You Have To Burn the Rope is easy. That’s the point. In this game, you have to burn the rope. It’s in the title. That should quickly let you know that Burn the Rope is unconventional. The whole game can be completed in about 37 seconds, if you’re quick. If that seems too easy, that’s because it is.
You play as a small pink ball with feet, eyes, arms, a mouth, and a hat. This is both good execution and satire of abstract character design. Like all abstract characters, the player is supposed to identify with the avatar because of the lack of identifying features, but the hat adds an air of humor, as if to suggest that the avatar is both unique and generic. As you walk down the game’s pixellated tunnels, you’ll see written messages telling you your simple goals. There’s a boss at the end of the initial tunnel, the only opposition you’ll face. You can’t hurt him with your only attack. To kill the boss and win the game, You Have To Burn the Rope holding a chandelier above the boss. The last message you see tells you to “Have fun!” In the greater context of the game, this seems sarcastic.
Winning the game is done exactly like the messages tell you. You encounter the boss, the Grinning Colossus, in a large room lined with torches that you must touch to pick up. You jump up to the rafters and touch your torch to the rope, dropping the chandelier on the Colossus. He vanishes in a puff of smoke, and the credits roll. Something you’re not told by the initial messages is that you can’t die. You can either win the game, or give up. An upbeat song plays during the credits, congratulating the player on every action undertaken. This game tries its best to make you feel like a winner.
But maybe Burn the Rope is saying that if everyone’s a winner, no one is. The game was released in 2008, well into an era of gaming many gamers believe is much easier than bygone years. They may have a point. Gaming is more popular now than it has ever been, and publishers are always looking for ways to expand their audience. Some new inexperienced gamers tend to give up playing a game if they think it’s too hard. Publishers think the solution is to make games easier to keep players playing. For example, the two most recent console Zelda games are easier than their predecessors. It’s harder to die because the amount of damage dealt by enemies and absorbed by the player has decreased. Dungeon design has become more linear, giving up the sense of wonder from exploration for the feeling of accomplishment from reaching an end. The Assassin’s Creed series, a much more recent set, has a combat system that allows the player to defeat a ludicrous amount of enemies single-handedly by timing the press of one button correctly.
So here’s You Have to Burn the Rope, an easy game among easy games. It’s hard to “Have fun” when your only challenge is your own patience. The game’s art style is pixellated, an ironic twist considering games that were forced to use this style back in the day were considerably harder. Maybe those big pixels are supposed to remind you of the days when games were considered fun because they were challenging, a delayed gratification. Everything today is instant, including that satisfaction.