If the first part of Broken Age was a game about family, then its follow-up is a game about what happens when you find out that your childhood belief systems don’t work in the adult world.
Warning: Spoilers follow for Broken Age, parts 1 & 2.
Broken Age, Part 2 is about rude awakenings. Shay finds out that his altruism was actually exacting dear costs on the lives of other innocent young people. Vella learns the sinister reason that she and other girls were abducted by flying monsters. Out tomorrow for PC, Mac, PS4 and Vita, Broken Age, Part 2 gives us two main characters who’ve just lost their innocence. They can’t cling to the comforts of yesteryear and have to find new ways to make sense of the world.
So, at the end of Broken Age, Part 1., it was made clear that everything main characters Shay and Vella thought their lives were based on was all a pack of lies. If that wasn’t bad enough, they also found themselves in strange new realms with weird-ass rules. Sounds like the set-up for a good adventure game finale, no?
The final part of Double Fine’s crowdfunded release plays pretty much just like the first chunk: it’s still an iteration of “get things/combine things/pick right dialogue” adventure game recipe. it might be because I’m playing Part 2 more than a year after Part 1, but the puzzles seem much harder in the game’s conclusion. I got stuck for long, yawning chunks of time on weird little puzzles that required me to intuit clues from stuff lying around in the environment. Did I draw diagrams to help me figure the tougher ones out, like when I was a teenager decades ago? See for yourself.
If you think that picture’s spoiling anything, keep in mind that I drew it after 45 minutes of trying to even figure things out. It took me maybe 20 more minutes to actually solve that puzzle. And that’s only the tip of the difficulty iceberg for a particular set of recurring puzzles in Broken Age, Part 2. That weird experience of varying difficulty is a good example of how delivering a game like this in two parts isn’t a great idea.
I still laughed a lot while figuring out Part 2’s disjointed logic but the proceedings are a bit sadder, too. Shay’s dialogue offers up a thread of shame and guilt for how he’s messed up other people’s lives, and his caretakers and playmates weep and worry over his disappearance. Look at his little yarn pals in that screenshot below. They’re distraught!
Meanwhile, Vella’s hopping mad at being a pawn in someone else’s terrible scheme and she’s out to get some payback. Her dad also expresses believable regret over going along with the ritual offering of his daughter. Other characters are revealed as shams, too, leaving those who believed in them disillusioned. This is what happens when you’re growing up.
Where Part 1 was mostly Shay and Vella reckoning with the paths their families put them on, Part 2 follows up with reaction from those family members. Their confusion, regret and concern makes the ache inside of Broken Age throb even more poignantly. It’s one thing to offer up your child to a flying monster because of The Way Things Are Supposed to Be. It’s another thing entirely when your sacrifice doesn’t maintain the natural order.
It’s a grim fact of life that the people you are born to will sometimes do you dirty. One of the the things I’ve learned since becoming a parent is that little white lies help move things along with kids. I have guilt about it, occasionally, but rationalize by telling myself I’m doing it for a good reason. But, the hardest truth I learned as a child is that parents can leave you. Or they may force you to leave them. And the moments that follow will be when you’re most vulnerable to being manipulated into doing what other folks need. But, if you’re lucky, you can join or make a new family and find the protections that come from people who truly care about your well-being. A soupcon of this sentiment creeps into the back half of Broken Age, a game about figuring out life and the weird causality between things that don’t seem to be related. It’s not just the kids either. It’s the adults, too.
The biggest disappointment in Broken Age, Part 2 is that Shay and Vella really don’t do anything together. The ending of Part 1 seemed to hint that her insubordinate nature and his thirst for real danger would intermingle and spark off fireworks. But their symbiosis stays at the symbolic level, with each character adventuring through the other’s homeland. They never share scenes or communicate directly, a fact that feels like it squanders a grand possibility.
As a whole, Broken Age still comes across as a beautifully-presented update on the adventure-game nostalgia, with tons of heart and an incredible soundtrack. For the best experience, start the whole thing from the beginning. Yes, even if you’ve played through the first bit already. Give it all a big hug. It’s worth it.