BRAID (2008) – NUMBER NONE INC.
Originally released in relative obscurity on Xbox Live and later ported to PC, Braid is regularly credited as one of the trailblazers for the independent gaming revolution that has typified the 7th generation of consoles. The game was an unexpected success story, quickly becoming one of the highest rated games on the Xbox Live Arcade service; five years later on, it retains much of the magic that made it a hit.
Braid draws much of its inspiration from 2D platformers of old (including Super Mario Bros to which its pays homage) as the suit-and-tie wearing protagonist Tim jumps his way past enemies and solves puzzles as he looks to save an unnamed princess. The reasons for just why Tim is on his quest however are left purposefully vague; only a few lines of dialogue in between levels provide any background. While critics have praised the open ended nature of the story and creator Jonathan Blow’s attempt to deconstruct classic gaming clichés, I found that the vague plot came over as more pretentious than ingenious – though that said, the twist in the final level is quite unexpected.
Blow’s personal dislike of collect-em-ups means that Tim’s quest through a level in Braid rarely ever becomes more strenuous than ‘find the key to unlock this door’. The key mechanic in Braid is Tim’s ability to rewind time at the press of a button (an idea also present in games including Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time), allowing him to reverse actions and to manipulate the surrounding world and enemies in order to reach the aforementioned keys. Each of Braid’s six different worlds incorporate a different twist on the rewind feature; for example, in World 4 the game only progresses when Tim moves from left to right whereas in World 5 by rewinding time a shadow doppelganger is created copying the past ten seconds of activity. This constant change of gameplay forces players to keep thinking of imaginative ways to solve the sometimes quite complex scenarios.
The ability to rewind mistakes also means there is no real penalty for death (tracing back your footsteps takes seconds), and thus the player is encouraged to find the solution by trial and error without the fear of having to sit through lengthy loading screens when they perish. In fact, Braid’s only primary flaw is its relative short length – there is only one method by which to solve most of the puzzles limiting replay value, and a skilled speedrun takes less than half an hour to complete.
Braid deserves praise for its splendid presentation; the hand drawn art style is charming and quite attractive, though perhaps not as immediately striking as the noir tones of fellow indie platformer LIMBO. The PC version did suffer from a few hiccups when I was playing through though; there is no option to play the game full size without crashing at start up, and the frame rate tends to judder at times. The licensed soundtrack, with its long looping mixture of violins and other assorted string instruments also helps to create a relaxing mood; in particular ‘Downstream’ by Shira Kammen is recommended to listen to.
Overall Braid remains as playable today as it was upon its time of release (which for those of you wanting to know more is covered briefly in Indie Game: The Movie). Similar to Valve’s Portal, it suffers from having a premature ending to proceedings but the initial delight in solving the most difficult puzzles the game has to throw at you is something that will live long in the memory. Fans can expect more of the same quality when Blow’s next project, The Witness, is released on the PlayStation 4.