Productions

Publisher: Double Fine Productions

Platforms: Mac, PC, PS4, Vita

Genre: Adventure

Players: 1

Completion Time: 10-20 hours

Release Date: 04/28/15

ESRB: E-10+

Broken Age

The story of Tim Schafer and Double Fine's latest point-and-click adventure centers around two main protagonists: Vella Tartine, the elder daughter of a family of bakers residing in the small town of Sugar Bunting, and Shay Volta, a teenage boy who has spent the entirety of his young life reclusively stationed in the void of space. Vella is one of the girls recently selected to participate in her village's Maiden's Feast, an annually observed festival whose name boasts a more literal meaning than Vella would probably deem preferable. She is to serve as a human sacrifice to a creature named Mog Chothra, a thousand-eyed, thousand-armed, gaping-mawed monstrosity, whose ravenous compulsion to devour all life indiscriminately can apparently only be held in check by periodic oblations of maiden-shaped appetizers. Everyone is eager to assure Vella that it is an honor to sacrifice herself for the preservation of her community, and not wanting to put her family at risk of suffering the Mog's wrath should she decline her part in sating its voracious appetite, she is prepared to acquiesce to her unpalatable fate, but she secretly longs for a braver course of action.

Meanwhile, aboard the spacecraft Bossa Nostra, Shay awakens everyday to the cheerful urging of an overprotective supercomputer called "Mom," eats his breakfast cereal out of a talking Fisher-Price spoon, sits at a command station bedecked in the kinds of bright, boopy buttons and baubles that would seem more befitting of a toddler's play-set, and engages in purported simulations of perilous interplanetary adventures that are, in truth, nothing but peril-less playdates with talking woolen stuffies. Shay, like Vella, longs for a braver course of action--a chance to prove himself the noble hero and deliverer of the universe's endangered denizens for which all his years of playful pretense would purport to have prepared him--and during an accidental excursion into the bowels of the ship, he encounters a mysterious stowaway attired in Wolf's clothing who promises him the means to achieve his heroic aspirations.

Aside from the general ennui and dissatisfaction that both characters evince toward their respective plights, the two stories initially play out like the isolated episodes of an anthology, with settings and circumstances so far removed from one another as to seem unlikely to inhabit the same fictional universe. But eventually, the disparate threads begin to intertwine in unexpected and entertaining ways, including a very clever plot twist near the end of the first act, and observing how the two worlds of Vella and Shay gradually coalesce into one is a delightfully satisfying experience. If the journey of these two primary protagonists is not enough to slake the player's thirst for engaging narrative, there is a sizeable stable of ancillary characters as well, each boasting bountiful reserves of dialogue filled with all the wit and comedic charm traditionally associated with Double Fine's titles. There's the cloud-dwelling cult leader of dubious intention, whose proposed path to spiritual enlightenment is through the actual lightening of his followers' material burdens (along with, for some delightfully inane reason, the removal of select vowels from their names). There's the paranoid lumberjack, who has sworn off his profession and locked himself inside his cabin after a traumatizing encounter with a talking tree. Even some of the contents of the player's inventory are endowed with amusing personalities, including a sociopathic talking knife--companion to the aforementioned talking spoon--who is always eager to advocate a good stabbing as the most effective solution to any potential predicament.

"I applaud the game designers for making subtle avail of their art-form's interactive nature: without ever truly shattering the fourth wall, they nevertheless slyly acknowledge the player's role as the omniscient arbiter of events, incorporating it into their storytelling as a representation of the unspoken bond betwixt their two heroes."

The gradual fusing of the game's seemingly unrelated story arcs is mirrored in the actual gameplay as well. All of the puzzles in Broken Age center around the conceit of toggling control between our two young heroes. In Act One, both characters' stories can be played more or less independently of one another, and the ability to swap between them on the fly seems more a nifty convenience than a necessity: if you've grown disinterested in Shay's adventure and want to switch over to see what Vella is up to, you can placate your fickle fancy as effortlessly as changing the channel on your television; or if a mental block is preventing your brain from wrapping its sinuous sulci around a particularly perplexing puzzle, you can give your overtaxed gray matter a much-needed respite and see if the other protagonist's predicament proves less intractable. Starting in Act Two, however, the player will occasionally need to use clues gathered during Vella's journey to assist Shay's progression, and vice versa; and once you get to the unofficial third act, when the characters' separate worlds quite literally collide, you'll be switching back and forth between them at rapid intervals, as they work in tacit tandem to extricate themselves from their tricky entanglement.

The indirect manner in which Vella and Shay assist each other's narrative progression may prove frustrating to the more logically inclined aficionados of the storytelling art--those prone to engage in the meticulous parsing of plotlines, in some self-righteous endeavor to expose all their unexplained irrationalities and glaring inconsistencies, so that they might flaunt them as incontrovertible evidence that the author lacks even the least modicum of competence for his chosen profession and should, therefore, never again be permitted to indulge his incongruous passion therefor. A self-addressing monologue uttered by Shay may afford the answer to a riddle hindering Vella's progression, or a photograph passively observed by Vella might contain information vital to the fulfillment of Shay's current quest, but since the characters never directly interact with one another, and there is no explicit explanation of how the player's role as silent intermediary fits within the context of their story, it always seems as though the knowledge acquired by one character just inexplicably manifests in the consciousness of the other. Of course, I'm fairly certain that such seeming circumvention of logic was precisely the point--that a certain uncanny nature is supposed to inform the relationship between Vella and Shay: both of them share a common sense of confinement and a kindred spirit of youthful insurgence, and these commonalities unite them on a subconscious level, compelling them to act in unwitting concert with one another. They are connected through some feat of quantum entanglement, or spooky action at a distance, or other instance of theoretical physics / metaphysics whose concept I scarcely comprehend but whose name is euphonically appealing to my writerly sensibilities. I applaud the game designers for making subtle avail of their art-form's interactive nature: without ever truly shattering the fourth wall, they nevertheless slyly acknowledge the player's role as the omniscient arbiter of events, incorporating it into their storytelling as a representation of the unspoken bond betwixt their two heroes.

The difficulty curve associated with Broken Age's puzzles traces a near-perfect upward trajectory in relation to the game's chronological progression (i.e., it starts out simply and ends on a satisfying challenge). Act One almost felt like a "beginner's" point-and-click adventure, with the solution to each puzzle comprising only one or two steps and unfolding in a relatively linear fashion. While the witty story and characters sufficed to keep me entertained during these easygoing early sections, I probably would have been ultimately disappointed with Broken Age's introductory act had I purchased it in the form of its original release, in isolation from its then as yet unfinished second half. Fortunately, the challenge ramps up significantly in Act Two. Some people have actually commented that the puzzles in the latter half of the adventure are too obtuse, but I liked the subtlety with which some of the solutions were implemented. The clues are always present, provided you are mindful of your environment and don't make the mistake of assuming that the two characters' stories are completely self-contained.

There was only a single instance when I felt that the game had unfairly stumped me, but that turned out to be the result of a glitchy interface, and not the defective design of the puzzle itself. I was supposed to be able to talk to one of the NPCs while I was situated on a particular ladder, but every time I attempted to do so, my character would just step off again and never initiate the conversation necessary for my advancement; after several consecutive attempts all resulting in the same outcome, I just assumed there was nothing to be done and went looking for the solution elsewhere. Later, after being forced with much reluctance to scavenge the Internet for my solution, I returned to find that it was indeed possible to trigger the conversation on roughly half of my attempts. What exactly I was doing wrong the other half of the time still remains a mystery to me, as I never got any indication of anyone else having experienced a similar issue during their playthroughs. But I was at least relieved to realize that my difficulty appeared to have arisen from an unintended glitch, and not some overlooked piece of a cleverly intricate puzzle, which my brief excursion into the forbidden realm of online strategy guides would have forever robbed me of the satisfaction of unraveling on my own.


  • Characters brimming with witty dialogue and the clever merging of initially disparate story arcs make for yet another winning work of interactive narrative from Double Fine Productions.
  • Though Act One starts off simply enough, the puzzles in Act Two provide an intellectually satisfying challenge that thoroughly explores the potential of the game's clever character-switching mechanic.
  • Some unfortunate issues with the interface prevented me from noticing an otherwise obvious solution to one of the puzzles.

As the first traditional point-and-click adventure Tim Schafer has directed since the 1998 release of Grim Fandango, Broken Age is a must-play for both fans of the genre in general and avid admirers of Schafer's defining contributions thereto.

*: too long; didn't read (but I'm actually literate--pahlease! omg**! seriously!

**: ow, my groin!