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Braid (PC) artwork

Braid (PC) review

"What impressed me the most was the willingness the developers showed to craft such an entertaining and challenging title despite placing the lion's share of the emphasis on the metaphoric story. Strip away the plot and we're left with an addictive puzzle/platformer."

Braid opens to a somber tune and a shadowed, contemplative figure overlooking a city. You guide our hero, a disheveled man by the name of Tim, out of the darkness and into a colorful and surreal realm where afroed goombas frolic and platforms float in the sky. Here we discover what's eating Tim: his missing maiden, an elusive princess who's always in another castle. What we see on the surface is a lot of creative strangeness attached to an innocent puzzle/platformer, but we know that's not all there is to the story.

All over the game are clues to what's really going on in Tim's life. At the beginning of each of Braid's six worlds are a set of books filled with ambiguous passages and poetic prose. We are not forced to read them, yet many of us will anyway. Those who make such an investment of their time will either find oblique and/or pretentious writings that serve to belie the game's brilliance, or they will see subtle metaphors that fit together like pieces of a puzzle. The former will dismiss the narrative, yet still find a great and challenging adventure, and the latter will find a reward for their troubles.

Braid is all about narrative. It intertwines its metaphors with its mechanics and level designs, even with stage names. Yet it does so in a subtle, even clever, way, and you can bet that every odd occurrence is relevant to the narrative. There's a reason why the hub leading Tim to the different worlds looks like the innards of a house, and why each room holds a different memory. From the ways the flags fly on the castle to the elusive nature of the princess, everything has a place in Braid's plot.

Part of me wants to wave all of this away, because these are themes and concepts I love to see in literature but dislike in videogames. I usually like to keep my Dickens and Faulkner separate from my Ancel and Miyamoto. Somehow, though, Braid won me over in spite my of reluctance to accept a game with such a deep narrative. Mostly, it was because the game didn't force the narrative down my throat by pushing me from one cutscene to the next, and even left little obligation to ponder on it.

What impressed me the most was the willingness the developers showed to craft such an entertaining and challenging title despite placing the lion's share of the emphasis on the metaphoric story. Strip away the plot and we're left with an addictive puzzle/platformer. Most games of this sort have a simple objective: complete the stage. However, completing the stage here isn't necessarily the object. You could fly through stages doing the least required of you, as most of them can be completed by running to the right and going through the door leading to the next stage. Do that and you'll miss the puzzle pieces spread throughout the game. These are not required for completing stages, but they are essential for accessing the game's ending.

Even that, though, isn't the real reason you want to get the puzzle pieces. You like fun, don't you? Braid doesn't force you to grab the puzzle pieces, but you are anyway. You don't have to run through brain-teasing gauntlets of puzzles, or form plans and strategies to nab these suckers. It's a lot of trouble, but it's from the trouble that we derive our entertainment. It's like the game is telling you that playing is more important than completing, like the tired cliche about the journey mattering more than the destination. Yes, that ties in with the narrative as well.

Obtaining early puzzle pieces will require maybe two brain cells. An out-of-reach puzzle piece can be easily obtained by bouncing off a nearby afro-goomba. As you advance, the brain cell requirement exponentially increases. The game will test your timing and logic, throwing the right switches at the right moment, killing the correct enemies in the correct order, using the proper key to open a door. You'll always look back and hope you didn't overlook a detail. If you did, then that's what reversing time is for.

Each new world introduces a new facet of this ability, increasing the capacity for variety and more creative puzzles. The first world, whose theme aptly revolves around righting your wrongs and forgiveness, only allows you to reverse time. It's also the easiest and most basic world. In another world, turning back time will create a doppleganger of yourself who can interact with environmental stimuli. Another presents you with items and enemies that are not affected by backpedaling. In most cases, grabbing a key and then reversing time causes you to lose the key. However, a key immune to reversing stays in your grasp even when turning back the clock.

At points, the game really gets tricky, even downright frustrating. There are points where you have to time your reversing just right. You'll find situations where you need to get through an area before it closes on you, with a wild string of events set up for you to complete in order to get through. You could reverse time if the way closes, but that would also undo your progress. You have to consider the order of operations, toy with different possibilities to see which ones work best, and develop efficient strategies that aren't exactly easy to puzzle out. It's definitely an engaging adventure, even for those who don't wish to reflect on the narrative.

I like to think of Braid as a game that unifies gamers. Those who love narrative will be satisfied digging into the treasure trove of implications and ambiguity to derive a message. Those who just want to play without consideration for what it all means will find a difficult and addictive puzzler with a diverse assortment of challenges. Those who enjoy both will appreciate the way the two factors come together in harmony. Whether you want intellectual depth or not, there's a little something for everyone.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (March 15, 2012)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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bbbmoney posted March 15, 2012:

Always wanted to review this, and it's definitely hard to get across how Braid isn't pretentious without sounding so yourself. I think the review overcame this obstacle handedly, and made it clear on why the game is flatly good no matter how you look at it.
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zippdementia posted March 16, 2012:

I was one of those guys who didn't get Braid's story- or rather, I got bits and pieces of it, but had to eventually dig up a story faq to understand the whole concept. As you portray very clearly here, though, Braid had a brilliance beyond the story and the nature of that story wouldn't have worked if it weren't done so secretively and in such a subtle manner.

I did get frustrated at Braid when it came to the star puzzles. I still haven't solved them all and I never will. Why? Because I looked at the faq and some of them are just plain stupid. Like the one where you have to let your game sit still for something like four hours until an incredibly slow moving cloud correctly positions itself on the screen as a lift. No, Braid, I won't be doing that. That's stupid. I like the idea behind such a puzzle, the game is asking you to literally not discount ANY possibility as a solution to the problem, but once you figure out what that solution is, there is nothing fun about waiting four hours before you can enact it.

One minor complaint, Joe, and easily fixed I hope... the screenshots are waaaay fuzzy. Get some other ones?
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JoeTheDestroyer posted March 16, 2012:

Thanks. It hoped I didn't come off as pretentious (hyperboles were another fear). I think that was the.toughest part.

And thank you as well. I'll fix the pics when I get home later tonight.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted March 17, 2012:

I decided to just axe the screens instead. Either full size or miniature, they don't look appealing. I could use Frapps to grab some new ones, but with the way my current computer runs, that could take days.
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zippdementia posted March 17, 2012:

Ah, too bad! You could jump online and find some non-copyrighted images. I think they add a lot, since a big part of Braid is that indescribable aesthetic.

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