From the moment I first heard Johnathan Blow speak at the 2007 Montreal International Game Summit, it became very clear to me that he had very strong feelings about game design and what constitutes a good game. His ideas were unique, refreshing and even at times provocative. I’ve been a strong believer in the potential of video games for many years now, and so it should come as no surprise when I say I’ve been greatly anticipating the release of Johnathan Blow’s feature title: Braid.
Braid is, in its simplest form, a side-scroller; a 2D platforming game similar to Super Mario Bros. In fact, when we begin the game, we find out that Tim, the main protagonist of the game, is in fact in search of “The Princess”. Sounds familiar, right? Well it should. Braid’s story actually plays off of classical video game archetypes in a way that is uniquely different and unexpected. Where Braid’s true strength lies, however, is in its puzzle solving elements; yes, Braid is in fact a puzzle game, and a great one at that.
One of the first things you’ll notice when you begin Braid is that it’s very minimalist; in fact, if you go into the menu options under “controls” you’re basically told how to move and jump: nothing else. As you proceed through the first few levels though, it quickly becomes clear to you that in order to advance further into the game, you’ll need to collect these puzzle pieces that are scattered throughout the world. At first this seems like a simple enough task: you make your way past a few enemies, collect a few puzzle pieces, but then the game throws at you the real core mechanic of the gameplay: time travel.
Time travel in Braid is very similar to that of the Sands of Time games: if you make a mistake, you simply need to hold down a button and time gets rewound. The difference in this game however is that you can do so as often as you like and as far back as the beginning of the level, and believe me, you will, because make no mistake about it, Braid is hard. Each puzzle was carefully manufactured to make you think about your environment and how best to use what’s at your disposal. Certain levels will also add other elements to the formula such as objects that are not affected by time, your very own doppelganger, and a ring that slows down everything around it. But that’s the beauty of Braid. Although some of its levels may at first seem impossible to solve, they can all be solved in very simple manners; quite often, you simply get overwhelmed by everything that is happening around you and you loose perspective.
Slow down, take a moment and reflect.
With that said, there are a few puzzles that require some fairly accurate timing. The most frustrating thing in those situations is that you’re never quite sure if you’re doing what you’re suppose to, and you’re left wondering if it’s because the solution you’ve come up with is faulty, or if it’s simply because you’re not bouncing on that enemy’s head at quite the right angle.
It also bears mentioning that Braid is also a visually breathtaking game. The landscapes, which are made up of multiple animated layers, are all done in a style which mimics a living painting; screenshots just don’t do it justice. Add to that a haunting soundtrack and a story that would make David Lynch proud and you have a game that not only pushes the boundaries of creative design, but places a bar that other developers will surely have to take notice of.