It's a little early to start talking about "Best of 2012" yet, but I know that when we get around to it, two titles are definitely going to be on my list: thatgamecompany's existential wandering game Journey, and Polytron's retro-styled brain-squeezer Fez. I say this knowing that while I played both of these games and enjoyed them immensely, I see no reason to ever play them again.
After talking to a lot of people about thatgamecompany's latest game, Journey, I've discovered that I lucked into the most poetic version of that game possible when I played it. The nature of Journey — that you and your random multiplayer partners are equally aware of what's going on — means that the more people play it, the less fun it gets for everyone else. Basically, too many people are in the joke now, and new players are far less likely to share in my experience than they are to have some golden-robed veteran take them by the nose and show them where everything is.
In this way, Journey had something of an expiration date on it. It's best when neither you nor your partner(s) know what anything is, and the game can draw you in with its strange and explorable world. Unfortunately, as people have written articles and discussed it on podcasts, they have given away its tricks like dishonorable Victorian-era magicians, and the people playing Journey now are likely in it to snatch up a few loose Trophies.
Fez is similar. It's a puzzle game in which the enjoyment (or frustration, depending on what you're into) comes from approaching its weirdo glyph language and series of baffling rooms from a place of total ignorance. Could I have the same experience on a new playthrough as I did on my first? Of course not; I've cracked those codes.
Barring a very specific kind of amnesia that I'm pretty sure doesn't exist, the only real reason to replay a puzzle game is if the story is any good. That's why I've gone back to Portal and the Monkey Island series, but Fez just doesn't hold that kind of appeal for me. It has a charming aesthetic, sure, and its world is mysterious and engaging, but its plot is basically 2001: A Space Odyssey with way fewer ape-men. I liked Fez because of its secrets and the satisfaction I got from unlocking them, and also because I think it's pretty cute when Gomez (the hero) jumps into the air when he finds a new Mystery Cube.
Our first experience with a game is crucial to how we feel about playing it, but what does it mean if that first experience is the only "real" one we can have? Does the impossibility of reliving that first playthrough take away from the game as a whole? In these two cases, I don't think it does; my first playthroughs were so memorable that I don't really need any more than those. This is a really weird way to design a game, to be sure, but it also makes for some truly unique experiences. Isn't that why we play them, anyway?
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