Getting Into Gaming: Braid
It’s a classic story. Beautiful princess meets charming prince and they fall madly in love, and live an enchanted, romantic life. Then the bad guy arrives and kidnaps the beautiful princess and the charming prince has to battle the laws of time and physics and angry shoe-wearing hedgehogs to get her back so they can live happily ever after… but maybe that’s only one side of the story.
When I first watched my boyfriend playing Braid a few years ago I was completely captivated with how the game worked and the weird cryptic pieces of the story which didn’t really seem to have anything to do with the story. It was like I was watching two different games at once, neither of which made sense within the context of the other. I didn’t see how it ended and my boyfriend refused to tell me, saying “you’ll have to just play it yourself!” Well, I finally got round to doing just that… and it only took me 2 and a half years!
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I’ve heard so many good things about Braid, and a friend described it as “a new level, closer to the ideal of a puzzle game”. So when I got to ‘Puzzle Game’ on my list of genres, I felt like the decision had already been made for me. And then I could kill two birds with one click (yes that joke was terrible… but I’m going to leave it there anyway).
It took me a really long time to get the hang of it. I would keep forgetting that moving backwards reversed time and so everything would be shuddering back and forth as I derped around with the arrow keys trying to sort out the awkward mess I’d got myself in to. At other times there were a thousand copies of myself bumbling about the screen, jumping into each other or getting mauled by angry rabbits. I’ve already established that I’m sadly lacking in puzzle solving ability in game world, despite being a very logical person in real life, but I found Braid compelling. Maybe it was the immediate nature of the benefits; the short levels which each function independently of each other, collecting the puzzle pieces to build those strange unrelated scenes at the end of each chapter, that made me not want to give up. The game came in bit sized chunks, with a little sense of gratification waiting at the end, rather than the long convoluted story arcs of Monkey Island. And I always felt like the answer to the mystery was just there, slightly out of reach, so I couldn’t understand how the game related to the plot, or vice versa, but I felt like the explanation was really obvious and I had to keep playing to work it out! Also, the mysterious cloud text did at least have the decency to warn me that the hero’s challenges would get increasingly difficult, so I could prepare myself ahead of time!
The game itself is so ingeniously simple, and the graphics of so picturesque in their quirkiness that it was like a cubist house furnished like a Victorian cottage. And I in reality, it’s just Mario given a facelift, or fairy dust perhaps.
I could very happily have played it for the aesthetics even without a story line, but it might not have held my interest for the full duration if there hadn’t been some vague sense of a plot. In fact, the story line felt very much like fluff, and perhaps if I hadn’t known that there was more to it than what it seemed I might still not have kept playing to the end. But I’m bad like that. I get terrible ambition ADD and there are always at least 12 other things I could be doing at any given time.
But I did keep playing, and I am so glad I did, because suddenly… the last level. I don’t want to spoiler it for anyone else who might not have played it, but I was literally left stunned. Suddenly all the random images and snatches of story made sense and the fairytale became a tragedy. I mean, I’m a total sucker for clever twists and “I didn’t see that coming” moments, but I genuinely defy anyone to not be even a little impressed by the end of the game. Also, anyone who says “I saw the end coming” should get a slap for lying!
If there is anyone who still hasn’t played Braid I could honestly say that even with the natural limitations of platformer-type gameplay, Braid is one of the cleverest games I’ve encountered. By the end it felt like I had just watched Shutter Island from inside Leonardo DiCaprio’s head and the sense of achievement and amazement even lingered for a few days. I think that’s what impressed me the most: that in that tiny little game which took two days to finish entirely, I found as much (if not more) enjoyment and excitement as I did from the countless hours I spent running rampant around Skyrim. As cheesy as the saying ‘dynamite comes in small packages’ is, it really does apply to Braid and I could see myself becoming a big fan of puzzle games if more of them were made with the same care, attention to detail and level of brilliance as Braid.