“People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey… stuff.” So said The Doctor in Blink, but it might well have been Jonathan Blow talking about Braid, for it’s a very timey-wimey game.
Like Blueberry Garden, it starts off with the platform game staples of the cursor keys to move and space to jump. Unlike Blueberry Garden, it continues with the platform game staple of a wandering thing you have to jump over or stamp on the head of to avoid death, and ladders to climb, and moving platforms, and things to collect (pieces of jigsaw puzzles). Time starts going wibbly-wobbly the first time you die: press shift and time rewinds, enabling you to put right what once went wrong. It’s a little like having Quick Save/Quick Load keys that we’ve become accustomed to in many genres, but even better, a retrospective quick save where you decide after the fact where you saved the game. This changes the basic gameplay similar to the way Sky+/TiVo changes watching television; it’s remarkably convenient, but it doesn’t change the fundamentals of the platform.
I was hopping through the third world of Braid, enjoying the freedom that rewinding time gives you, not worrying that a slight slip would force you all the way back to the start of a level to re-do everything, when it began to annoy me. I just couldn’t see how to pick up certain jigsaw pieces, or how to kill a boss who needed five chandeliers dropping on his head when there were only two chandeliers available. I didn’t want to totally spoil things with a walkthrough, but a quick Google on “Braid hints” turned up a splendid page that understands that too much information would ruin the game, and just nudges you along. Literally one line was the hint I needed, I’d seen the glowing objects in the level, of course, but hadn’t twigged that they existed outside the timeline you control (the very first puzzle you have to solve depends on that property, but I thought it just applied to keys as opposed to all glowing objects). As soon as that clicked, the game transformed from “quite fun platform game” to “work of fiendish genius”, and you really have to start thinking in non-linear time. Subsequent worlds employ different mechanics; the one in which time moves forward when you go right, and backwards when you go left is a particular mind-bugger.
Braid is beautifully styled, with visuals like a painting. It even has a plot about, would you believe it, a lost princess; finish a world and, in a stunning turn of events, it turns out the princess isn’t in that castle. Just as the gameplay twists the standard Super Mario fare, though, so does the story, with books in lobby areas peeling back layers and looking at time, loss and regret. If that sounds a bit too arty for you, though, you can pretty much just ignore it and get on with the puzzles, or even the simple joy of rewinding time and going “beeeeoooowwwww!”
Braid ran perfectly smoothly on the laptop, and £9.99 is a more than reasonable price. It’s a very close-run race between Braid and World of Goo for “game of the pack”; I’d say World of Goo *just* edges it, but they’re both wonderful games that, in the world of ever-increasingly budgeted blockbusters, show there’s joy, innovation and real quality out there in indie-land. Two thumbs up, one of which travels into the past while the other remains in the present timeline.