Game: Braid Developer: Number None
In the summer of 2008 I had a little custom whereby every Wednesday I’d download the latest xbox live arcade game demo to try. I didn’t read a lot of video game coverage back then and xbox live didn’t get much attention. The game that particular week was completely unknown to me the thumbnail art caught my attention. It was a broken hour glass with the sand pouring out and a sand castle that seemed to be melting into the sand. It wasn’t trying to convey what the games was it really stood out to me. It kind of reminded me more of the hand drawn Atari ST boxes I owned as a kid back then 3.5″ floppy disk used to come in giant boxes for some reason and some of the box was really abstract.
I remember loading the game and the title screen being playable it was a very fresh feeling idea.
You run to the right as the world moves from shadow to light you get to a house.
Upon entering the house you find yourself in the game hub which was a playable menu and progress screen all in one. It was subtle everything was old and familiar yet fresh all at the same time. It’s hard to explain but it was almost like video game tropes were being perfected rather than reinvented. There were five rooms in the house but only one of them was available to choose.
I opened the first door and was greeted by a cloud room with what almost look like school desks with books on them. I walked towards the book first book as it opens to reveal text. I started to read the text and it was that moment I really started to appreciate the beautifully haunting music. The music in this game is licensed and was unlike anything I had ever heard.
Over the years since Braids release this text has been the subject of criticism of the game to me it seemed to speak to me personally. It was the first time a game had steered real emotion inside of me. I’ve loaded up the game on more than one occasion just to read the text and listen to the music. This game made me feel in a way no movie, book or TV show ever did the only thing that every made me feel that way was pouring through book in my art college library, had games just become art, or had I just had my eyes opened.
Upon entering the first door I was greeted by what looked like an oil painting of a garden the music was pleasant and it hit me straight away it was like a Mario game I didn’t need the tutorial level.
I did however find myself naturally pressing up to go through doors which isn’t the case in Braid it’s a button press which oddly both contradicts and compliments Mario as doors are also used to access levels as well as take you from level to level.
Other than that the game is similar to Mario in fact the goal was to rescue the prince from the castle, no not that one.
I’m sure the games designer meant the Mario theme to be some sort of commentary on the games industry, game design or even game narratives and hero’s otherwise why do it, why copy Mario so closely. but to me it felt like games had matured game had finally grown up and I was loving every second of.
About three levels in and the Mario gameplay is replaced by a simple logic puzzle as the rules of the game change and up to level four you can be forgiven for not dying but some clever blind jumps and falling enemies will try to change that.
Player death is really important because upon your death you learn that you can rewind, you time to reverse your mistake and if you were paying attention you’ll notice that gameplay mechanic fits into the opening narrative. I was blown away it was simple and yet elegant this was pulled off this theme would carry on for the entirety of the game.
I completed world 2 and noticed that those random collectables that look a bit like jigsaw pieces are in fact jigsaw pieces and if you can collect them all you could make a picture I also noticed that world 3 is now available to play. I was so compelled I ignored the jigsaws and moved on.
I entered the cloud room excited and wondering what power this new world would give me.
The first level is a tutorial (without the button prompts this time) in the form of logic puzzle and if successful you will have learnt that items with a green particle effect are not subject to the same rules and that they cannot be manipulated by you time reversing powers.
The music is once again splendid and it’s starting to sink in how much this game is about the puzzles more than the Mario theme suggests. In fact world 3 three is puzzle happy and really drives this point home I believe there are two reasons 1) to let you know it’s a puzzle game 2) its ok not to get all the pieces you can come back later as the puzzles are a set up from world 2.
This message is also reinforced by the fact it’s easy to replay levels and each level has a puzzle piece counter. Your expected to go away and come back later the UI accounts for it.
The last but one level lightens the mode with a fantastic but not difficult boss fight. Both the fight and the bosses visual life bar are very well done I almost wish there wasn’t an actual life bar as part of the UI. The fight wouldn’t feel at home in a Mario game. While I was happy this fight was in there I did wonder the motive as the Mario theme seemed to only be a vessel by this point. Then it struck me the boss was not manipulated by time and for the first time Tim had killed something that cannot be revised by reversing time.
The level then ends with a slightly less convincing the princess in is another castle. All is not as it seems.
At this point I decided to press on and compete the game. The remaining mechanics are clever and fun all while increasing the difficulty of getting puzzle pieces. The text mood of the text becomes more somber you start to realise Tim is not happy with his life, his home doesn’t feel like home and maybe there isn’t a princess.
Although there is time for cheeky nod to Tolkien as the levels progress to the point straight forward platforming disappears and the full puzzle game emerges with every more complex puzzles to solve.
It was at this point once I’d read all the text that I decided to go back and re attempt world 2 and get all the pieces. I collected all but two pieces really quickly. Something I didn’t mention before is the fact you can solve the jigsaw puzzles within one of the levels in the game world like this.
The final two pieces require almost a fourth wall breaking puzzle as that shelf on the picture in the puzzle is in fact a platform.
Wow what a game! It was the art style music and Mario theme that grab me but it was the puzzles that would hold my attention. Each time you solved a jigsaw puzzles a piece of ladder would appear in the hub world.
This would allow you to progress to the attic where the final story pay off happens and it doesn’t disappoint. I spent the following months looking for a like Braid almost nine years later and I still haven’t. I would go on to pay really close attention to a multitude of gaming sites, you tube and social media I would never again find a mystery gem of a game. I would even go on to learn Jonathan Blow the creators name and read/watch interviews and film documentaries about him but Braid was the like when I was a kid walking into a game store with my birthday money and buying a game based on the box art. I was excited by it and couldn’t wait to tell people about this great game. I’m like Tim I guess Mellon Collie searching for my video game princess that’s always in another castle.