Time to talk about Braid

So I picked up Donkey Kong for the Gameboy recently, and I was going to blog about that…but then I realized no one here has blogged about Braid, and since that’s what inspired me to give DK a try in the first place, I figured I should write about that first.

Don’t worry; I’m not going to get into that whole “is Jonathan Blow full of himself” thing. The way I see it, he’s just the next in the long line of Dennis Dyacks/Peter Molyneuxs/David Jaffes — creative guys who probably talk too much — so it’s best to focus on the game and ignore the guy behind it. Nor am I going to talk about the game’s plot; it’s not for everyone, but even if you don’t like it, it’s nice to see someone trying something different from standard video game fare.

Really, I just wanted to recommend it to anyone who has ever enjoyed the puzzle platformer genre — that is, games that generally focus on environmental puzzles and can ultimately be summed up with the question, “How do I get from Point A to Point B?” Think Zelda‘s dungeons or Ico and you’re on the right track. (This could make for an interesting tangent pondering why “art games” like Braid and Ico all seem to be puzzle platformers, but I’ll spare you…for now.)

[[image: ar_081508_braid_01.jpg:Hey, this looks familiar:center:0]]
Braid may not have the depth or scale of a Zelda, but it’s one of the best pure puzzle platforming titles I’ve ever experienced, period. The game’s time manipulation mechanic gently encourages the player to experiment and play with possible solutions without worrying about death or consequences. Above all else, it invites you to take as much time as necessary to think things through and solve the puzzles yourself. The game is completely aware of its internal rules and logic and never alters them, but it constantly forces you to use them in new ways in order to collect everything. By the time you solve each area, you can (or should be able to) lay out logically why you took each step to solve each puzzle. There’s no blind luck, and no puzzle so convoluted that you can’t solve it if you don’t stare at it long enough.

Not to imply that the puzzles in Braid are easy; on the contrary, they’re usually pretty tricky. Perhaps the worst thing about Braid is that it’s so well designed you can’t blame anyone else but yourself when you get stuck. Stick with it and solve it on your own, though, and the resulting rush of endorphins is one of the best feelings a game can produce.

Of course, the weird Mario references and 2D sidescrolling definitely didn’t hurt my appreciation for it, either. I’m a sucker for that stuff. And despite some of the other things he may have said, Blow’s comments about Braid being “a game that values your time” are accurate, and pretty nice. Anything you’re stuck on you can immediately skip and come back to, with doors everywhere leading from the hub and each puzzle, so that you’re rarely backtracking at all. Much like how Portal — another favorite in the genre — was short and sweet, so too is Braid. It doesn’t feel the need to pad things out or weigh the player down with sidequests, with the only additional challenges being a speed run unlockable after the game is beaten, and collecting stars that do nothing and can literally take hours to get (universally regarded as Blow commenting on the people that “need” to find every secret in every game). So yes, perhaps there’s a certain amount of pretension in Braid, but in terms of pure puzzle platforming, it really does stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the best of them. Definitely give it a shot.

13 thoughts on “Time to talk about Braid

  1. Excellent review!! I have grown so weary of all the knee-jerk reactions out there pertaining to anything that might even APPROACH pretention. We cry out and cry out for something more from videogames and almost every time someone tries to expand the medium emotionally or intellectually, a massive backlash follows the immediate praise. First of all, stop holding it against the designer for having interesting or controversial things to say (although, yes, so many seem to be blowhards and egotists), and, more importantly, stop blaming the designer for all the hyperbole, justified or otherwise, surrounding their creations from the hungry press, bored with so many same-y games. We should embrace these intellectual proddings, and with time will come deeper and deeper meaning and more subtlety.

    It’s also a measure of just how foreign “pretension” actually is to videogames simply because other media have far, far more obvious examples of elliptical story-telling and unconventional (read: pretentious, to some) methods. Try reading Proust or later Joyce or watching a Jean Luc Godard film like “Alphaville” if you want to see just how conventional even many of our most “artful” games are.

  2. Gaming may in fact be the single most prosaic medium when it comes to storytelling. I’m happy to settle for competence in my game plots, as excellence is clearly a near-impossibility.

  3. I always found it strange that games like Ico are always considered ‘art,’ simply because they’re pretty and atmospheric. A part of art – for me, mind you – is that it can tell us a bit about the society in which it is produced and enjoyed, and maybe a bit about yourself in the meantime. America’s obsession with games like GTA fill that role more fully than Ico’s (some would say pretentious) simplicity. The way I see it, GTA is an overly long novel, and Ico is a pretty poem.

    Then again, it’s a young medium, and there’s plenty of room to grow. Games like Fable or Mass Effect – that is, games with so called ‘choice’ – are on the right track; gaming is interactive, and the more choices, the better. They can make gaming far more personal than a book, movie, or song could.

    Oh Jesus, listen to me. The ‘video games as art’ discussion. Sew my mouth shut, someone.

  4. Uh oh, my doppelganger Sean. Not good.

    I’m awaiting the nebulous day Braid hits the PC so I can finally find out what all the hoopla is about. I’ve been looking forward to it ever since Chris Kohler’s preview of it oh so many years ago, and I’m glad to hear that it sounds like it will live up to my expectations.

  5. Man, are you guys trying to get me kicked off the front page? In retrospect, I probably should have avoided the A-word altogether.

    (Er, to indulge slightly, I agree with you about “choice”, turkish. I’d also recommend the endings to MGS3, MGS4, and Shadow of the Colossus as fantastic examples of using the unique boundaries of the medium to try and make the player “feel” something. I’d love for games to try to push in that direction more often.)

  6. It’s nice to see a review of this game based simply on its gameplay and nature as a puzzle platformer rather than going on about the existential and touching nature of the story, or art, or music…all of which are nice too, but it’s cool to see a review that’s so focused.

  7. I love Donkey Kong for Gameboy, it’s one of the best game for Gameboy!
    …Doesn’t everyone known about Braid by now?

  8. Your VGTO about Donkey Kong was brought to my attention awhile back when I started it, Ben, but I’ve been saving it for when I finish the game for some post-game goodness. I’m almost done with it, though!

  9. I didn’t think the puzzles in Braid were that difficult. Nothing a nights rest couldn’t fix. I am a super puzzle game fan though. That probably helps. I wonder if anyone here is going to get into any specifics. I’ve found many try to stay *spoiler free* but that means everything that’s said must be vague. My site URL links to an example of what I mean.

    If anyone is interested in specifics, I’d love to hear/read/discuss them.

  10. Braid is an ingenious and startlingly creative puzzle game, built with an understanding of good game design that even some of the industry’s most revered figures could learn from.

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