You know what’s awesome about art? Damn near nothin’. It’s boring and uninteresting, you see. The only thing you can really do is unzip your pants and urinate all over it. I did that once at the local museum, and they threw me out because they said you’re not supposed to do that. What uncultured bastards. Don’t they know anything? Well, there is one way to save art, and that’s to throw time travel in it, cause everyone knows that everything about time travel is awesome. Which brings me to Braid.
Braid is the result of a few guys being awesome and pouring a lot of money, talent, and sexless hours into making one of the greatest(ish) things to come along onto the Xbox Live Arcade since Ms. Pac-Man.1 This is a game that takes platforming and puzzle solving to a new extreme by using time travel puzzles so complex that you’ll drive yourself bugger just realizing how simple some of it actually is.
The story tells of a guy named Tim who is searching for his princess, whom he somehow drove away because of the behaviors he performed offstage before the game actually started. The entire narrative is told by some books in the clouds before entering each of the game’s worlds, which makes this the one game I can safely say has the biggest wedge between the story and the gameplay. The story could be about how much I banged Sprite Monkey’s mum last night2, and the entirety of the gameplay would lay unchanged. It’s not a deal breaker, and the story itself is about as complex(ish) as trying to understand why Jim Carrey would even begin to think he could do something other than comedy. For all we know, Tim’s princess could be a blow up doll. Or a pony. Or the atomic bomb. All’s I know is the story has nothing to do with the game.
What kind of tree is that? I’ve never heard of a fruit-bearing tree that also has palm leaves and maple leaves. Maybe it’s one of them artificial trees that have been ruining Christmas for the past 10 years or something.
What does have to do with this game is the time twisting aspects of the puzzle solving. Within each stage is a number of puzzle pieces scattered across the land.3 You can’t get to them without taking advantage of your ability to reverse time, and that’s what makes the game mind-bending. Sometimes you need to rewind time fast to catch a platform you just flipped a switch to move that’s unaffected by your time traveling prowess. As you progress through the worlds, the laws of time change. One stage introduces the concept of time moving forward when you move to the right, moving backward when you move to the left, and stopping when you stop, and somehow you have to work your way around it. Then the next stage throws that idea out the window, just as soon as you were used to it, and builds on an entirely different concept.
This keeps a lot of the gameplay in Braid fresh, except for the fact that as you trudge on in the game, you find that the same levels are repeated using the new gameplay elements. For example, there are at least three situations in the game where you have to beat this monster thing with spikes on its head by dropping chandeliers on it. It’s cool the first time, but couldn’t they have at least changed the monster for the second go?
Oddly enough, this is the title screen. Then you just go left until you reach World 2. You don’t even get to play World 1 until your brain craps out on you and you actually finish the game. Is that something clever and creative, or did Jonathan Blow hate making opening levels and leave it at that?
If you want to sit there and join me in banging the “GAMZ R ART” drum, then gather around my campfire and catch my beat, ’cause this game is one of the best examples of the medium as an art form, in my mind. The watercolor-esque visuals look stunningly handrawn. Watching the backgrounds making their subtle movements could make any stereotypical art student jump from his seat, run up to the TV, and stroke whatever style of beard he decided to grow during his high school years. And then when you start moving through time, the screen darkens, the colors washout and things get all funky.
The soundtrack is also stupefying in its slightly addicting charm when you’re into string concertos as much as a studly fisherman is interested in getting a longer rod. I’ll even go as far to say that Braid is a game that should never, ever, EVER, under penalty of our friendship, be played with custom soundtracks on.5 This is not a game to have Slipknot perform to. Dream Theater, maybe. But I wouldn’t try it if I were you. Besides, you know how awesome everything sounds when it’s played backwards? I can’t even listen to my friends speak anymore without playing it back in one of those pens that records voices and plays them backwards.
One more thing I should note here is the constant shout-outs this game throws to Mario. It’s bad enough that you’re both platformers, but there’s also a dinosaur telling you the princess is in another castle at the end of every world. Then there’s the stage that’s an obvious homage to Donkey Kong. And then you find the hidden sidequest in the end where you need to find seven golden stars.6 Mr. Blow, your choice to release this title on XBLA instead of WiiWare when you’re this much of a Nintendo fanboy makes me wonder if it’s because of Braid that all I want to play now is Super Mario Galaxy.
At the end of the day, no matter what I have to say about Braid that makes Mr. Blow cry into his pillow at night, you really should play this game. It’s not going to be something that you’ll find yourself playing for hours on end, and it’s not going to be the game you turn to every time you need to rest your vocal chords after a set of Rock Band 2. It’s more to say you’ve experienced one of the most unique games ever to see the light on this console generation, and although it’s nowhere near Portal perfection, you may begin to find your thumb twitching for the rewind button every time you screw up a test, or miss the toilet, or knock up your wife.7
2. Note to self: When showing off unique writing style to friends, family, or new English teachers, replace this reference with someone they may know. Preferably someone said person likes. Refrain from self-deprivation, though; you’re too awesome for that, Zachy-boy.
3. A platformer where you go around finding puzzle pieces? Where is that bear and bird?4
4. In an effort to make the jokes understandable to the unknowfulistques of the gaming world, this footnote was a humorous reference to Rare-based series Banjo-Kazooie, in which a bear with a bird in his backpack travels around distinct worlds collecting golden jigsaw pieces. It is the greatest game in the world and I’m marrying it.
5. This is why I distance myself from the rest of the GameCola staff. You people know better.2
6. On a side note, I’m not going to talk about that whole sidequest because I find that if you need to use an FAQ for the entirety of the sidequest, then it might as well be not in there. If you did find all the stars without a guide, though, then I’m removing your feeding tube, you fat waste of life.
7. Or write an article making fun of my writing style on the one month I couldn’t write anything, thus rendering your point moot. Of course, you can’t pull that stuff on me, ’cause I’m the master of time and space and you’re not, Mr. The Lost Gamer. Hey, why don’t you make an FAQ on finding yourself! And then maybe one on making fun of people at the right time, ’cause we all know who can do that and who can’t!8