I’m all for the idea that games are art but I really hate getting dragged into the debate with someone because it’s almost certain I’ll come out of the argument the loser. A good percentage of people I’ve spoken to on this subject tend to throw their hands and say something really annoying like ‘they’re only games’. Perhaps, dear reader, you have come across this situation before? If not, don’t worry, I’m not here to debate it once again, but I can safely say if ever that particular argument needed leverage for the ‘games are art’ side, then Braid is the sucker punch you’ve been waiting for.
This isn’t just the Mario clone with bullet time it appears to be. Sure there’s a princess needing saving and a bunch of Goomba-like baddies to jump on, but to pigeon-hole the game like this is to do it a great injustice. No, Braid is, and I’m almost loathe to say it, not simply something you play, it is something you experience.
From the word go, it breaks conventions. For starters there is no menu screen, just the sight of the protagonist standing in the shadows, with a backdrop of a silently burning city. There is no tutorial and as you begin to walk along (to the right of course, in true platforming style) you get your first glimpse of the main character Tim. Not a plumber, not a gritty looking buzzcut soldier, just a wee guy in a suit who looks like he rode straight in from accounting.
So you walk into his house, which is full of giant picture frames and doors and you find your way to the first level and suddenly you get lost in the hand-painted levels, the haunting folk music (as provided by Jami Sieber, Shira kammen and Cheryl Ann Fulton – seek out their albums, truly brilliant stuff!) and the simplicity of the controls.
Sooner or later you will get killed and only when you do does it become apparent that Tim can bend time. By pressing X you can rewind the world and this is not simply a saving grace dynamic alá Prince of Persia, this is a fundamental part of the game’s puzzle solving. Each level has its own rules of time. World 4 is perhaps the most mind bending: As you walk right the world plays forward, walking backwards rewinds it. I can only think of another experience that perplexed me and forced me to get my head around such a new concept and that was Portal. The same level of ‘WTF!?’ applies here.
So you go through the lush stages, collecting fiendishly placed jigsaw pieces and coming across increasingly perplexing puzzles. Often, I sat there for perhaps half an hour, staring at the screen trying to find the solution to a problem, but then suddenly it clicks and the feeling when you pass one of these ‘brick wall’ moments is unmatched. Usually when I thought about it, the solutions were very simple, I just had to change the way I looked at things to spot them.
To say anymore would spoil the experience and whilst it is short, it is one hell of a ride with the end level proving to be a work of pure genius. I’m saying nothing, get the game! The ending in particular, is up there with the best of them: part ambiguous, part resolute but most definitely emotionally draining, the way all good stories should be.