By looks alone it’d be easy to dismiss Braid as yet another simple side-scrolling platform game; but that would be wrong, on arguably two levels. Braid is certainly many things; however, it should never be referred to as simple. Although it has the trappings of a platform game, it tends to have far more in common with other non-traditional puzzle games such as echochrome. What Braid is, on the other hand, is demanding. From the moment the journey begins up until the moment it ends, Braid will require all of your attention; assuming that you actually want to solve the game.
Unlike a number of present day games, Braid will not teach you how to play in the traditional sense. All it’s willing to lay forth for you is analogue stick left/right moves Tim and X jumps. From there you’re on your own; Braid won’t even default you to a menu before dumping you in its dark world. Once you’ve found your way into the hub you’ll see a single lit room and a number of unlit rooms that represent Braid’s various stages. Entering the first room you’ll find yourself reading from some of the various texts that flesh out (as fleshed as it gets) the scattered and ambiguous narrative. Continuing beyond the texts you’ll enter the first of a series of doors, and this is where Tim’s adventure truly begins.
The first level introduces Tim to a large percentage of the basic environmental challenges that stand between him and his Princess. Anyone who has navigated a level in a Mario title should have no difficulty traversing the stage and collecting the three puzzle pieces placed throughout the level. If you should happen to ‘die’ along the way you’ll discover that death isn’t actually possible as the game prompts you to press the Square button. While depressing the button Tim will rewind time and proceed to reverse through all of his motions up until that point. This is what Braid is all about.
Now it might seem the lack of a death state could make Braid easy, but that isn’t really taking into context what the game is trying to do. It’s not about survival or even getting to the goal; it’s about playing, understanding, and finally, learning. The puzzle pieces that are littered throughout the six stages are the true goals and discovering how to obtain them is the challenge. Rather than having Tim ‘learn’ new skills along the way, almost all of the abilities that will ever be at your disposal are yours from the get go. Braid will not tell you how to use them specifically or effectively, but as you progress through the levels you’ll play with time until the solution for the current piece unfolds before your very eyes. This is the single most amazing aspect of Braid, while you’re playing your brain is slowly being trained to think and reason within the game’s set of parameters. Your ability is growing organically; and sometimes it’ll take the solving of a later puzzle to give you the ‘tools’ necessary to retrieve an earlier piece.
To keep puzzles fresh throughout Braid’s six stages each introduces a new wrinkle into the time-bending formula. Wrinkles range from a ring that can be dropped to slow down time in its immediate vicinity, to objects and enemies that aren’t affected by time manipulation. None of the twists are too jarring and much like your understanding of the basic abilities, your comprehension of the new aspects will fall into place with time and use. By the end of the game you’ll need to use the knowledge gained throughout each and every stage together if you have any hope of assembling each areas’ puzzle and seeing the game to conclusion.
The only place where Braid falters occasionally is in the same places the game succeeds. The strength of the title lies heavily on its ability to teach the player its mechanics in a non-invasive manner; but just like real life, learning isn’t always fun and can be quite frustrating at times. It’s frustrating because you know you have everything you need to solve any puzzle but the answer isn’t always clearly visible. Sometimes this is the fault of the player because they aren’t looking at the puzzle in the right terms; but occasionally, it’s derived from the actual design of the puzzle. Over the course of the sixty puzzles that comprise Braid, a handful of them feel unsolvable through ‘conventional’ thought. Often these puzzle pieces are eventually claimed by accident while you continually play with time until something unexpected happens or you fall back to good old trial and error.
Despite the occasionally high frustration levels of Braid, the game is cleverly designed and often very rewarding. Knowing that your skills are steadily improving with each and every piece obtained is an extremely gratifying experience and should keep most players engaged until Braid’s unexpected climax. Braid is a great example of non-conventional game design and although it isn’t perfect, it’s definitely worth making some time for.