Impressions: Braid PC

By Kieron Gillen on April 15th, 2009 at 8:14 pm.

What do you mean 'Meat Circus is behind me'?
On its initial release on the 360, Braid was one of the most critically adored, controversial and successful indie games of the year. I’m going to do an impressions post more than a traditional review, because I still haven’t finished the bally thing, but there’s stuff worth saying with it coming to the PC. The inclusion of a level editor is great. Having to use JoyToKey to play with a non-360 controller less so. But really, what’s important is to sort of reset newcomers expectation. The debate has confused things.

You’ll have seen this:

What people people missed in the widespread giggles at groundbreaking New Games Journalist Soulja Boy’s take on Braid was he totally got Braid.

He got Braid far more than people who – say – got hung up on its plot, as interesting as it is. Braid is fundamentally about the absolute sheer joy in seeing reality re-made before your eyes. The ability to rewind time is the least of it, the first step on increasingly twisted roads. The first time you play is about the joy of discovery. While I’m told some people worked their way through the game, solving each puzzle, I can hardly believe it. I rushed past ones which I couldn’t master immediately, pressing on to see whatever Blow had worked out to happen on the next world. Clones of previous selves. Rings of time-distortion like an emo-fied Planetary character. Best of all, turning reality into a clockwork mechanism so heading left or right makes the universe flick along. And when you actually dig into the tunnels, there’s a staggering lack of fat in the endeavor. You beat a challenge, you really don’t see it again. You may think you do for a second, but Blow’s formalist leanings takes great joy in creating a situation that looks almost identical to a previous one – or an iconic one in another game – but how the changes of the rules render it fundamentally different. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Braid is how a game that reinvents it so constantly, with such a radically different play-set, manages to actually teach – and challenge – the gamer so much. It’s exquisitely designed.

It’s also – to stress the point – incredibly original. Comparisons to Prince of Persia are asinine. Comparisons to XBox-curio Blinx are like claiming Lamarckism should get the credit instead of Darwinism. If it doesn’t work, you’re just an amusing historical footnote.

My biggest problem with Braid aren’t really problems at all – they’re preferences. They’re the reason why I voted for World of Goo ahead of Braid in the Eurogamer end of year awards. It’s a clock-work perfect game, and that leaves the game feeling somewhat stiff. There’s really just one solution to a problem. You look and experiment with this intricate crystal structure until you find it. World of Goo is about physicality, about wrestling with this object and its slight unpredictableness the entire point. Braid is the opposite. Braid is a game about ideas. It is a platform game as pure thought. That leaves it feeling a trifle cold. It’s not a game which allows you to really play. Unless you follow the Soulja route and get stoned, which isn’t the worst of ideas. Better than dropping acid and playing through System Shock 2, anyway.

God, okay – let’s go nitpicks. The puzzles where a key shatters on a door for a reason I’ve never worked out. I’ve got past them without ever knowing why the key shattered, which is a hole in the game’s pure-puzzle remit. In World of Goo, accidents were part of its chaotic design. In the pure-thought Braid, accidental elements annoy. It’s a game about perfection. “Knowing why” is fundamental. And… oh, God, you’ll do it in the threads. I have no heart in this nitpicks. Really, this is lovely stuff. It’s a masterclass in design, in theory, in games, a clockwork tin-man with a heart of gold. Its time is now. Don’t turn back.

The demo’s available here.

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156 Comments »

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  1. RealHorrorshow says:

    Forget JoyToKey and get Xpadder ASAP.

    http://www.xpadder.com/

  2. Radu says:

    You can actually use a non-360 controller without resorting to JoyToKey. The X360 controller emulator, developed by Racer_S works with many games, even Braid. It’s fairly difficult to configure at first, but then you just have to copy the files into another game’s .EXE folder when you want to reuse it.
    Link:
    http://www.tocaedit.com/IB/index.php?automodule=downloads&showfile=4

  3. RabidZombie says:

    “The puzzles where a key shatters on a door for a reason I’ve never worked out. I’ve got past them without ever knowing why the key shattered, which is a hole in the game’s pure-puzzle remit.”

    Don’t worry. Yahtzee had the same problem. :P

    Basically, when trying to open these doors, your moving backwards right? In this particular world, time is reversing as you move backwards. You do open the door, and it would remain open, if only time was flowing in the right direction. Turns out, it isn’t, and the door remains closed.

  4. mpk says:

    I’ve only briefly played this. It’s beautiful in so many ways. Can’t wait to delve a bit deeper.

  5. Evil Vitamin C says:

    Having a weird issue with the Steam version today. Whenever I launch the game, it switches to ultra-low res. Extremely annoying as I can’t change it in-game. What to do?

  6. simonkaye says:

    Well I’ve only been able to have a go at this since the PC demo came out. It’s… well, it’s really wow. People actually haven’t talked enough (this is saying something) about how painterly the game is, how lush it shows a 2D world can be. It’s also rare that a game’s plot should coincide with and illustrate its mechanics quite so beautifully.

    Mind you, let’s not shoot down Sands of Time. Could Braid have existed without the Prince’s best adventure?

  7. Lorc says:

    The shattering time immune key was so annoying and inexplicable that I’m sure there’s some well-thought out metaphorical significance to it.

    The secret stars are insane. I am not waiting an hour to ride a cloud.

    The game was very good though. Well worth the money. I have to give the nod to world of goo too, but it’s in the same league.

  8. Lorc says:

    Ok, RabidZombie’s explanation makes sense. Thank you.

  9. ohnoabear says:

    The amazing thing about Braid’s design is that, while there may seem to be only one solution to any given puzzle, there’s frequently more than one (especially in the later levels when the game opens up). My roommate beat the game before I did, then he watched me play it and I watched him play through a second time: every time there were puzzles solved differently. It’s not every puzzle (or even a majority), and the amazing thing is that when you see someone solve it differently, it seems no less the “correct” solution than what you did.

    The game’s insane extra bonus game–collecting stars–further convinced me that Braid’s levels aren’t so much clockwork as the appearance of clockwork, because striving for perfection seems to me one of the game’s central themes. That Braid can accomplish that without actually requiring you to follow some pre-determined set of actions in order to solve the puzzles shows just what an amazing piece of design it really is.

  10. psyk says:

    “Better than dropping acid and playing through System Shock 2, anyway.” Lol that must of been fun would make a good article.

  11. Premium User Badge

    dhex says:

    joy2key worked flawlessly with my ps2 via usb controller.

  12. The_B says:

    I can’t wait for Soulja Boy’s next piece of gaming journalism, where he is unleashed on Portal and told there’s no shooting in it.

    On a more serious note, it’s weird. I’m liking Braid and all the little touches, but like Gillen, I’m skipping puzzles that I can’t quite solve. It’s also making me feel incredibly stupid and frustrated, I occasionally have to play something like Saints Row 2 just to feel adequate at games again every so often.

  13. Steve says:

    I really liked Braid, the puzzles were fantastic. And the art style was great. Still need to work out some of the puzzles, the world where reversing your actions causes a shadow to repeat what you reversed still confuses the hell out of me.

    Can’t say I paid much attention to the story, seemed like self-absorbed “deep” musings.

  14. Heliocentric says:

    Its pretty fun play it.

    If you want some analysis? Braid subverts time in the same way portal did space, and its pretty fun.

    Also I can recommend spelunky on caffeine and peggle on sleeping tablets.

  15. Taillefer says:

    I didn’t know much about Braid, and I was just expecting a cutesy platform game with a quirky time-control element. But being a delightfully-clever, little puzzle game, which just happens to be presented as a platformer was much more to my liking. Even some of the earliest puzzles made me grin at the inventiveness. And working them all out is so satisfying.

    I was wondering if a spoken narration would have worked, similar to Aquaria. Walking through this beautifully painted landscape as Stephen Fry (or somebody) tells you a little tale. Sounds good in my head, anyway. The books felt a little clumsy and forced. Also, you could have the narration reversed at some point, and then you hear it properly when you reverse time…. I don’t know why.

    I had to skip about 5 puzzles, then came back later. In a way, that feels even better than solving it first time.

    Recommended!

  16. egg says:

    I tried the demo on the 360 of a friend. Found it too silly and emo. Maybe it’s just me. Doubt it though.

  17. Doctor Doc says:

    I cant really find anything negative except for the doors that breaks keys but do not open, that happened what, one or two times? It could have been some more levels too. I don’t know about joysticks or controllers, I used my keyboard and the controls worked great. Nice game, I enjoyed it more that World of Goo.

  18. Lewis says:

    Because I’m a horrible person, I see the opportunity for a cheeky plug. It is a relevant one, though: my Braid review has just gone up on Reso.

    So, obviously, clearer thoughts there. But in a nutshell, the most remarkable thing about Braid is how perfectly it adapts itself to any gaming mindset I can think of. Played as a platformer, it’s a lot of fun; played as a puzzle game, it’s challenging but logical; played as an art-game, it’s abundantly meaningful. None of these elements really encroach on each other, either, and all are as good as optional: there’s not that much platforming, the puzzles are skippable, and you can ignore the narrative strands completely.

    I’ve heard people say something along the lines of “the puzzles are really good, but the pretentious excuse for a story put me off.” I cannot understand this as a criticism. If you don’t connect with the plot, don’t bother getting worked up about it. You can quite literally run straight past it, and it has no real affect on the rest of the game.

    …Which is kind of my only real criticism as well, an overarching one about the nature of Braid as a platform game. Of course, one of the clever things about it is that it subverts the usual expectations of that genre, specifically referencing Super Mario Bros repeatedly. But that kind of seems incongruous to its deeper messages, a lightweight pop culture nod for the sake of it. That strikes me as a bit showy, and actually leaves elements of Braid feeling slightly cold, as you said, Kieron. I found myself wishing for a game where the story could be told within the levels (beyond the theme of hindsight, of course), rather than inbetween them.

  19. RabidZombie says:

    Doctor Doc, read my comment to see why that happened. The funny thing is, the keys aren’t even door specific (it’s the first thing I checked in the editor :P ). It’s pure logic at work as to why the doors don’t open.

    Anyway, as for Braid, I found it extremely satisfying. It was challenging, but not difficult. I got stuck only once, but I still felt like it was exercising my brain enough. So much better than Portal in that respect (which was too easy :( )

    Right, time to make my own levels…

  20. Lewis says:

    egg: it starts particularly emo, but that’s kind of essential in what it’s trying to do.

  21. Valentin Galea says:

    Are you people insane?

    Trying to hook controllers on this game that requires arrow keys, space and shift?
    Is this a PC related blog or what:P?

    Other than that, once again Kieron is right on the money!

  22. Mark Ping says:

    The key shatters in the door because you’re moving to the left, hence time in the world is going backward. The key unlocks the door, but then the door moves back in time to before it’s unlocked. So you have to open the door which unlocks while you’re moving to the right.

    This is the same mechanic which allows you to bounce on enemies while you’re moving left and it doesn’t kill them (they ‘unkill’ when you move further left).

  23. Dr_demento says:

    @RabidZombie: But isn’t the correct door the one on the left, rather than the right? So time would be flowing forwards as you walk towards it and through… or have I got it the wrong way around?

    The other puzzle that annoyed me was the last one in the Shadow Self world, where the solution relies on your shadow being slightly to one side of you, which I had been convinced was just a graphical trick and was therefore pretty hacked off that it was the solution to a problem. Bah.

    Still one of the best games of, um, whatever year it was released. I’d vote for it over World of Goo, if only because it’s more thought-based while WoG relies a little too much on luck and speed of mouse to be a 100% puzzle game, and it isn’t really built for that (consider: the difficulty of selecting an individual goo from a structure, when you will inevitably select a different one owing to the irritating sticky-select, and which can be irreversible; compare this to Braid, where the game is entirely designed around undoing mistakes without penalty, and even when you can’t rewind you can reset the level and it won’t be a big setback.)

  24. unclelou says:

    The point has come where I don’t understand anymore what people mean when they say “emo”.

  25. Flappybat says:

    I know it will make people grumpy but it really was a fancy tech demo. Art won out over game.

    World Of Goo was a much better mix of art and game with equally valid points and *cough* less pretenious *cough*

  26. Eric says:

    I loved Braid, but here’s my nitpick:

    The shattering key got me the first time around too, but it’s not a big deal to just exit the world, re-enter it and start again. But there was one time when a puzzle expected me to have knowledge of a particular move that the game had never introduced:

    SPOILERSPOILERSPOILERSPOILERSPOILERSPOILER

    In the “clones of previous selves” level, there’s one high platform that you need to get a puzzle piece. Turns out the way you do it is to have your clone head-butt a goomba from below, knocking it up higher, and then you bounce off the goomba to reach the platform. However, at that point I had never learned that you could head-butt a goomba from below and survive, so the solution never occurred to me.

    END SPOILER

    I learned the solution from a walkthrough, which I know annoys Blow, but that balances out how annoyed I was at that point.

    Still, a brilliant game.

  27. Fat says:

    Wow, lots of comments. Can’t read ‘em all. :P

    The key thing, well… anything that glows green on the edges isn’t affected by time reversal. That’s what i gathered anyway, as one of ‘those people’ who worked through the puzzles. The purple glowing stuff stuff has a ghosting affect, where you can rewing time, then a ghost will carry out actions parallel to whatever you did before hitting ‘rewind’.

    As for my own thoughts, it was fun, but only something that will provide a couple of hours entertainment, to me anyway.

    I definately agree on World of Goo > Braid. I got so much more enjoyment from WoG, even on the 3rd play through. This is probably more puzzley, but i value fighting the law of physics in a game more than i do than thinking about time travel.

  28. Lewis says:

    If I had to sit them both down on a plate and analyse them carefully, I’d concede that World of Goo is a better game. I think I just about gelled with Braid a little more, though. That probably means I’m a moaning, Livejournaling, emo whinny.

    I’ll more than happily procrastinate for hours playing, or thinking about, either, though.

  29. Wurzel says:

    Okay, wth do people mean now when they say ‘emo’? Are things not even allowed to discuss emotions these days?

  30. Mark Ping says:

    @Eric

    Yeah, that trick was incredibly annoying. The drawbacks of the game included introducing new mechanics poorly, and then ramped up the difficulty of those mechanics very quickly.

    Compare this to Portal where they talked about playtesting the levels, realizing that many people were thinking that Red portals were exit-only, etc. and thus creating levels that forced people to use the mechanic of bi-directional portals so they’d learn that behavior.

    Braid would benefit from more levels with more training, and more explicit mechanic introduction.

  31. FoxwoodCasinoResort says:

    pretty cool to play.

  32. Eamo says:

    I have been playing Braid and as a game it is fantastic. The level design is fantastic, the art direction is fantastic and the music is fantastic. As far as the games quality I cannot fault it and I would thoroughly reccomend that anyone spend their money on it.

    However, I must say I am sceptical of a lot of the deeper meaning that is ascribed to it, and incredibly sceptical when I read comments like how the game emerged from a deaper goal of satirising and celebrating the platform game and gaming in general.

    The cynic in me says that Jonathan Blow’s real genius was pasting a half page of meaningless pseudo-philosophy into an otherwise fantistic game and reeling in a fan community of wannabe deep thinkers. I think the game can certainly be interpreted as being deep and meaningful but I don’t think it follows that a deliberate process was followed to achieve these ends. Yes, of course every game designer would love to create a game that elevates the genre to high levels of art but I don’t think that is something that you can set out to deliberately achive through mechanics. I think most of the meaning you find in Braid is allegory that is applied afterwards as opposed to the result of a conscious process of development.

    Maybe it was genius to see this potential in the game and go back and alter it in such a way as to imply that this was the original design goal and maybe, in the same broad way that expressing deeper meaning is a goal every game designer would love to achieve it was but where I find a problem is in the implication that the meaning was achieved through intent rather than being something that it was possible to attach to the functioning set of game mechanics that was created.

  33. psyk says:

    Look out for the quotes near the end of the game and whoever found the first star first is a nutter.

  34. Ken says:

    Speaking of incongruities, shall I assume tying a pretty determinedly wistful, melancholic soundtrack to the pretty amusing time-shifting mechanisms was done to kick me swiftly into Detached Pondering mode? How the music was supposed to be particularly affecting ‘straight’ under those conditions escapes me, so I’m guessing it really wasn’t.

    That’s what irritated me about this whole game. I felt bamboozled into scrutinizing everything presented to then weave it all into Bigger Ideas for the mere sake of experiencing what that exercise feels like, as if Blow believes I’ve never tried to do any thinking at all. However good the puzzles were (very!), the complete package isn’t something I’m comfortable praising the man for.

    And if there’s a thing worse than feeling like I’ve been hoodwinked, it’s feeling like a boorish conspiracy theorist to cope with that.

  35. Ph0X says:

    Cmon man, the way you write make makes me respect you so much, and it makes you seem so.. smart and intelligent, how come you don’t get the key not working on the door when you are coming from the right?

    Look, when you go right to left, time goes back, so as soon as you LOSE the key (you’re not holding it to bring it back in time with you), it will go in that other world and will go back in time, so the door recloses as soon as it’s opened and the key is lost because it doesn’t go back in time with you.

    There are alot of little things like that through the game, which shows that alot of thinking has been put into it. I personally like it, since on the other side, in some games, there are some stuff that are so not normal which pisses you off even more than that.

  36. Vivian says:

    Played system shock on the tail end of a large amount of shrooms once. I spent about an hour cowering behind the reception desk on the rec deck because the worms were wriggling wrong

  37. Klaus says:

    Soulja boy’s simplicity works in this case because Braid is game, and the point of a game, is to have fun. To me anyway.

    I take ‘emo’ to mean overly, nauseatingly, and/or needlessly emotional.

  38. Tim says:

    Nice one. Fun video.

    I think I did well, I barely read anything anyone said about the game. Not because I was trying to avoid it, just because I didn’t really care. I learned enough to know I’d probably like it, I’d probably have my own opinion, and that the whole thing will be totally subjective. Yay! Yay for games that embraces subjective notions of a great game.

    I thought it was great. Definitely worth the $15 US.

  39. xiko says:

    btw I love the way the inertia works while jumping on a cloud, you will keep moving with it.

  40. teo says:

    @dr_demento which puzzle are you talking about?
    I don’t remember using that

  41. S says:

    Spoilers!

    Eric: The “headbutt from below thing” isn’t a new mechanic, it’s just reciprocity–the goomba bounces on your head and jumps higher, like you do to it. Then you can reverse time and jump on the bouncing goomba to reach the platform. It was definitely sneaky, but makes sense once you think about it, like the shattering key. I had had enough goombas bounce off my head from high pipes that I had seen the move before, so that helped.

    End Spoilers!

    I liked Braid a lot, though I’ll never have the patience to get the stars or do a speedrun. Definitely one of my favorites from ’08.

  42. fulis says:

    most people say that they feel super smart after figuring out the puzzles but eh? most of them are quite explicitly designed
    I only felt good about solving one puzzle

  43. psyk says:

    2 fecking hours :(

  44. psyk says:

    that was to the last part of the comment by S about patience and stars

  45. bob arctor says:

    I liked both probably equally.

    Would have prefered if Braid kept the story simpler though, just on the level of princess being a woman not a ****.

    I had problems with the jump down shadow level and the up strike as well. Walkthrough. Bollocks to Blow it’s my game.

    I still didn’t know how the last shadow level was solved tbh, I thought the shadow didn’t carry on falling, but apparently he carried on past the point I started rewinding.

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    c-Row says:

    I’m liking Braid and all the little touches, but like Gillen, I’m skipping puzzles that I can’t quite solve. It’s also making me feel incredibly stupid and frustrated

    That’s something I already felt during the demo. It’s nice that you can skip puzzles you can’t solve at the moment, but if you are missing like six puzzle pieces from a single world, you wonder whether the game is too demanding or you are just plain stupid not to see the (sometimes not so) obvious.

  47. mister k says:

    Huh… I guess I’m the only person who played the demo on the xbox, didn’t really understand the whole jigsaw puzzle thing, got annoyed and quit… childish I know.

    Incidentally, there was an AMAZING time travel based game for the playstation one. It was fan made, on those Net Yaroze disks, called time slip. You were a snail who had to solve platforming puzzles by using clones in time- however, if you hit your clones, you ceased to exist- video here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yc_quc8BT0o

    I also found that too hard….

  48. Skye says:

    Yeah, I too was baffled at first by the key shattering. Then I thought about the fact that there were two doors in this situation on either side of the puzzle piece and wondered what the difference could be. When I realized that I had been moving left with the key into that door when it shattered and that nothing can happen moving to the left in this particular world, I grinned like a bastard. It’s a brilliant attention to detail.

    I have the opposite preference, Kieron. I loved the goo out of 2D Boy’s game, but I seem to enjoy cleverness over physical play–at least when it comes to puzzles.

  49. Neut says:

    Game of the year for me last year. I felt sad too that World of Goo was getting all the love on here and nobody noticed poor little Tim. For once I wished that RPS wasn’t PC centric which was odd as I found out about Braid through one of the previews here.

    Sorry for turning this into a Braid vs World of Goo thing as they’re both excellent but it’s bizzare to see people complaining about Braid’s artistic pretensions and praising WoGs. I found WoGs art style to be an immediate turn off as it was so obviously deviantart burtonesque tripe going for the cliched cutesy and quirky look. At least the art in Braid was somewhat original.

    Also why are people getting so personally offended at Blow for trying to be ‘smart’ with his game?