Depending on how you look at it, Broken Age is either the vanguard of the Kickstarter era or a much-delayed return to unfinished business. It began life as a pledge by one of the main brains behind classic LucasArts point and click adventures such as Grim Fandango and Day of the Tentacle to revisit a genre he'd left behind. A few days later and what became Broken Age had netted $3.5 million in crowdfunding - quite a hike from the $400,000 it had asked for.
Expectations, quite naturally, were extremely high. That plays in part in why the (part)finished product feels underwhelming, but not quite so big as part as do the lacklustre puzzles and a script that's surprisingly short on big laughs.
While the essential, ancient formula of using weird objects on other weird objects or weirder people in order to progress to new areas remains, Broken Age does seem a little unsure about what to be. It attempts to be both a gentle entry point to lateral thinking puzzles and a treat for fans who have that stuff in their blood, but by focusing too much on the former it winds up with not a lot of cerebral meat on its bones.
It is, however, beautiful. While there have been grumbles about where all that Kickstarter money is going, given the game has been split in two, with a second part to follow later in the year, it's plain to see that its lavish, storybook-like artwork has been a careful and surely expensive endeavour. 2D throughout but drenched in colour, detail, character and imagination, sticking this on your monitor will be just about the prettiest thing you see all year.
Relatively strong characters back this up. Broken Age has two stars, each in a different world experiencing their own adventure, and which you can switch between at almost any point. If and how they'll come together is part of a wider air of mystery, so for now we focus instead on their strange situations and companions. Broken Age is a parable of sorts for coming of age, young people choosing their own destiny instead of fulfilling the expectations of their elders, and the story is careful to play against type there with its girl and boy stars.
The former lives in a low-tech land of sea monsters and talking trees, the latter on a lonely spaceship with only an over-protective computer for company. Both crave an escape. Both need to use a series of weird objects on other weird objects to do it, and convince a supporting cast of predominantly pratlike oddballs to assist them.
There are a few celebrities onboard, such as Elijah Wood and Jack Black, but everyone involved plays it oddly low-key. It adds a vaguely pleasant, dreamlike feel to proceedings, but it too often means there isn't much weight to the gags. It's consistently likeable, sure, but it's hard not to feel short-changed on belly laughs, given how hard the game tries to set up absurdist situations.
There are a couple of pleasing offbeat puzzles, but in the main they're either fairly obvious from quite some distance away or so far removed from any logic that tedious use-everything-on-everything trial and error is required. A certain spark of ingenuity seems lacking from arguably the game's key component, and we can only hope at this stage that the forthcoming, concluding Act 2 demands more of us.