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Braid may start as a platform game, but it soon becomes something endearing, intriguing and very personal. It joins the short list of games that have warmed the heart of this old-school returning gamer.
Four of my favourite games from 2010 are from independent developers. VVVVVV (PC) and Super Meat Boy (360) both tweaked at my love of sadistic challenges. Limbo (360) strung me along with a dark narrative and lateral thinking puzzles. Finally, The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom (360) enchanted with its eccentricity, art nouveau style and time bending puzzles. A varied bunch I'm sure you will agree.
It's great to see the 2D platformer make a modern resurgence. It was the genre of games I was obsessed with as a child. I remember drawing Sonic maps in primary school for friends to play through. I'd etch a dot representing Sonic and draw a line to move him from left to right. My friends would shout out actions and I would 'jump' and 'roll' Sonic accordingly. I was a mini Yuji Naka in the making.
Seeing how much platform games have evolved since my childhood was another reason for my return to gaming. What started life as a basic genre is now capable of all manner of experiences. If you want definitive proof you don't have to look any further than Braid.
Even the painting-like title screen of Braid is curious. You see the shadow of your character, Tim, set against the gauzy glow of a night-time metropolis. The game's name blazes in fire across the sky. You emerge from the shadows as an orchestra stirs into life. Finally you reach your house, only to find a blank canvas in your sitting room bearing the words 'World 2'. You've only just scratched the surface of Braid's mystery.
By the time you reach the portentous blacks and crimsons of World 6, you know Braid is more than just a love story.
World 2 is the first of six worlds you explore. Each world opens with a passage of text about Tim's search for his lost love, the Princess. The text serves an additional function by explaining the puzzle play for the world. For example, the World 2 text talks about going back in time to take back mistakes, and that's exactly what you do there. If you die, you can press a button to rewind time and correct your mistake (things get more complicated in the next five worlds).
This interplay creates a satisfying cohesion between text and game, something solidified by the worlds themselves. The first presents a blue sky against rich greens and a glowing yellow sun, a design of hope and happiness. It represents an optimistic start to Tim's journey. But as you delve deeper into Tim's world and learn more about his Princess, something sinister begins to surface. By the time you reach the portentous blacks and crimsons of World 6, you know Braid is more than just a love story.
And when you get to the ending the payoff is substantial. It remains a defining moment in gaming for me. Braid joins the short list of games that have left me utterly rocked. These are games that have forced me to switch off the TV, find a quiet spot and try to process what I just experienced. BioShock (360) was one. Nier (360) was another, but with its ending, Braid left me in awe.
With its ending, Braid left me in awe.
When it was all over, I went straight to the Internet to decipher some deeper understanding of the story. I read interpretation after interpretation, forums threads filled with a clamour of confused voices all seeking enlightenment.
It was fascinating to read pages upon pages of different thoughts, but more than that it was great to see how Braid had left its mark on players. People wanted to discuss it, share it, deconstruct it, and most of all they wanted to show their appreciation of it. Just like me, they knew they'd played through something very special.
Thinking back to my childhood, it's hard to imagine this experience from an origin of plumbers and pipes. Braid still works from left to right, you jump on enemies, you climb up ladders, and you even reach a flag at the end of a world. But it's the mundane old-school play that serves to highlight how sophisticated, intelligent, and absorbing a game it really is. For me, it is the embodiment of how far gaming has come. And it's just a humble 2D platformer.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: