Braid: a stitch in time

view of a puzzle

Braid is Super Mario Brothers out for a bender and high on a hefty dose of Acid. The Acid trip starts slowly; the first few levels are quite normal and conform to the basic platform idea. Then some weirdness starts to sneak up on you... You can reverse time at your convenience!? There are no lives, just rewind until things are ok!?! A little bit further and it's a one way slide down the rabbit hole as fundamental laws of nature are twisted back on themselves. At the peak you're caught in the grip of powerful hallucinations that bend your mind and warp your perception of reality so forcefully that you feel a little discomforted and concerned. However when you come to the end you've learned to accept the new reality and it becomes the new normal; accepted, understood and fantastic.

It's at this point that it's worth pointing out that Braid has a generous slab of puzzle game in it's pedigree, perhaps an even greater portion than platformer. Things are set up such that you are not saved by the nimbleness of your fingers on the control pad but rather how well you have considered how to conquer the next obstacle. This is emphasised by the fact that you can't die in the conventional sense. If you “die” then all you need do is rewind until before you did. This means that you will never be truly challenged by physical threats, rather it is the mental ones that you have to be careful of. With that being said though there is a need to have some platform skills, in the same way that a journalist needs to be able to type to write articles.

leaping to a cloud

an impossible leap

Alright let's cut to the chase about what makes Braid tick, and what makes it great. Fundamentally Braid is a platform game in which you get numerous powers with which you can manipulate time. It's simple to say this, but the reality is quite impressive and hard to fathom without experiencing it. Manipulation of time gives rise to puzzles that have solutions you can't expect, but that you can figure out quite readily. Each world behaves consistently with the rules that the designers gave it, it's up to you to discover those rules and use them to solve the puzzles. Experimenting and exploring each world is important and nothing is placed without a purpose in mind, even though you may not realise it at first.

Braid can be fiendishly difficult at times and it was frequent that I put the controller down to just look and have a think. However the difficulty isn't ridiculous and there is something so very satisfying when you figure out each puzzle, especially one that has been bugging you for a while. Also the puzzles are varied enough that it never grows stale or repetitive, instead it stays fresh throughout presenting you with puzzles that are always challenging, novel and interesting.

It's brilliant and novel gameplay aside Braid is a complete and polished package. In particular I found the audio especially compelling. The music is atmospheric and gives the game a windswept and bleak feel and doesn't become irritating if heard repeatedly. What's really interesting however is that the all the audio is affected by your time powers as well. This really helps to enhance and reinforce the connection between the power and the effect it has on the game world.

entry to a world

another vague anecdote

The story is probably the thinnest part of the package but it is easy to see that it was designed with a purpose in mind. The story doesn't have a continuous narrative and is instead a collection of obtuse stories about the princess and the games protagonist. Each part is presented at the start of a new World and they seem to provide hints as to what rules will govern within. Overall the story is a disjointed set of vague anecdotes that come together with a nice internal consistency at the end, despite this it does feel a little unsatisfying and is the weakest part of the whole package.

When you distill it down to its base elements Braid is like a crossword or Sudoku puzzle only far more visceral and engaging. Crosswords and Sudoku are one note constructs, they only provide one very specific challenge. Braid on the other hand has many and varied notes that it plays masterfully, combining them into a shower of sound that immediately captures your curiosity and at the same time confounds you with its delicious complexity.

Truly groundbreaking gameplay coupled with a heap of polish makes this an experience not to be missed.

One Response to “Braid: a stitch in time”

  1. I loved the cute storyline in this one!

    January 7th, 2011

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