developed by Number None, Inc.
Braid’s first level is conspicuously titled ‘World 2’, inviting the player to wonder where that missing number one went. Subverting its many platform precedents, from Donkey Kong to Sonic the Hedgehog, it adds mind-bending mechanics to the mix, allowing us to toy with time and undo any ill-fated leaps. Its side-scrolling gameplay seems initially intuitive, only for our assumption of linear progression to be torn apart. A save-the-princess plot, knowingly copied and pasted from the Super Mario series, is complicated by references to a more lifelike break-up scenario. The temporal oddities and cryptic story, we realise, are inextricably linked.
As the player moves towards the game’s end, the prospect of closure disintegrates, along with the protagonist’s presumed heroism. A gulf emerges between the outlooks of the princess and the wannabe knight in shining armour, leaving us suspicious of the ‘damsel in distress’ trope. In the starry-skied background of the game’s brief prelude, we can see the constellation of Andromeda, a mythical woman chained to a rock to be sacrificed. It may be easily missed at the time, but comes to act as a striking metaphor, denouncing the use of simplistic stereotypes and the restriction of female agency.
Words by Lewis Coenen-Rowe
The doors dotted around Tim’s house lead to fantastical realms, filled with brainteasers and beasts. Each room is separated from its related world by a corridor, clustered with cumulus clouds and lined with lecterns. As we walk past hefty books, they flick open to share exposition and excerpts from a broken relationship. Words hang in the air above us, bloated with meaning. Some of the connectives and flowery adjectives appear to be superfluous but, picking at the semantics, we begin to wonder whether the prose is more carefully considered than first thought.
We read our way from left to right, giving us a familiar sense of direction that is rarely afforded here. Scattered jigsaw pieces welcome our grasp, but some float out of reach. Time becomes a plaything; however long we rack our brains for a solution, we are sometimes required to give up and backtrack later. All the while, we must climb ladders, hop over pits of spikes, and jump onto golem-goomba hybrids that send us bounding higher still. Braid presents us with a deconstructed puzzle and asks us to reassemble it. In doing so, it provides a platform from which ideas can spring.
Words by John Wadsworth
More to discover
You can watch the trailer for Braid here, see a playthrough here, and download a free demo of the game on Steam. Chris Dahlen has interviewed Jonathan Blow (the game's designer) for The A.V. Club, as has Taylor Clark for The Atlantic. David Hellman (the game's artist) has written about Braid's painterly visual style for Gamasutra.
Question of the day
No, but it’s all we’ve got: in the absence of time travel, I don’t know any other way to escape our contingent moment.
– Emma Donoghue, author of The Wonder, Frog Music, and Room (via The Brief →)
Yes. Our past can only be grasped through our own subjective perspective, and few things can influence that like art.
– Hugh Maloney, Silent Frame Sub-Editor (via Patreon →)