Since its Xbox 360 release last August, Braid has triggered daunting reams of high-minded analysis, meta-criticism and narrative interpretation. Or, in other terms, verbal masturbation.
Which is a shame, because Braid’s cleverness and its pretentiousness aren’t related. It’s a puzzle platformer about time travel, and that’s where all the cleverness lies. Six chapters break up the action, and are bookended by snippets of vague, wistful prose about protagonist Tim and the mysterious Princess character he seeks, but these only relate to what you do in tenuous or ridiculously superficial ways. You get a ring that slows down time? Oh, that’s like, when you’re wearing a wedding ring, and it makes ladies... slow... to approach? No. Not really. There are other ways to interpret each chapter’s intro, but none particularly coherent or satisfying. There’s a much more exciting game to talk about, so we’ll stick to that.
Braid on PC is near-identical to the 360 version: crisper on a good monitor, and at home on a keyboard, but only functionally different in that it includes the level editor. It’s the one used to create the game in the first place, though, so it’s tricky to learn and undocumented. The benefit for most of us will come when bigger brains start to tinker with it: players can make and distribute self-contained campaigns of their own baffling new levels.
The game itself starts as a platformer with comfortingly familiar conventions: mindless enemies trundle up, you jump on their heads to kill them. You find keys, and use them to open locked doors. You collect jigsaw puzzle pieces – two or three per level – and fit them together in a frame at the end of each world to create a pretty picture. For a game that’s done things to our brains we didn’t think possible, Braid is disarmingly cute.
In the first of its six worlds, there is only one quirk: by holding Shift, you can rewind time limitlessly: a split second to correct a failed jump, or all the way back to the start of the level. There are some jumps that would be fiercely difficult if you couldn’t make tiny corrections to your course with momentary rewinds.
As well as its own form of time-travel, each world has a different visual motif. The oily art style makes the levels feel hand-painted, cultivating a wistful, low-fi mood that blends appealingly with the gentle soundtrack. It looks like Mario tinged with memories and sadness. Tim is intentionally awkward in his suit and tie, looking like an accountant who’s wandered from his lunch break into a waking dream.