Shay Volta, one of the dual protagonists of Tim Schafer’s Broken Age, is trapped on board a massive spaceship, forced by a (s)mothering AI to run simulations that he’s long outgrown: saving his animated sock-puppet companions from an ice-cream avalanche (armed only with a spoon) or helping them survive a tickle ambush. The game’s other hero, Vella Tartine, is also trapped; she’s the victim of her village’s maiden-sacrificing customs, now that they’ve lost the will to fight back against the monstrous Mog Chothra. On the other hand, while those who indulge Broken Age may be temporarily transfixed or immersed in the watercolor-y aesthetic of the game’s cloud villages, whipped-cream mountains, and sinister cuteness (that many-tentacled alien only wants to give you a present!), the simplistic, contextual controls of this point-and-click adventure all but guarantee that the player will never be stuck.
For those who Kickstarted Broken Age on the promise of the fiendish puzzles that filled Shafer’s earlier games (Grim Fandango, Full Throttle, The Secret of Monkey Island), the lack of difficulty may come as a crushing blow. But to those merely seeking the nostalgia of childhood entertainments, Broken Age is an absolutely fulfilling, interactive storybook. Like The Princess Bride, the narrative is filled with adult jokes (one of Shay’s breakfast options is Soylent Greens, and Vella makes herself more appealing to Mog Chothra using a fragrance known only as Beast Hooker) and clever dialogue trees (including a literal Dialogue Tree that you must disgust into vomiting up its precious sap) that are more than worth the price of admission. There’s no elaborate puzzle chain to be solved in order to convince a character to part with his piece of modernist art, only the pleasure of conversing with a self-hating ironic lumberjack. There’s no need to struggle with figuring out how to interact with objects; you simply click on them, and Shay and Vella will perform the most logical action, whether that’s talking to, picking up, looking at, or otherwise manipulating it.
Broken Age is reduced in complexity, then, but not in charm. If it does away with verb-based actions, it’s in the hopes of emphasizing the joys of exploring these two worlds rather than the frustrations of a pixel hunt. Forgetting to don cloudshoes in the floating Meriloft won’t result in a Game Over that makes you wish you’d saved more frequently, and allows the player to immerse themselves more fully in the game. Players will try out every combination of inventory items not because they’re stuck on an illogical puzzle, but because the scripted responses are hilarious. (There are also some high-wattage voice actors, including Elijah Wood, Jack Black, and Wil Wheaton.)
Of course, Broken Age is itself currently broken: Act two is still being completed and won’t be offered until later in the year, and as a free update. To that end, certain mechanics—like swapping between Shay and Vella in order to solve puzzles—have yet to be implemented, and characters like Shay’s wolfish tempter, Marek, and Vella’s mysterious savior, the Dead Eyed God, remain clouded in mystery. That said, “broken” is in this case a subjective term: Even without act one’s massive cliffhanger (in which Shay and Vella accidentally swap places), more Broken Age can’t come soon enough.