In 2006 a game called Braid won the “Game Design” award at the Independent Games Festival whilst still in its early development days.
Around the world, the development community and gamers have been waiting for the release of Braid for some time, for the new and artful approach to gaming that it was poised to deliver. It is finally here on the Xbox Live Arcade.
Created by independent game developer Jonathan Blow, the title is making waves around the Xbox community at present, as Jonathan has proven it is possible as a small game developer to launch a game on the marketplace and be successful in doing so. Braid in its first week sold more than 55,000 copies over the Xbox Live Arcade, and 55,000 people can’t be wrong can they?
When I first read the description of Braid I thought, save the Princess... what is this! Mario!? Well, I can honestly say this game has very little to do with Mario aside from that they are both jump and run platformers. Upon entering the game you are greeted by beautiful levels, in a painted style much as though you were running through some sort of a portrait. The story is read by passing over books which are placed at the entry to the six worlds, and this reads somewhat surreal and melancholy. I found myself touched by the story and it really ties in with the levels, giving you clues to an extent on how to solve the puzzles.
Puzzles? Yeah, Braid is essentially a puzzle platformer. The aim is, well, to save the princess, but in each world you are collecting puzzle pieces which are littered around in hard to reach places, and you need to use your head to figure out how to get to them. Like a jigsaw, these puzzle pieces then need to be combined to make a bigger picture. But it’s not that simple. Braid is built around an amazing feature allowing you to manipulate time. It is almost an insult to Braid to refer to this as a feature, as it is an intrinsic part of Braid - the puzzle pieces simply can’t be reached without it. But I don’t want to go into what this is used for too much, as it would be a real shame to spoil any of the puzzles for you.
Each of the six worlds is very different to the last, and each will have a ‘theme’ which will require you to get the puzzle pieces in a certain way. One of the worlds involves time moving forward as you move forward, and backward as you move backward. You need to be smart and figure out how to use this to complete the puzzles. Fortunately, when a puzzle does get a bit too difficult, you can simply move on and come back to it later. Jonathan Blow states that these puzzles “flow directly from the rules of gameplay”. I would say though that in many instances they bend the rules of gameplay in ways you can’t imagine, and simply have to see, although the solutions always do seem quite natural when you find them.
The levels are made up of floating platforms, a number of hazards and cannons which shoot peculiar looking enemies at you. These can only be destroyed by bouncing on their heads, again ala Mario, but this is where the similarities end. Rarely are you rewarded for killing these enemies, but they are indispensable in their usefulness.
The game comes with very little instruction, and essentially the first world is a sort of tutorial, although the only real functions are jump and rewind time.
The amazing part about Braid is that the puzzles are so simple in their complexity that you will laugh when you figure them out, and you’ll find yourself face-palming as to why you didn’t see it earlier. I found myself excessively frustrated at one point, only to find that Jonathan had catered for this happening with his Official Walkthrough in which he states to never use a walkthrough, because “You can never un-spoiler yourself!” After reading that I got back to it, and suddenly some more pieces fell into place and I couldn’t believe how simple it had been.
Braid is exceptionally realised and is a complete work of art. It is a lesson in perseverance and in what magic can be achieved on a small budget. Braid will reward you immensely for nearly every puzzle piece you collect, and it will make you question your own thought train when you realise what the solution is.
If you're not convinced, download Braid and try the demo to see what the game is really like. But in this writer's opinion, this game gives new hope for the creativity of the gaming industry. It is truly worth its weight in gold and is absolutely and utterly one of a kind - but hopefully not the last of its kind!