I recently had the opportunity to watch my friend Aaron play through Portal for the first time. It was a fantastic experience.
Very few people have anything but praise for Portal and rightfully so. Yet, beyond the fun story, the well written monologue from GLaDOS, and the feel of the gameplay is the initial experience you have when playing.
Puzzle games like Portal provide an entertaining experience both for players and watchers. The first time playing provides eye opening and mind bending solutions and your ability to think within the new realm of physics grows. To watch someone else experience this can be just as rewarding.
Some games take a lot of time and effort to truly appreciate. Despite my love for Super Metroid, I am not surprised that people are not immediately drawn to it. The well designed levels and gameplay are not immediately apparent and the cold and harsh environment is not welcoming. The game is challenging and can easily be frustrating if you are not in the right mindset.
Portal on the other hand is light hearted and inviting. Even when the challenges are difficult the well-lit interior and the mostly playful banter from the computer keep you in a good mood despite any potential setbacks.
The game also does a great job teaching you how to proceed. More than once Aaron commented along these lines: “this was put here for a reason, I just don’t know why yet.”
One of the great things about Portal is it is a short fun puzzle game. It knows that it’s a short fun puzzle game and it doesn’t try to be anything but a short fun puzzle game. It took about 4 hours for Aaron to get through with very limited help from me.
Personally, I think we need less blockbuster games and more fun games like Portal, where the replay value is good, the story is fun, and you can roll through it in a couple of hours.