I had to break Tiny and Big in order to realise just how much I love it. I mean really break it, too: dead end, entirely out of options, nothing for it but to restart the chapter and lose 30 minutes of progress. I usually hate this sort of thing in games, but that's because this sort of thing in games is usually the result of a bug.
In Tiny and Big it's completely different: I was given the ability to chop things down, and I then chopped down so much that the level didn't work any more. In a game like this, it's hard to begrudge the odd restart - they're nothing more than the necessary consequence of all the freedom you've been allowed.
You can divide a lot of games up, I reckon, based on whether they give you props or tools. Take a grappling hook: in Arkham Asylum it's a tool. In other games it might be a prop - a contextual canned animation that whisks you to a new part of the level while giving you the illusion of control. Stand here, press A, fire the grappling hook. Don't stand over there, idiot, it won't work. It only works over here.
Portal: that's a game that gives you tools. Tiny and Big does, too. It gives you three separate tools, in fact, and then it goes beyond anything Aperture or Arkham offers by allowing you to use them almost entirely as you please.
So you can slice things, drag things, and rocket things into the distance in Tiny and Big, and you're not going to tire of that kind of action any time soon. Tiny's on a mission to steal some magical underpants back from the villainous Big, see, and as he explores the game's desert temple setting, he'll need to get the most out of his laser cutter, his grappling hook and his, well, rocketizer thingy if he's going to be victorious.
It's wonderful stuff, and it's mostly down to the fact that the game almost never makes you feel like you're being hemmed in. It's surprisingly rare to find an object nearby that you can't slice into pieces (things lurking further back tend to be largely non-interactive, mind) and the same goes for objects you want to drag closer or push away.
"Tiny and Big comes closer than any game I've ever played to recreating that moment in Spider-Man 2 when Doctor Octopus starts flinging taxis about. Sweet Molina!"
This is powerful magic the game's letting you meddle with, too. Need to escape a locked room? Cut your way out. Need to scale a wall with no handholds? Bring down some pillars and break them up to fit your needs. Or, heck, just forget your objectives and play. Rip things up, fling them around, topple the game's precarious sets and delight in its cartoon physics. Explore its endless ability to manufacture comedy death.
All of your tools feel great to use, too. With the laser, for example, you highlight an object and then extend a line across it, cutting and re-cutting with real precision, while the grapple hook conveys a genuine sense of weight as you tug boulders about and fell giant towers. Best of all, there's that rocket: you can hold down the middle mouse wheel to give it as much juice as you want, and it's ceaselessly comical to see a buttress sailing off into the distance, or a misshapen rock skidding over the desert and then colliding with something tall and heavy that - oops - starts to swing your way. Dead again.
It would be enough to keep you happy if the game was just a sandbox, but Grandpa's Leftovers - the first episode of Tiny and Big, apparently - is actually an action-packed two hours of platforming and puzzle solving. Enjoy scaling the Agency Tower in Crackdown? That's basically what you're in for with the first hour or so, while the second piles on boss fights - you mainly duck flying boulders or break them in two - and some spooky interiors.
The more the game starts to fling stone things at you, the more it risks becoming annoying: it's a rare player who won't want to be left to just cut things and shunt them around without a constant bombardment from above. These sequences don't last forever, though, and they provide moments of real cinematic brilliance as a huge wall of rock is heaved your way and you bust it apart at the very last second.
Forget the triple-A crowd: Tiny and Big comes closer than any game I've ever played to recreating that moment in Spider-Man 2 when Doctor Octopus starts flinging taxis about. Sweet Molina! And it does it all without any actual taxis!
You can approach most of the game's objectives any way you'd like, although there's a reward for completing a level with only minimal use of your arsenal. Why bother with that, though? What a stupid idea. Go nuts. You've got a laser beam, a springy rope and some freakin' rockets: this isn't the time to exercise restraint.
The first time I broke the game, it was because I accidentally chopped down a massive ramp I was meant to be climbing up. Tiny and Big was perfectly happy to let me do pruning on that scale, and it was perfectly happy to let me try to salvage the situation, too, bringing down a distant wall one slice at a time, until the entire world was composed of useless nubs.
It should have been infuriating, but it was brilliant - brilliant and hilarious and inventive, like a Portal challenge, but without all the hand-holding, protective padding, and unspoken direction that comes from Valve's playtesting. I don't mind the odd restart if it's because I've done something genuinely apocalyptic. I quite like it, in fact. I've earned that restart.
At times, of course, Tiny and Big could do with a little more playtesting: indoor levels are dark and hard to navigate, while the checkpoint placement is worryingly random and the platforming isn't particularly precise. None of this truly ruins the game, though, just as it doesn't matter too much if you don't like the handicraft magic-marker art style, the sprays of giant onomatopoeias, the hipster soundtrack or the rather studenty humour which delights in plastering the surroundings in glyphs depicting Y fronts.
Tiny and Big: Grandpa's Leftovers is an awkward, freewheeling treat, in other words. I have no idea how the rest of the series is going to build upon the foundation of this initial episode, but I can't wait to find out.
The whole thing reminds me of one of the ancient and inviolate rules of storytelling, actually, the one that goes something like this: stick your hero up a tree, throw rocks at him, and then get him down again. For games - games like Tiny and Big, anyway - you can probably add another clause to that formula: when your hero's stuck up that tree, give him a laser, a grapple hook and, oh, a handful of rockets. Why not, eh? Why not?