Review: The Beginner’s Guide
There is absolutely nothing typical, conventional, or ordinary about The Beginner’s Guide. Davey Wreden, creator of the much-loved 2013 hit The Stanley Parable, announced the existence of The Beginner’s Guide a mere two days before it’s October 1st release. No one knew he was making it, and until it released, no one knew what it was about. And now, having played it, I’m still turning that last one over in my head. I intended to do the typical game site thing by trying to get an advance review copy and publish this review the day it released, but even that turned out to be a mistake. The Beginner’s Guide is as unusual video game as I have ever played, so much so that I have trouble even calling it that. It’s better described as an experience, a message, a window into a person’s soul. And as those things, it is remarkable.
The Beginner’s Guide wastes no time before absolutely shattering the fourth wall. Even before the first “level” loads, Davey Wreden starts talking directly to you. He explains that what you are about to experience are a series of small games created by someone he knew named Coda, and that by playing these games you are able to see inside the psyche, the personality, the mindset of their creator. Davey explains, to his best guess and based on his interactions with Coda at the time each game was made, what motifs and symbols and the gameplay tropes – or lack thereof – mean to Coda as a person, and how the games affected Davey himself.
It’s a bizarre journey at times. Some of these games are no longer than a handful of seconds. Some have sections that are oddly intentionally unplayable – sections that are aided by Davey speeding up time or placing a bridge over unseen obstacles. As I played these games I saw things I’ve never seen in almost 30 years of game playing. One of the most interesting concepts was a game where you could only move by walking backward, and after I had looked around to get my bearings the game changed around me while my back was turned. None of these concepts are fully-fledged, but their individual characteristics are supported by their brevity.
I’m not quite sure where to go next. Like I said before, nothing about The Beginner’s Guide is normal, and to continue to review it almost feels like a spoiler in and of itself. Suffice it to say that from a story aspect, as you continue through the hour and a half journey, you move deep into the complex and sometimes frightening emotions of Coda until Davey finally reveals why he’s showing you all of these little games. The payoff is worth that journey, no matter your own interpretation of the events and your judgement as to what is and is not the truth. The creative process, whether it’s that of a writer, a film maker, a composer, a game designer, or anyone else, is rarely concise and straightforward, and usually far bigger than is ever revealed. It was a privilege to gain a bit of insight from someone with the likes of The Stanley Parable on his resume.
Still, The Beginner’s Guide is a game, and you came here for a review. My original playthrough of The Beginner’s Guide took me only an hour and a half, which is extremely short given the $10 price ($8 on Steam for its launch sale). I’ve spent far longer playing Jetpack Joyride on my phone this past week, which I paid $1 for back in 2011. There’s not much to do in the game other than watch the journey as you press the forward button. There are a few puzzles, a few sections of dialog that, having only played through it once, more than likely all arrive at the same conclusion. But ultimately, the journey makes The Beginner’s Guide worth the while for anyone who enjoys an emotional, thought provoking experience.
- Completely unique
- Thought-provoking and emotional
- Gives insight into video game creative development rarely seen
- Short – only an hour and a half
- Low replay value
- Very little actual gameplay