Genre: Puzzle Platformer
Developed by: Number None
Published by: Number None
Platforms: XBOX 360, PC, iOS, PS3
Feeling Like: Winding back the clock
The year 2008 was a very different time. The notion of games being downloadable only was relatively new and very disruptive, in a good way. It meant having a massive publisher at your back was unnecessary and small teams (we’re talking a few people or even a single individual) could make a video game and reach the masses instantly. This is old hat now, but when titles like Braid came out, players noticed. This tiny, quirky little gem ended up being the second highest selling game on XBOX Live in 2008.
I don’t think a game like Braid would land as heavy today, but regardless of the time and space it occupied 15 years ago, it’s undoubtedly one of the best puzzles games ever made. It is a beautiful, frustrating, bewildering and thought-provoking experience. The solutions to the ingenious challenges are as inspiring as they are maddening. There is a lot to like in Braid.
Jonathan Blow is a name worth reverence in the video game industry. While he may be flippant and enigmatic, he almost single handedly created Braid, then The Witness. Creativity and production like that isn’t found on every corner.
It’s a curious decision to invoke Super Mario Bros. in a game like Braid. The jumping mechanics are there, sure, but the fundamental gameplay loop of turning back time to collect items that aren’t affected by time is all its own. I’m not sure what the message was including Goombas and Piranha Plant-like enemies, or being told that the princess is another castle other than to subvert and play on previous gaming experiences, but I suppose that’s all part of the mystery. I think its to lull you into a false sense of security, particularly when you see the final sequence play out.
I wane often in puzzle games. I like the creativity and unique solutions, but oftentimes when I resort to a walkthrough I am convinced I never would have figured out how to get that key. Oddly enough in Braid, I found Worlds 2 and 3 the hardest. Once I had a better grasp of what kind of actions would be required of me, I didn’t consult a guide again. I really should just be more patient and try to figure things out on my own, it’s always more satisfying that way.
It’s a quiet, reflective, strange game. Even with the bright, beautiful colors it has a subdued tone. The game is brimming with clever world building and levels, but it doesn’t want to brag. It almost feels like it’s embarrassed about its own quality.
While I can’t recall any specific stages or enemies to overcome, I will never forget the ending which completely flips the game’s narrative on its head. It’s a fantastic final level – it uses gameplay to further the story, something I’ve only really seen about a dozen times out of the 700+ games I’ve played. That kind of trick is nearly impossible to deploy, but Braid takes it a step further and relies on your assertion that you’re the good guy, rescuing the princess. Right?
The soundtrack is masterful, absolutely brilliant – maybe the best part of Braid, and that’s really saying something. It’s playful, even childish at times but utterly haunting and engrossing. “Tell It By Heart” is one of my all time favorites, it’s so layered. It may be one of the saddest tracks I’ve ever heard in a game, but I can’t stop listening to it, even in 2023. “Downstream” starts out very simple and pleasant before morphing into something astounding. Much like Braid itself, you have to uncover the good and put the work in, otherwise surface level enjoyment is all you’ll get out of it.
I think the difference between Braid and other puzzle games I quit on is that I rarely felt frustrated playing Braid. The graphics and audio immersed me immediately, so I didn’t want to leave even if I couldn’t leave a specific room. I always had a notion as to what the game was asking of me, so I was never at a complete blank. The rewinding time feature encouraged exploration and experimentation without harsh punishment, a true sign of excellent design.
The ending has stuck with me, but it’s so rare that a game gets everything else right. It’s not for everybody, no doubt if I hadn’t looked up a few of those solutions I’d still be stuck on World 3 and maybe I wouldn’t have followed through, but I’m glad I did. Braid is certainly one of those titles that justifies its spot and perhaps should be significantly higher. The more I reminiscence, the more fondly I think of it.