Limbo, Braid, & Bastion
I decided to sit down and catch up on some of the bigger name indie games that I'd missed out on due to being sleepy the past two years or so. So the first two are old news, Limbo and Braid. These games have been out for ages but they made a bit of a splash, and I thought I'd give them a look. The third is Bastion, and to be honest if you haven't played it yet (It came out some time in 2011) you really should get off your ass. But we'll get to that.
I first played limbo over a year ago when I noticed my brother had grabbed the demo on the 360. It's since gone on to be award winning and awesome, but I'll always remember it in that afternoon cool in a curtain drawn lounge with a jumpy friend.
There's something magical about that first moment you die in the game. Some may be clever bastards and dodge the bear trap; but most won't. In essence Limbo is a game about expectations, from start to finish. It's about being blindsided by violence and disassociating yourself from the boy.
In a less ethereal sense it's about jumping over boxes and shit.
If you've seen anything from the game at all then I don't need to tell you how good looking it is. But the part that really amazed me was the sound design. A sparse soundscape of isolated nature and machine, the bare minimum to create the scene. But the follow through and the filtering - every echoing footfall or rising hum chills, but never fully frightens. As its name promises, the player floats through the game, worried but never scared, because there's some kind of acceptance to be found in already being lost.
If I had to compare my experience of playing Limbo it would actually be very close to playing Prince of Persia - you know the colorful one where a school girl saved you anytime you stubbed your toe. Though they are obviously very different games, their gameplay flow sparked something similar in me. It has to do with the death system that invites you to experiment. When you apply that to a platformer you get interesting results, a kind of untethered freedom. Though this isn't unique to these two games, it does really lend itself to the way they play.
It's difficult to speak about Limbo without ruining it since it's made of such charming, tiny, moments. Most people who will ever play it already have, but still.
I had been recommended Braid on many occasions. Understandably so, it's a smart and eloquent game with big questions and even bigger answers if you're vigilant. What I hated about Braid was that it didn't quite pull that off.
The core of Braid is magnificently solid. Each world has its quirks (The one that goes backwards when you walk back and vice versa can go fuck itself.) and the controls are tight. The puzzles are wonderful and imaginative and will have you super pleased with yourself, or stringing up your ethernet cable noose. The music is touching and smacks of wonderlust, hell I'm listening to it right now. Yet at its heart, Braid is trying to tell a story, and unfortunately at that it fails.
You can argue that it's meant to be open ended and metaphorical, and of course it is. The developer even said so. But there is no excuse in all the world for blocks of text the size of forever. There are a hundred ways to not do that. Which brings me to my next point:
Bastion is a great game in an old school sort of way. None of this newfangled, "Oh, I have one outstanding and innovative feature but don't look at the cracks." Bastion is that total package of a realized vision.
Music, writing, art, and gameplay all mesh seamlessly. I wanted to hear everything spoken and sang. I wanted to see every tile of every area. And most importantly for a good isometric brawler - I wanted to try each weapon and special move on a slew of interesting enemies.
This is not to say Bastion doesn't innovate, ho boy no. It has a modular difficulty curve through an idol system and a uniquely engaging self building/breaking world. Also, every moment of the game is narrated in a way that doesn't get annoying or boring at all. It creates a strange kind of stream of consciousness playstyle. You find that your actions are yours, but you blur the lines between enacting the tale, and being told.
Also it's longer than I was expecting.
Go buy it if you haven't. Shoo.