Publisher:Microsoft Platform: Xbox Live Arcade, PC (at a later date) Price: 1200 MS Points
There are just three things you need to know about Braid, which is quite remarkable when you think about how many games there are out there which pile on extra levels of needless complexity.
First, you should know that Braid is beautiful. Not just pretty, but beautiful. It isn’t like Crysis where you play it for a bit and occasionally go oooh and aaahh at the big explosions, it’s more like looking at a really nice painting or having a dream like the heaven-sequences from What Dreams May Come.
The second thing you need to know is that the game is challenging. Again, not in the way that you might have come to expect thanks to a lifetime of shooters and reflex games. Braid manages to stand apart compared to even conventional puzzle games as it requires not just an ability to think laterally, but that you find a whole new way to think laterally.
The third thing you need to know is that Braid is excellent. Let’s get that clear from the off – balls out of the bag, so to speak. Braid is phenomenal and you can stab me in the face with a soldering iron if I’m exaggerating about that.
The opening to Braid is very gentle and interesting, giving the player absolutely no introduction nor context with which to get a handle on things. Literally all you see is a pastel dawn silhouetting your character against a watercolour sky. Above, the title floats in a celestial font.
You move forward, slipping out of shadow and into a house which may or may not be yours. Some parts of the house are dark, others are more colourful than the discarded palettes of emo art students. You pass a door and are told to press B. You enter the first world.
It’s here where the game starts laying on the narrative, albeit in a deliberately fragmentary way. The snippets of story that you hear as you walk through The Cloud Room before each level, passing by and reading excerpts from the books that line the halls, are jumbled but somehow poetic. It’s brief and beautifully written, no matter how broken it is.
Slowly, you assemble the pieces together out of the framed chaos. It’s as if the plot of Braid were a magnificent stained glass window that had broken on a church floor. You are picking up the pieces in groups – clusters that you are certain go together and are startlingly pretty in their own right.
Yeah, the writing is pretty good – filled with things like “Her benevolence has circumscribed you, and your life's achievements will not reach beyond the map she has drawn."
So, who is she? Well, this is one of the main pursuits of Braid on the plot-level; to find out just what it is you are supposed to be doing. Your name is Tim and you are apparently looking for a Princess – but one you aren’t even sure exists, in a world filled with monsters, time travel and dinosaurs. You’ve left behind loved ones, soulmates and family members on your journey – but now you can’t remember what it is you are looking for or why.
These are the things that drive you and pull you through Braid’s looking glass. Not the generic need to do good by rescuing the princess (does she need rescuing?), but the need to satisfy your own curiosity and bring your wondering and wandering to a conclusion.
It’s like a whodunit, but a why-where-when-who-and-what-dunnit as well. It’s the quotes of Rudyard Kipling, extrapolated into game form – and if it seems like that’s a nonsensical thing to say then it probably is. Braid makes you think like that though, defining things on those strange terms and in that way it really is quite ingenious in the way it structures this gentle, twee beauty.