Plenty of games give you the power to manipulate time. Prince of Persia has a button for rewinding death, while Singularity includes a gun that can fast-forward enemies’ lives to the point of decaying corpse, but you won’t find either of those examples on our countdown. What makes Braid special - and what makes us feel like fourth-dimensional wizards while playing it - are the sheer number of radically different ways in which you manipulate time.
You can instantly and repeatedly reverse mistakes, condensing what should be hours of trial-and-error into a few seconds of back-and-forth-and-back until you hit that precise sweet spot of platforming. You can slow time within a small, specific radius of the screen, bringing deadly enemies to a harmless crawl while you pass quickly and unhindered by them. In a later level, merely moving forward shifts every other thing around you backwards, while in our favorite part of Braid, your present self is joined by the shadowy ghost of your past self, literally allowing you to be two places at once and solving puzzles in a very strange twist on together.
Yet, as complicated as some of that sounds, you’ll likely figure most of it out without consulting a guide. Braid manages to put you in a mood - possibly through the hypnotic art and music, or the heady philosophical musings - that is conducive to constant “Eureka!” moments.
Orange and blue. Enter and exit. That’s all you really need to know. Portal may be the most massively brain-bending game we’ve ever played, but its true brilliance lies in its simple and straightforward premise: Go through the orange circle and you’ll come out the blue circle. Or go through the blue circle and you’ll come out the orange circle. One basic, interchangeable rule that is incredibly easy to learn and remember.
Then, step by step - test chamber by test chamber - Portal asks you to expand your mind, and to reassess what you’re capable of accomplishing with this single tool. At first, you think only to create shortcuts. Several minutes later, you’ve realized you can forge pathways for other objects, such as the turret bots or Companion Cube. Within a couple hours, you’re switching portal destinations on the fly in order to navigate platforms or elevators and, by the end of the game, you’ve completely mastered the physics of gravity and linear momentum to launch yourself through successive portals until you’ve built enough velocity to propel yourself over any obstacle in your path. Whew!
You won’t think of the solution in those exact terms, however, because Portal teaches you these thesis-worthy tricks through doing, not telling. Through gentle guidance, not obvious tutorial. For such a crazily challenging game, we don’t know many gamers who have grown angry or frustrated with Portal - the learning curve, from clueless to genius, is so damn subtle that it’s practically invisible.
Jan 31, 2011
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