Confusion isn't generally a feeling that developers want players to experience. In Brainpipe: A Plunge to Unhumanity, however, it's actually an achievement. Developed by Digital Eel, the self-funded side project of Valve level designer Iikka Keränen, ex-musician Rich Carlson and artist Bill Sears, Brainpipe let's players take control of a giant eyeball as it travels through a network of psychedelic synapses. Somehow, it's even stranger than it sounds.
Beneath the heady visuals, Brainpipe is a fairly conventional endurance game. The objective is to survive the game's 10 stages and collect the "Unhumanity" glyph at the end of the last level to "transcend humanity and reveal your true self." Along the way, you're met with an ever-increasing number of obstacles that you must avoid by carefully steering with your mouse. Take too much damage before you have a chance to regenerate, and you lose. But you can also click the left mouse button to slow down time, giving you an extra second or two of breathing room. Along your way to Stage 10, you'll find plenty of glyphs scattered about and waiting to be collected.
But Brainpipe isn't really about hoarding power-ups, high scores or even survival, for that matter. It's an audio-visual experience in the same vein as games like Rez or Bit.Trip Beat. Every object has its own unique sound that gets louder as you approach. it. It's actually fairly satisfying to simply listen to objects fly past you as you dodge them one by one, especially if you have a decent pair of headphones lying around. If you're not too concerned with game audio or you're not a fan of ambient music, though, it's pretty safe to say that you won't be too impressed with this game.
Brainpipe feels like equal parts Jeff Minter and Brian Eno, which is perhaps the highest praise you could offer a developer as singular as Digital Eel. In fact, my only real gripe against it is the price: the full 10 levels of Brainpipe will set you back $15. That's the same price as Brain, 50 percent more than the sublime Flower and three times the price of 2009 IGF Grand Prize-winner Blueberry Garden. Considering most levels of Brainpipe are indistinguishable from one another, it's easy to wonder where the extra expenses came from to warrant such an exorbitant price. My guess? All the drugs they've taken haven't paid for themselves - yet.
Bottom Line: Brainpipe is certainly a trip, but you can go a lot farther with $15.
Recommendation: Until the full game comes down in price, you're better off sticking with the demo.