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Braid XBLA Review

24/12/2010 Thinking Microcosm Gamer Review
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Braid XBLA

Braid

Format:
XBLA

Genre:
Platforming

Style:
Singleplayer

Buy/Support:
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Braid is a time-bending puzzle platform game, arguably with more of a picture to paint than a story to tell. It's like flicking through a photo album, solving a difficult problem in your sleep, and missing the last train home.

To set an appropriate tone for discussing Braid, I was tempted to randomise the order of my paragraphs, and mix in some discussion about my family and world history. Some people have pinned down a concrete story for Braid, but I find its plot resists linear interpretation. Braid may be interpreted with a central narrative, but it's also about much more besides.

Braid weaves unusual ideas throughout its gameplay, storybooks, jigsaw pictures, and other design elements. The ideas cycle back on themselves, flow in multiple directions, and are open to several possible interpretations. I couldn't settle on any one reading of Braid for myself, but tried to accept many possibilities simultaneously.

This all sounds very complicated, but it doesn't feel that way to play. Settling down on the couch and flicking through a photo album is a comfortable exercise, even if the pictures are out of order.

It's an interesting mix of the familiar and the new.

Although it takes place in lush, hand-drawn fantasy levels, Braid is still clearly grounded in reality. It's a wonderful example of how games recreate the real world in non-literal ways. Platforming has its own established language of symbols and conventions, which can be leveraged to weave narrative through action as well as text.

Braid references Super Mario Bros., not just as homage but also to provide a familiar framework. We already understand some of the logic of its world. From a strong foundation more complicated ideas can be introduced without becoming overwhelming. It feels simple, while creating something unique and complex.

The faces on those squat, brown creatures are just a bit too human to belong to Goombas, but they are still easy to recognise as an enemy. The snapping plants are another familiar foe. Less so the vicious pink rabbits, or the ability to reverse time and undo your mistakes. It's an interesting mix of the familiar and the new.

Like Mario, Braid's Tim is essentially an everyman. He's dressed in a basic suit and tie, as though our familiar Italian plumber has been replaced by a public servant, but he means essentially the same thing. Or so it seems.

Tim is a scientist, a neglectful lover, and a child still clumsily learning how best to attain his goals. He is also a memory, a choice, an exploration of causality, a rose-tinted reimagining of life, and a mistake. Tim is 'Time' without the 'E'. He demonstrates the power of determination, and where it becomes our weaknesses.

The solution is always logical, and comes from knowledge we already have, but that light bulb moment won't happen until we come at it from another direction.

Finding the princess is our goal, and it isn't something we're inclined to question. At the end of each world, we pass a flag and a cute dinosaur delivers a familiar sentiment: sorry, but your princess must be in another castle. We haven't reached our ultimate goal yet, but know from previous experience that with determination we'll reach her eventually. Without really understanding who or what the princess is, we press on.

Pressing on means using simple tools in progressively more abstruse ways. Each section introduces a new trick, such as certain objects or enemies being unaffected by the time reversal, or a ring used to slow time in a small area.

The solution is always logical, and comes from knowledge we already have, but maybe that light bulb moment won't happen until we break down our pre-existing notions and come at it from another direction. Like solving a problem in your sleep.

The 'princess is in another castle' scene at the end of each world, which originally seemed to be a simple gaming reference, turns out to be much deeper. The flags depict maritime symbols, which are messages warning you not to continue. It's a language I don't recognise - symbols that have only become meaningful in retrospect.

Game conventions push us towards a goal, and it's only in hindsight that the need to consider the consequences of our actions becomes important. It's just one small example of how clever Braid's design is.

Sometimes, being human really sucks and I have to put in effort to remember how beautiful life can be.

Braid is a microcosm of microcosms and mirrors life in various ways. Mostly for me it was about how our mistakes shape and teach us. If we could undo all our mistakes - as in Braid's time-revering mechanic - but retain the lessons learnt from them, wouldn't that be a perfect world? But maybe it would be an illusion of perfection, like a false memory.

Sometimes, don't you want to undo something terrible? If you found a way, would you? I've many more concerning mistakes than missing the last train home, but I didn't want to scare you off before getting to this point. Sometimes, being human really sucks and I have to put in effort to remember how beautiful life can be.

That was my experience of Braid, how about you?

Written by Amber Gilmore

You can support Amber by buying Braid



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Amber Gilmore writes the Microcosm Gamer column.

"Games provide me with a diverse range of miniature worlds to explore. I'm fascinated by the myriad of ways these microcosms recreate elements of reality. Even the most fantastical or abstract games stem from real world concepts when studied under the scope. Far from being mindless escapism, playing games prompts me to reflect on the concepts presented and how they inform my outlook."

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