Top Critic Average
As much as I didn't feel any profound level of resonance with the content of The Beginner's Guide, I will certainly defend its right to exist. I think that it makes a showing in a side of the industry that doesn't get a lot of attention, and that's a good thing. However, my personal opinion is that there are other games that do a far better job of making that showing, and this includes The Beginner's Guide's immediate predecessor.
If you want to play a game, then don't buy this. If you want to experience something, to really feel something and do something new, though... well, you couldn't really spend 90 minutes better.
The feeling of connection might be an illusion, though, and that tension is what gives The Beginner's Guide its strongest moments. Even as it reaches out from within its prisons, it won't let you forget the bars. If it is a desperate desire to be known and understood, then its intentions come fraught with the same doubts as any authentic relationship.
So did I enjoy it? Kind of. I think I appreciated it more than I enjoyed it, and then that appreciation was tinged with a wish that it could have been more. More clever, more surprising, more deep. But more importantly, it made me think, made me worry about people I care about, made me uncomfortable. And for that, I think, it deserves praise.
It's an unconventional game with interesting ideas—questions we don't ask often in games, mainly because most games aren't interested in this sort of dialog. We subsist mainly on a steady diet of summer blockbusters, and it's not often a weird art house game like The Beginner's Guide comes along, let alone gains any traction.
It's a game I may only ever play once, but I'm thoroughly glad I did. For those who hate "walking simulators" and the "pretentious" side of independent games, you should probably steer clear. The rest of you? There's more to this game than it's 90 minute runtime. The fact I'm still thinking about it, deeply, hours after I played it is all part of the value too.
On the surface, The Beginner's Guide is a game about game design and critical analysis. Digging deeper, it provides a window into the mind of a man I might not have fully understood otherwise. It does all of this in a way only a video game could. More than anything else, it has caused me a lot of introspection, a feat few games ever achieve.
I 100% enjoyed all of my time with The Beginner's Guide, despite a few instances of clumsy writing, up to the point where the last chapter slipped over into the epilogue. I feel like the tail end of the game is almost kitschy in how it plays out, and I believe that the game would have been so much stronger and braver for ending with the last voiceover of the final chapter. By continuing to go on and on with the narration, I felt like I was being robbed of significance by someone attempting to visually and emotionally sew up something that could not be repaired. This is all to say that you should play the game.
Yes, The Beginner's Guide occasionally fumbles its narrative, Wreden sometimes overacts, and the writing can be a little ham-fisted—but the game also provokes incisive, critical thought about the way we read and evaluate games, and does so not by laying out a definitive "message" to be delivered to players, but by prompting us, through play, with open-ended questions.
The Beginner's Guide poses a number of academic questions around the nature of choice, interactivity, and creativity. While it offers no firm answers, it's one of the most thought-provoking and ultimately disarming interactive experiences I've had all year, and one I won't easily shake off.
The Beginner's Guide is not lightning in a bottle like The Stanley Parable, nor is it a checklist of graphics and sounds that players should run through. For people that want a taste of the hardships that indie developers endure, however, you can do no better.
The Beginner's Guide is a poignant and thought-provoking journey into the minds of game developers who are at their core, people with struggles and insecurities of their own. $10 might seem a steep price tag for an hour and a half of playtime without traditional mechanics, goals, or objectives, but if you take a chance you might find yourself moved (and even changed) by the time the credits roll.
It's easy to have mixed thoughts about The Beginner's Guide, but as a game that aims to make you think, it does accomplish this goal. It has some features you don't see too often, such as narrator intervention during unplayable sections, and each level has something unique about it. I still don't know whether I truly like it, but I'm not sure it's meant to be liked, just taken for what it is.
[If you're a fan of Davey Wreden's work or simply wish to see [insecurity and mental health] themes tackled in a video game, then I'd recommend giving it a shot. At the very least, The Beginner's Guide will provide you with an experience unlike anything else in the medium.
With The Beginner's Guide, creator Davey Wreden starts with a brilliant premise, only to waste it with his insistence on telling rather than showing within his barely interactive worlds. Games don't necessarily need to be fun to work, but they should at least be engaging—something The Beginner's Guide can't maintain during its 90-minute running time.