Utter Genius. This game strikes a perfect balance between challenge and reward, between gleefully obtuse objectives and maddeningly distant solutions. Braid is platform puzzler with each of its six worlds each offering a clever time-manipulating ability. The first is built upon in every other world: the ability to rewind time and undo your mistakes. After that, each new venue brings with it a chronological plaything, cordially introducing its mechanics before stretching them to their logical extremes.
Take world four, for example. In this world, moving to the right causes time to flow forwards. Move to the left and time flows backwards. As unmanageable a concept as that sounds, it quickly becomes a reasonable and workable construction, as the analogy of the level as a timeline gently dawns on you. Put a smidge more simply: when you stand at a particular point in space, you're also unavoidably standing in a corresponding point in time. In practice, you won't be able to jump on the little goomba people and collect the jigsaw piece until you adjust their personal timelines using the environment around you.
Later worlds are easier to explain. One has you dropping a time-distorting ring, which slows time more for objects and enemies closer to it than those further away. Another features a shadow version of your character, who, after you've rewound time, replays the actions you've previously carried out in the then future.
With ample time to dick about with these abilities, the basic mechanics are straightforward - more so than they appear on paper. In one instance, having solved one of the later puzzles, I turned to a colleague giddily and pointed at the screen shouting "look, it's got causality!" It really does have causality in one bit, which I won't ruin for you. A potential first in gaming. On this timeline at least.
Utter Genius. This
Braids a starkly beautiful game too, both visually and aurally. The sounds and animations are built to scale with the contraction and expansion of time. Your character, Tim, is hand drawn in excruciating detail in anticipation of being viewed running at a snail's pace. The various, drum-led scores can be drawn out to the point of surreal, otherworldly bass-scapes, or sped up to the point of sounding like some ketamine-fuelled acid rave.
The previously mentioned world in which time only moves as you do begins in a silence; the music only rolling into life as you begin to run. Move backwards, and so does the music, first winding to a stop like a tired music box, before sucking up the notes in reverse. These levels employ traditional lullabies to back them, and the familiarity of the tune, met with the bleak soundlessness of standing still, creates a haunting atmosphere. Visual cues like falling leaves and snow leave you no doubt as to how the game world is acting at any given moment.
Any sense of frustration is tempered by the ability to reverse time, and then further still by the ability to outright ignore the puzzles. The overarching objective is to collect jigsaw pieces, with each world containing 12 increasingly difficult to acquire pieces, but you're entirely free to move through the game collecting only the ones you can manage. Revisiting old worlds to pick up the remaining pieces and form the six jigsaws is the only way to unlock the game finale however - seemingly the only time the game will block your progress.
The plot is grossly pretentious nonsense. Grossly pretentious, skippable nonsense. Something about Tim trying to have sex with a princess, delivered through a series of verbose dialogue pop-ups preceding each world. It's slightly less audacious in context, the pastel graphics and soothing music transporting you to a place where it's perfectly acceptable for a platformer to have a plot more complex than stomping on a turtle's face, but there'll be a few occasions which will make you want to punch developer Jonathan Blow right on the anus.
Braid is blindingly fantastic and Blow knows it, but he's also keen enough to realise the arena he's working in - the ignorability of all the peripheral gumph means it'll only have a bearing on your experience of Braid if you allow it to.
And once you've realised that Blow's not shoving fistfuls of his failed screenplays down your gullet you'll applaud the plot in all its ridiculous, interpretive glory.
This is then, in conclusion, perhaps the single greatest puzzle platformer you'll ever play, punting the standard for independently developed games into the stratosphere. Braid consistently skirts perfection, at times making you feel thick, and at times making you feel immeasurably clever. Its merits lie mostly in its classical qualities; those of a solid platformer built around original puzzles, which themselves follow a perfectly hewn difficulty curve. The plot whiffs of arse, sure, but everything else here is unfalteringly genius.