By Alan Scherstuhl
By Charles Taylor
By Melissa Anderson
By Inkoo Kang
By Amy Nicholson
By Sam Weisberg
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Chuck Wilson
In the 25 years or so Ive been playing games, never once have I encountered an earnest conversation about what a game means. You see every other sort of discussionpeople talking about how a game looks, or how it plays, how long or short or difficult or easy it is, or whether the writing or online elements are any good. But never, not even once, have I witnessed a discussion about how to interpret a games content, that sort of conversation usually reserved for books or films.
Then Braid came along and provoked that sort of discussion, and how we judge games has maybejust maybebeen changed forever.
On its surface, Braid is a platformer of the Super Mario Bros. variety with an increased emphasis on puzzle-solving over action. What makes Braid altogether different, though, is time-travel: protagonist Tim can reverse time at will, and uses this skill to traverse the games obstacles. For example, one puzzle might involve Tim having to retrieve a key lying at the bottom of a pit too deep to climb back out of. Hop into the pit, collect the key, and then rewind time so Tim is back standing on its edgebut with the key in hand, ready to proceed.
That would be a very simple Braid 101 example of how the games mechanics play out; in time, players will find themselves lost in temporal mindbenders that would make even Professor Layton and Dr. Kawashima take two aspirins and turn in early. Tim eventually acquires new powers, like the ability to slow time in small areas or create parallel-reality versions of himself by performing an action, rewinding time, and then watching his shadowy future-self repeat the process while he attends to other areas of a puzzle. Players are forced to use many of these skills at once on a few of the more devilish maps, though the bigger challenge is teaching ones brain to not just accept the games strange logic, but think along the same lines.
Braid does all of this, and does it well; viewed strictly for the gameplay alone its the most interesting, innovative game of the year so farand at $15, a bargain to boot. But whats got people talking isnt the gameplay (not precisely) but the narrative, which tells a story more powerful than anything in Metal Gear Solid 4s hours of self-indulgent cutscenes.
Talking about Braids story would only spoil it. Suffice it to say: while Tims adventure starts as the archetypal videogame search for a princess, it slowly mutates into something more human and even subtle, culminating in a revelation thatlike the endings of Sixth Sense or Mementoforces you to reexamine everything about the experience prior.
The ending (as I described it at our blog, Joystick Division) is an emotional gut punch, and though it may leave players feeling conflicted, one also experiences elation over the simple fact a mere videogame has made one feel anything. Its fascinating that after decades of performing fatalities, stealing cars and lining up headshots in games, Braidwith its enigmatic, haunting, lonely endingis the first to truly provoke a moral reaction from a player.
Is Braid the greatest game of all time? Even if I thought of creative works in those termsas part of a ranking in my headI would say no. But is it one of the most important games of all time? That, I think, it very well might be.
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