Critical Play: Portal
Target Audience: The target audience of Portal seems to be teens and children above the age of 13. I played this as a teenager and still find it incredibly fun and mesmerizing even 7 years later!
I believe that the game really shines in the fact that it is incredibly simple and the core mechanics of it are very easy to grasp and understand for new players. The idea of each level is quite simple – get from the start point to the finish line! You’re equipped with a portal gun, which allows you to manipulate the environment and overcome various obstacles present throughout the level. This portal gun has both a blue and an orange portal, allowing players to literally travel from one portal to the other, as well as pass objects through it.
Even though the player only has a simple portal gun with a very simple mechanic of moving you from one portal to the other, the way that you use this mechanic can be incredibly interesting and nuanced. You’re able to interact with the environment, moving boxes to press buttons to open doors, redirect and weaponize lasers to kill the gunning robots, and fly through the air by use of your momentum. The simple mechanic of the portal gun also highlights the game’s primary mechanic that leads to interesting puzzles and solutions – its use of physics and movement. Inertia and momentum, while we usually take it for granted in other games, are actually core mechanics to keep in mind for the game, as it often is the deciding factor of whether you’re able to progress in a level. It requires players to critically think about how to use inertia and momentum to propel themselves forward, and it’s almost a tool that they have to use in their back pocket. I’d also argue that the physics and momentum aspect of this game allows players to draw from their real world experiences with momentum and physics to solve the puzzles!
I also really enjoyed the mechanics of Glados, as the commentary and voice over throughout the game was incredibly funny and enjoyable, even as an adult. It’s truly an impressively written script, and is a timeless classic. I also played this game with a friend, and the cooperation added another element and mechanism to the puzzle solving aspect of the game. Rather than solving these puzzles by yourself, you are working and coordinating the use of both of your respective portal guns to solve a level design, which makes it even more interesting as a central mechanism to the cooperative aspect. I can’t wait for Portal 3!