If you’ve somehow not already come across Braid then you’re missing out, this is an independent game that shows everything indie gaming should be imaginative, playful and interesting in a way bigger budget titles would really struggle to match.
Mario of Persia
Braid is essentially a 2D puzzle platformer game where the puzzles are solved by manipulating time. The mechanic itself won’t be unfamiliar to anyone who’s played Prince of Persia but here the focus is on increasingly difficult and ingenious challenges. The developer promises every puzzle is unique, which I think is fair.
That alone would be enough for an incredibly solid game worthy of your time, but Braid has even more in store for you. In Braid everything is a puzzle. The levels are filled with puzzles, but solving them only leads to the pieces you need to solve the larger jigsaw puzzle for each of the worlds. Then solving each world’s puzzle is in itself part of a larger puzzle to unlock the final world.
Now that’s the gameplay which is all well and good but the story in Braid is also a puzzle. The beautiful watercolour painting style graphics and somber music help the game initially seem like a melancholy retelling of Super Mario Bros. where the princess has run away after a bad relationship. However the end game seems to reveal something entirely more interesting.
To really talk about this I am going to have to spoil the ending so if that really bothers you I suggest you come back when you’ve played through this modern classic.
Another Version of the Truth
The final level initially seems like a chase where the princess is standing on the platform above you helping you work your way through a series of caves so you can reach her and save her from a monstrous knight. However when you reach the end you are not reunited with her and are instead standing outside her bedroom window. Now you are given no choice but rewind the whole level and suddenly you realise the music is playing forwards and what you are watching is the real course of events. The princess not helping you but trying to keep you away from her as she runs away from the stalker outside her bedroom, with the knight at the end seeming more like her saviour than a monster.
Not willing to let things rest there you are sent to an epilogue room which contains a series of books explaining the story of the game. However the contents of many of the books are hidden behind another puzzle. Some call it a theory, but it’s one I subscribe to, that this final room explains that the real story of Braid is of a man obsessed with developing the atom bomb and this was the princess he had been chasing.
Brave New World
So now having thoroughly ruined all the twists to Braid, you’ve got to admit that the ambition and scope of the game is quite stunning. Most of the downloadable indie games you can buy at the moment are happy to give you a palatable short chunk of fun gameplay, Braid offers a lot more.
Storytelling wise I think brave is the best way I can describe it as all the strengths could also been seen as weaknesses. The writing in the books that tell the story takes itself so seriously it borders on pretentious, and the puzzle approach to storytelling is subtle to the point of obscurity. I think most of the people who play Braid will not see all the story I’ve explained above and will run through the epilogue room and take it to be the end.
However I’m not really condemning these choice as I and many others I know have had a great time solving both the gameplay and story puzzles that make up Braid, and whether or not you fully get or even care about the narrative the game just has an incredible sense of mood. Never has a platformer felt so sad to play.
Ultimately Braid succeeds in that it is a puzzle game where truly every aspect of it seems like a puzzle. Making the game’s story hidden is rare and possibly unique as I am having trouble thinking of any other game that takes a similar approach to interactive storytelling. I know I like many others will be very interested to see what Braid’s creator does next.