Looking at the lineup of major release for games this Christmas season – or even the whole last year – I see a disturbing trend. Just about every big game is either another sequel, a spin-off, or DLC masquerading as a full release:
- Another Call of Duty (7)
- Another Guitar Hero (6)
- Another Assassins Creed (3)
- DJ Hero 2
- Gran Turismo 5
- Another Need for Speed (god knows)
- Fable 3
- Fallout New Vegas
Okay, I’m actually excited about that last one, but come on. Sixty bucks for a spin-off? It seems like the gaming industry is becoming as creatively bankrupt as Hollywood. Not that most of those games aren’t going to be well-polished and entertaining experiences; they are just starting to feel like products, not innovations. In this harsh production-line world, I find myself getting more drawn to bite-size Arcade affairs.
Braid (XBLA, PSN, PC) and Limbo (XBLA) are two such games. They are both cheap little downloadable titles and, between the two of them, show more creativity than half the above listed titles. I know Braid came out like two years ago, but, just, you know … shut up! Anyway, both are 2D side-scrollers that have a deceptively simple veneer that soon gives way to mind bending gameplay.
First off, the newest one, Limbo. Limbo is the perfect name for this game, as it takes place entirely in a shadowy world that resembles something Dante might have written about in the beginning of his Inferno. It’s not hellish exactly, but it’s very dank and there always seems to be a threat of some kind lurking just outside the screen. You play as (what appears to be) a young boy navigating this treacherous land.
The gameplay could be categorized as the “Box and Switch Puzzle” variety, but to reduce it thusly would be a great disservice. The game is stuffed full of cleverly devised mechanisms you must think your way past. The disturbing thing about the game is how violent your deaths are, should you make a miscalculation. Watching this little boy get smashed, impaled or decapitated is genuinely effed up (the black and white visuals, oddly, make it more gruesome), which serves as motivation to get him through the land unscathed. There is no story to speak of, and the sound design is very minimalist; this adds to the mysteriousness of the world and enhances the atmosphere.
On the other hand, Braid takes place in a brightly lit fantasy land; it closely resembles something like Super Mario Brothers as directed by Wes Anderson. The story, unlike Limbo’s, is a little overstated, with a ton of written narration. Not to sound like some dick who complains about a subtitled movie, but there is such thing as too much reading in a game.
This is especially because the gameplay is so GD good that you just want to get back to it. The manipulation of time is nothing new in the video game world, but Braid takes it to a new level. It’s really hard to describe the lengths to which you must play around with the fourth dimension. By the end you are looking at the puzzles with a completely different mindset than you did at the beginning. The makers of the game seem to know this because you can actually skip puzzles and come back to them later. This allows you to come back to a puzzle with fresh eyes after any initial frustration. And believe me, frustration will rear it’s ugly head. But it’s totally worth it.
Maybe I’m just getting older and want my gaming in bite-sized forms. But, for some reason, I’m getting bored with Military Shooter 7.0 and Fantasy RPG 19.2 and want to return to simpler times. No massive load times, no need to connect to servers. Just some old-school left-to-right goodness, with a little visual finesse. Braid and Limbo are just the right thing for that.
Grade, Both: A-
Side-note: I’m also more interested in the new Kirby and Donkey Kong Country games that some of those others. I don’t know if that makes me old, a p*ssy or both. That’s rhetorical, by the way.