Cool Things: Braid

It’s been a while since I mentioned a video game in this spot. In fact, other than my first Cool Thing, Dungeons of Dredmor, I haven’t mentioned one at all. You can gather a few things from that. For one, I don’t play many video games. That’s mainly because I’m a writer busy with this blog, a job and occasional theatrical appearances. For another, there aren’t many games out there that really strike me as cool. I have standards. After all, I’ve played Contra and Ikaruga. It takes real work to measure up to stuff like that.

But Braid… Braid is special.

Braid is a 2D platformer, a la the original Super Mario Brothers. However, unlike the plumber chronicles, Braid is a puzzle game. The controls are incredibly simple. There’s a button for each of the game’s six primary functions, move left or right, climb up or down, jump and reverse time.

Yeah. Reverse time. I told you this game is special.

Everything about Braid is about manipulating time. The player can’t even really die. If you get injured or fall down a pit the level doesn’t reset, the game just waits for you to press rewind and back up to a point before you messed up. But backing up time is about more than just undoing mistakes. It’s also your primary problem solving tool.

You see, Tim, Braid’s hero, has discovered how  to reverse time and used it to smooth the problems from his life. Unfortunately, Tim now finds that he must wield his new-found powers to rescue a princess and crosses paths with a number of obstacles, monsters and weird time phenomena along the way.

What’s most impressive about Braid is not it’s visuals, which are beautiful 2D sprites, nor is it the game’s catchy soundtrack, which sounds good both backwards and forwards. It’s not even the story, which is both original and moving. No, what’s really impressive is the creativity and originality the game both shows to the player and demands of them.

Over the course of Braid’s six levels players will be confronted with places where time moves forward if they move to the right and backwards if they move to the left. They will find things that won’t be rewound no matter how hard Tim tries. And they will even find places where the actions they’ve taken leave echoes in causality, forcing the player to partner with shadows of himself in order to advance. No other video game in recent past has demanded so much of it’s players in terms of thought, planning and out-of-the-box creativity.

However, for those exact same reasons Braid is not a game for everyone. It’s not action packed, there’s not scoring system (although there is a time trial mode unlocked once you clear the game initially) and there’s no compelling sense of struggle between Tim and his situation. It’s amazing, but at the same time it can’t appeal to everyone.

Still, if you love innovative gameplay, clever mechanics or straight up challenge, Braid is a game worth your time and money.

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