Braid is a sidescroller puzzle game released by Number None in 2008. It’s gotten a lot of buzz over the last few years, including placing #94 on G4TV’S Top 100 Video Games of All Time in 2013. That ranking surprised me as I watched that list, considering that, at a glance, it appeared to be using Super Nintendo era technology. Not that I mind an older look (I love me some retro gaming), but that kind of list tends toward the new and trendy and whizbang hardware-limit-pushing stuff. So I wondered, what exactly made this game so special?

The unique twist in the game is an ability to roll back time. If you die, no problem, just roll back before you made the fatal mistake and take a different action. If you miss a jump and fall to a lower level when you didn’t want to, just roll back and retry it. That’s about the extent of what G4TV explained about the game. That alone makes a handy gimmick, a timesaver convenience that could make a platformer puzzle game less frustrating, but it’s hardly something to base an entire game around, I thought.

And for the first few levels of the game, that’s largely true, though in those levels the novelty is still worth something. Where I felt the gameplay really sets itself apart is when exceptions are added to the rollback process. Certain items and certain creatures are immune to the time rollback, which you can discern by a slight difference in appearance. So, for instance, you can jump into an inescapable pit to grab the key down there, and then rollback time to get back up top, but that particular key is exempt from the rollback so you carry it with you instead of leaving it down there. That’s just the simplest of cases, but gives you an idea of what I mean. At that point, rather than being a timesaver gimmick the rollback becomes a vital component of puzzle solving–you don’t just rollback to undo mistakes anymore.

As you progress, the worlds each have a different set of rules, such as one world where moving to the right rolls time forward for everything in the world, and moving left rolls time back, making for some weird, counter-intuitive puzzles. I liked how the game kept the novelty alive by adding these rule changes, and I think that the game was just the right length by exploring some variations but the game ends before any of it gets boring.

There is a storyline that goes along with the time rollback ability, all centering around our hero’s romantic interest in a woman he calls the princess (don’t be turned off by this, the game makes it clear that is aware of the misogyny of the rescue the princess plot and does not fall into that trap). The rules of the gameplay change as their relationship with each other changes. I thought the story was interesting but for me wasn’t really a driving factor. I kept playing because I wanted to find out how to solve the next puzzle, not because I cared about the story–the opposite of how I approach many games.

Many of the levels in the game can be “completed” with very little effort, because there is an unobstructed path between the entrance door and the exit door if you just ignore the puzzles which keep you from collecting the jigsaw pieces that are the game’s main objective. But those puzzles and the jigsaws are really the core of the game. This is handy in that you don’t have to solve the puzzles in any particular order–if you’re stuck, you can go solve some easier ones and revisit the really tough ones as you run out of easier puzzles. To get to the final stage and the ending of the game you have to solve all of the earlier puzzles, so if you really want to finish you have to manage them all.

For me this game hit the perfect challenge level for a puzzle game, a significant but not insurmountable challenge. Most of the puzzles didn’t have an obvious solution, but neither did I ever feel like a challenge was insurmountable–there was inevitably just one key piece of understanding that I needed to work through to make all the rest of it fall into place and once that clicked then it all made sense in retrospect. That’s a tough challenge to strike, and this game hit it perfectly where most puzzle games don’t.

Scorecard

Visuals
The artwork in the game looks really sharp, a very neat painted style that gives the game a distinct look. Especially in some of the worlds that had swirling clouds in the background–very neat.

Audio
I often play games without sound for convenience, but when I turned the sound on for this game, it was really superb, instrumental music, fun sound effects, the soundtrack reverses or speeds up with your time-shifting controls which is a nice touch.

Challenge
The level of challenge in this puzzle game is perfect. Challenging but possible. Complex but comprehensible. No two puzzles are alike, and it really makes you stretch your understanding of the game’s mechanics to finish the game.

Story
Although the story wasn’t a driving factor for me, I did like how each section with the different rules tied into a chapter of the protagonist’s life.  And I like the criticisms the story makes of some old tropes of gaming stories.

Playability
Easy to learn, just basic motion controls for movement, ladder climbing, and jumping, plus a button for time shifting (combined with arrow keys to adjust the shift speed).

Originality
A fairly simple concept used in a way that I’ve never seen before.  Great idea well executed.

Playtime
It took me about eight hours to finish all the puzzles in the game. It could certainly take less. Probably half of that time was spent on one-tenth of the puzzles that I happened to find the most difficult.

Value
The game costs $10 on Steam, not a bad price. Generally I like it if I can get at least an hour of engaging game play for every dollar of the price, so this didn’t quite meet that. Still, the challenge level of this game was just so perfect and to add redundant puzzles would’ve weakened the game overall. So I can’t really fault them for that. This game is great just the way it is.

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