After a brief (ahem – 12 month) hiatus I returned to, and completed, Braid.
It’s criminal that I was away from Braid’s hauntingly atmospheric world for so long, but it seems the break was exactly what I needed in order to tackle one of the game’s later, more devious puzzles.The difficulty of Braid’s puzzles is perfectly pitched. Some will be overcome as soon as they are encountered, while others will need some contemplation and experimentation. Then there are those that require some serious time out in order for you to come at them again at a later date – refreshed, renewed and able to look at things in a new way.
Here is the genius of Braid. Each puzzle is a mini epiphany: you approach with no clue as to how you are going to progress, and at some point in time it clicks; an enlightenment that leaves you amazed at your own brain’s ability to think laterally and in terms that it has never thought in before.
The virtues of Jonathon Blow’s time bending puzzle game are well documented: the hand painted visuals, the delicate soundtrack and time manipulation all contributing to the game’s unique atmosphere.
Not so well documented is its one big failing.
Braid’s puzzles make you feel intelligent. They stretch and exercise cerebral muscle you never knew you had, and as a result make you feel good about yourself – a rare achievement for a video game. Why then, is the writing so deliberately oblique and esoteric? Like an in-joke I’m not privy to, it left me feeling stupid, out of the loop.
The books that you encounter as a prelude to each level were confusing, but that’s okay. I was prepared to let them wash over me almost like ambience, letting their tone add to the magnificent atmosphere. I knew there were more amazing puzzles waiting for me through the next door.
I won’t spoil it for you, but Braid’s conclusion is wonderful. It features a twist that should be obvious given the nature of the game, but rocks you to the core nonetheless. Then comes the epilogue, which features more puzzling if you are to glean all of the game’s conclusive narrative.
Except it isn’t very conclusive at all. It is more confusing, slightly arrogant and pretentious guff that fails to punctuate the astounding final chapter of the story. I felt punished for not paying more attention; for not pouring over the game’s books; for not being intelligent enough to make sense of the Hiroshima references and mother/abandonment issues.
Normally, I don’t mind being left in the dark. Some of my favourite films and novels use this device to devastating effect at their conclusion. But the dichotomy of Braid’s empowering puzzles and enfeebling narrative gave this exceptional game a bitter after-taste.