A Brief Reflection: Braid

Here’s a game that blew my mind that belonged to a previous, stupider version of myself. Through its impressive utilization of simplicity in light of the beautifully articulated world which truly captured the artistic vision which Jonathan Blow possesses.

It was with great enthusiasm that I began playing the title. Considering, of course that it had received such critical acclaim in light of its presence at major trade shows. It is rather difficult to ignore hype, you know?

My initial thoughts on the title were filled with surprise – mainly due to the ease involved in the initial levels – which were quickly followed by more surprise as I slowly realized that in order to completely finish collecting all of those puzzle pieces, which were strewn in the most awkward locations, I had to, wait a minute… use my brain. The latter of course being a reference to a topic of great contention in the modern gaming world when referring to the nature in which games are, in fact, possessing a greater ease of play. But I digress.

I had clearly become hooked when at first being quite surprised by the ease of play – minus a few mind-numbing puzzles – and filled with a wonderful sense of accomplishment each step of the way. From the initial moments of gameplay onward, I had already made the decision to not stop playing anytime soon. The brilliantly designed levels made for a memorable experience, however, what really encouraged me to continue mashing away was the simple, yet awe-inspiring game mechanic which made for great use of my noggin: time travel.

Yes, time travel! What do you think I said?

At any point in the game I was able to press Shift (for I was playing the PC version of the title) and simply go back in time! I mean exactly that.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the mechanic, it basically makes it so players never experience virtual death. For one, after falling onto a bed of spikes (half-wittedly might I add) the game quickly prompted me, right after the travesty, to press Shift and simply go back in time to a period in which I had not made such a befuddled mistake. Seems simple enough, huh? Well here’s the tricky part: puzzles in the title take of advantage of this mechanic to an impressive degree. Forcing players to think backwards in a sense. From realizing that green, sparkling objects are unaffected by the preppy-school boy’s time-travelling abilities, to having the epiphany that, in some cases, you don’t have to kill all of those Kuriboh-looking buggers, Braid had me staring hard at my computer screen for hours on end.

The developer of this title made the learning curve quite short for the mechanic, however, the manner in which players are to implement this technique is strictly left up to them. For instance, in most cases, it is quite easy to run through entire levels without collecting all of those darn puzzle pieces which force you to cling to the prospect of one day achieving some form of greatness after hording all of their 2-D glory. But in doing so players may not have the opportunity to fully experience what the developer of this title was going for.

Braid featured a brilliant story with a couple of twists, however, its digestion was, once again, left completely up to the player. This was an interesting choice the developer made but the freedom of choice almost encourages you to venture into the main character’s problems and issues for the former provided for a scenario where you, as the player, were indeed in a position to make the conscious decision in becoming part of the world that had been cultivated for your enjoyment. It slowly becomes more than just  a game as you progress through its colorful confines and slowly ignites into a full-fledged experience. An experience, might I add, which captivates you on both an intellectual and emotional level. I think this is the reaction that Jonathan Blow was going for.

A title that brought a number of elements to the perverbial table of all that is good in the gaming world is Braid. The title emphasized an ease of understanding that was, in a sense, complimented by its commitment to providing tough problem solving. And it is in this manner that I have come to share a brief reflection on the title that is known as Braid.