So, I got Braid last week. Mind blowing.
So what is Braid? Well, Braid is an independently produced “videogame” by a “man” named “Jonathan Blow”. It’s a 2D platformer on the surface, drawing heavily on classics like Super Mario Bros, but in actuality it’s more of a puzzle game than anything else. The hook is that all the puzzles play with time. For example, in the first world, you are introduced to the main character Tim’s ability to rewind time.
Now in most games of this ilk, you would gain an increasing number of time-based powers which would then open up the world in new ways, ala Zelda, ala Metroid. Not so in Braid. In Braid, each of the six worlds has its own has its own unusual and unique temporal properties. One world, for example, introduces green objects immune to time rewind, allowing you to use a key on a green door, and then rewind to before you used the key, and the green door stays unlocked, allowing you to keep the key for use on the door behind. Another advances time as you move right, and erases it as you move left, freezing time when you stand still.
It’s hard to really describe how these things work without playing the thing. Well maybe you need to watch this video?
There are a number of games I’ve played that after several hours of play cause my brain to confuse the game physics with reality and for a while I keep expecting the real world to comply to these strange physics. Crawling on walls and ceilings as an Alien in Alien vs. Predator 2 (the game not the movie) was one. Driving super fast in F-Zero GX, losing all sense of a centre of gravity, that was another. Super Mario Galaxy, with its playful gravity tugging Mario from planet to planet, was the most recent example. Until Braid. This is what I mean by mind blowing. After a few short hours of play, I was walking through the house expecting to rewind time to allow me to have already simultaneously made my dinner and been to the bathroom both with and without having done either or both earlier or later…
Do you see?
Braid has a story to it, but it’s extremely abstract and somewhat divorced from the game until the wonderful end sequence. It is told through skippable text in each world’s level hub. That’s not to say it’s not a worthwhile tale – indeed the opposite – it’s a strangely compelling mystery presented in an unusual way. As you travel the world, there are optional jigsaw pieces that you collect in order to piece together a painting for each world, further illustrating the story without hammering it over your head with cutscenes. It’s open for interpretation, but as I’ve mentioned it does all come together at the end, and allows you to look back and go “oh, now I get it” in that wonderful way. Alternatively, ignore it and just play for the gameplay if you are so inclined.
The art style is notably pretty. And by pretty I mean stunningly beautiful. It’s not the bump-parallax-mapped anisotropic filtered textures of high-end 3D games. Thank the lord. Painted backgrounds and enemies, lusciously animated temporal effects, charming world design. All courtesy of David Hellman of the slightly incredible webcomic A Lesson is Learned But the Damage is Irreversible. How pretty is this game? Well folks, it’s exactly this pretty:
Speaking of design, the level design is unbelievably tight. It’s just mind boggling how every little part of the world factors into the puzzles, particularly on World 4. Completing each of the fiendishly elaborate puzzles requires quick reflexes and forward planning much more than luck. And if you mess up, there’s always the rewind – although collecting later jigsaw pieces require more precise use of that power. Those wonderful eureka moments are sprinkled throughout the game as ample reward, although if you find a puzzle too difficult, you can often bypass it. The harder puzzles are usually optional. But you’ll find yourself going back.
If there is one downside it’s that this is a short game. Thing is, I find it hard to call that a downside. Given the number of games I never complete, Braid never outstays its welcome, and much like Valve’s Portal, this game rewards experimentation rather than punishing you for missing something, and even more importantly, it’s enjoyable from beginning to end, as opposed to, say, Fallout 3, which is often a slog.
There is no reason I can think of not to get Braid, on Xbox Live Arcade or PC today. Unless you’re some kind of a wretched husk allegeric to games that provoke thought and stimulate the brain as well as being fun.