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Braid Review weiveR diarB


*This review contains some spoilers*



I remember when my dad mentioned Braid about a month ago. Thanks to NPR's occasional video games coverage, my dad can surprise me every now and then with gaming news of some sort. This time, he had heard of a video game that "is supposed to be about life and choices" as he put it. I quickly explained that that Braid wasn't "about life" and that actuality, it was just a puzzle game that has ignited the untrained and ill-equipped artsy/pretentious video game writers to make claims that the game is some bold new step in game design doing things that other games haven't quite done before. I smoothly transitioned the conversation about the art of design and mechanics and how all games can be read making them seem to be about almost anything. Using Tetris, Super Mario Brothers, and Wii Sports (games my father has experience with) I debunked the notion. Then my father asked me if I had played Braid yet. I hadn't.


At that point, I had researched the game only briefly, which I felt was enough to make the comments I did. I wasn't talking about Braid so much as the misguided reception and the state of the video games industry's more scholarly pursuits that restlessly fidget in a state of arrested development. Sill, I hadn't played Braid, a fact I then made a point of correcting. Regardless of what others have said about the game, being a fan of puzzle games, I wanted to experience Braid for myself and maybe even write something about it.

The interesting part of Braid, one might say, is that the game gives the player the mechanic of REWIND TIME without much restraint. All mistakes can be reversed, and all starting points can be revisited. This ability gives the player a certain freedom to experiment freely and in every direction into the world of Braid. Such a mechanic when viewed from the player's perspective as he/she collects memories of their experience playing the game is similar to the "many-worlds interpretation" of quantum mechanics. The "you" that you think of yourself as, like the Mario in the video, will stretch out like fingers touching the world and gaining knowledge only to come back to where you started.

Putting the question of what Braid is "about" to the side, it's easy to understand what Braid "does." Being a member of the puzzle genre, Braid equips the player with a handful of mechanics and sets up stages or areas that challenge the player to use these mechanics in specific ways. Though many have folded at solving some of Braid's more difficult puzzles, I found the game to be short with a deliciously sweet balance of content. Every puzzle requires a unique use and combination of player mechanics. Better yet, because the vast majority of challenges are so well designed, they are all the easier to solve. The reason for this is because the challenges in a puzzle game designed around the specific use of a mechanic or combination of mechanics, the number of possible ways to solve such a puzzle is reduced to a few solutions. By reverse engineering the end of the puzzle, and being aware of all the ways you can't approach solving the puzzle from the start, the solutions then become obvious, at least for a seasoned puzzle veteran. All in all, the tighter a puzzle game is designed, the easier it is to solve.

Starting with a basic set of platforming mechanics (JUMP, CLIMB, MOVE) Tim (the main character in Braid) can move through the 2D world. All the puzzles in world 2 are designed to get the player accustomed to these mechanics. With each subsequent world, a new mechanic is either added or required for solving the puzzles thus organizing each world by theme. This approach to level variability is similar to Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario Galaxy where each world has a theme with new elements introduced into the levels as needed to accentuate the themes. While this approach worked great for Mario, in some ways, it limited the range of design for Braid's puzzles.

Though Blow has expressed that he intentionally designed each world in Braid to be distinct and separate both in the narrative shorts that precede each world as well as the themes and required mechanics, I was somewhat disappointed that the final stage didn't combine all of the game's previous mechanics and concepts into one final super puzzle. Instead, powers are sort of stripped away covertly between worlds. Fortunately, the last stage is quite genius. Though it's not very challenging compared to some of the game's more difficult puzzles and it's not quite folded level design, time and perspective are used most effectively here. The shocking twist not only takes way Tim's ability to correct mistakes by reversing time, but it also shows how Tim's desire may have clouded his perspective on things.

Examples of the "worst" puzzles in Braid.

  • World 2. manipulating the painting (skip to 8:00). The mechanic of manipulating the painting in the puzzle-piece-assembly mode so that it interacts with the normal game world is unprecedented and functionally hidden. The thought process needed realize this mechanic naturally (without being explicitly told) requires a case where the puzzle pieces exhibit physical properties on the elements in the game world. Also, indicating that the bridge like section on the puzzle piece interacts differently than the other forms/objects depicted in the puzzle pieces would require another case. Furthermore, the issues of this puzzle are made worse due to the obfuscation of the fine details that visually links the bridge puzzle piece to the game world platform on SDTVs. Lastly, this puzzle requires the player to reenter the game world to solve after running through the world and collecting the necessary puzzle pieces.
  • World.3 the last puzzle. (skip to 9:18) To solve this puzzle, players have to leave the "puzzle area" and continue moving into the next area. Doing this reveals the missing element needed to solve the puzzle that was previously hidden off screen. Obscuring important information required for solving the puzzle off screen in this way is functionally like hiding a key in your pocket and telling your friend to keep looking around the room for it. Basically the player must "give up" or resolve that they don't have the ability to solve the puzzle to move on. Ultimately, the criticism raised against this puzzle isn't even that bad, which speaks to the quality design of the rest of the game's puzzles.
Looking at the other side of things, at their finest, the best Braid puzzles (basically every puzzle in world 4,5, and 6) represent a high level of design creating layered challenges through simple mechanics that come together elegantly like a Bach Fugue (skip to 1:30) or Bach Invention. It's counterpoint. It's classical game design. It's wonderful, and I simply can't get enough of it. If you'll listen to either of the classical pieces I linked to, you'll hear that the melody is started in one hand and then repeated with the next. The layering of the same relatively simple melody creates a layered sense of time that is always chasing after and running from itself. Like echoes through time, listening to these pieces carefully reveals moments where the layers comment on each other when heard simultaneously. Some bits of this conversation sound odd. Some out of place. Some pleasant. While others exist in a mood so difficult to place that to hear it merely feels like a transition between the familiar. This quality exists in many Classical piano pieces, and many Classically designed video games, like Braid.

In Braid, like in Super Mario Brothers, contrary motion exist between Tim, the player character, moving through a level ultimately to the right, the enemies generally attacking Tim/moving to the left, and the level with which acts on them both by pulling everything down and occasionally into hazards. But unlike in Super Mario Brothers, the goal in a given Braid level is to solve the challenges and collect the puzzle pieces. Because the challenges are mostly created by manipulating space-time in some way, Tim's contrary motion to the right is almost entirely diminished. Instead, space-time becomes a direction of motion in itself.


Though the enemies don't have much interplay and the platforming isn't much, everything yields to the affects of time. Everything, that is, except those elements in the game that aren't affected by the REWIND TIME mechanic. Functionally, elements that aren't affected by rewinding time are still affected by it through relative motion. In other words, if everything in the world moves to the left but a single platform, then relatively speaking, it's like the platform simply moved to the right. Also functionally speaking, whenever there's an element in a level that isn't affected by time in this way, the REWIND TIME mechanic sort of transforms into a mechanic that manipulates space and not time. I'll just leave that thought at that.

Trying to articulate in words what Braid is about is more complicated than it may seem. It's not because the game is complex or difficult. Puzzles games are naturally focused on mechanics and smoothly guiding the player into understanding how these mechanics layer together. One of the reasons why, I think, we struggle within the video gaming industry to express what a game is about is because our public education system has taught us through writing book reports and the like that coming up with what we think a work is "about" means looking for "hidden meanings." Unfortunately, many of still don't realize that the true meaning in a work isn't really hidden at all. The evidence is right there on the screen, in the film, on the canvas, in the text, and in Braid's case in the mechanics and the form of the game.

Braid is a puzzle game with platforming elements. Alongside the gameplay, Blow has very carefully implemented visual art that resembles classical paintings, music that does the same, and a series of colorful text based vignettes that thematically seek to match the gameplay of each world on a conceptual level. The text, which I feel is a misuse of the video game medium, was part of Blow's original conception of Braid. Though I don't care for the writing style in these texts, and the "next-gen text" was almost too small and blurry for me to read on my SDTV (like in Bionic Commando Rearmed), I found the conceptual parallels enchanting.

Blow wanted these two mediums to sit side by side so that they have the opportunity to mingle in the player's mind, and he succeeded in his attempt (at least for this critical-gamer). But I can't forgive the text. Perhaps Blow should have made each block shorter. Miyamoto has be very careful when designing the text section in the Zelda series. He understands the importance of interactivity in a video game and ensures that each text bock is short so that the action of pressing a button to advance through the text keeps the player somewhat engaged. Better yet for Braid, I feel that the text should have been delivered via a narrative voice that plays as the player moves through each world. This approach would give Braid more of a storybook and keep the player engaged in the core interactive gaming experience while making it easy for the player to experience the information in the text without misusing the medium.

Such is Braid. The discourse that has sprung up around this game reminds me of the Discourse of BioShock. So many people have attempted to say something intelligent and meaningful about the game. So many people have tried to talk art and make defenses for one thing or another using Braid. And I've found that most of these people have missed the mark. The real art that's true to the video game medium is in the gameplay and counterpoint design of Braid. The internal dialog that the player has when solving a puzzle is what the game is about. What may be even more profound is how the concepts of manipulating time and space can so easily related to our everyday lives. Those gamers who look up how to solve a puzzle in Braid are only cheating them selves. Such is the drawback of puzzle games. Once you're told how to solve a puzzle, the internal dialog is stilted, stunted, even truncated. This is one aspect of the game that the REWIND TIME mechanic can't fix.


In my conversation with my father, I couldn't get into specifics about Braid's content. Now that I've played the game, if I could go back to that conversation, I don't think I would change a thing. It's perhaps too difficult and too personal to try and communicate my internal dialog from playing Braid to those who haven't experienced it for themselves. It turns out, like for Tim, there are some things that time can't touch.


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Reader Comments (12)

I like the idea of the narration but can't help think that you'd need an astonishing actor, someone who could truly connect with the game, to deliver the story in such a way that was neither trite, ham-handed or boring. I haven't heard Blow's voice, could he have done it?

When you mention the player has to give up in the World 3 puzzle, move on, then turn back with help, wouldn't that be considered part of the narrative?

Finally, I found Braid surprisingly boring. I simply couldn't connect with the game itself. I didn't find the game difficult, in fact I breezed through the first three Worlds, picking up nearly every piece (I missed three I believe), but I had no desire to continue.

I believe this is because the game doesn't have something to immediately offer, it's "preachiness", I guess, presented a barrier to me. I didn't care about Tim, the text, nor the puzzle pieces and yet I read everything and adored the visuals.

September 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel Purvis

@ Daniel Purvis

For a voice actor, I was just thinking of someone who does the narration for the good NickJr shows or something like that. You know, that classic old man kind of voice. The whole game is sort of story book like anyway. The tone in the text sections and the expression on Tim's/"the goombas" face communicates a not so serious story (at least to me).

Part of the narrative? Perhaps. Regardless, the design of it is deceptive. Anything Blow decides to make gamers go through is part of the game/narrative, but that doesn't mean those choices don't have consequences.

Ah. Well you probably should have done what I did. Skip all the text and beat the game as quickly/smoothly as possible and then go back and read them. Are you not a puzzle game fan? The different mechanics in each world should be enough to drive a puzzle fan to the game's completion.

I didn't care about those things either at first. I just wanted to solve more puzzles and continuing with my internal dialog. I still have mixed feelings about Tim, the text, and the visual style. But because gameplay/game design is number 1, all of my niggles about the supporting elements are just niggles.

September 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKirbyKid

I'd have to disagree about the use of the text. I concede that the medium of games is really the medium of the mechanics, but all games are embellished with other media, most commonly visual and auditory art, but sometime sculpture or even perhaps food in the case of a pen-and-paper RPG.

I think moving the narrative from the text to a voice would have had a few problems: it denies the player the ability to explore the story at their own pace. Either the voiceover would be rewound by the rewind mechanic, making it ahrd to follow, or it would not, breaking it apart from the rest of the game. Moving to a voice also makes it compulsory: as you note, you can play Braid running past all the books, a voice would require meta-actions (like going to a menu screen) to control. I thought that the audio for Braid was outstanding, and I'd be worried that a voice might compete with that.

This may be more of a personal choice, but I also enjoyed the texts as a variation of tempo. They provide a slowing point, an area where the player is encouraged to linger for a moment. Since this lingering is completely optional, it allows for the player to set their own pace while never leaving the game. I often used the text breaks to sit back and sip at my drink (let's just say it was red wine, because that makes it sound that much more artsy), and to let associations build in my mind.

Overall I agree with your analysis completely: Braid is a game that uses the mechanics to truly make a point, not the other artistic trappings.

September 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSage

@ Sage

The way I understand the video game medium as it encompasses other mediums/elements is...

1)Interactivity & Visuals.
2)Sound effects
3)Force Feedback

Because 80% of our sensory perception comes from sight, visuals are important communicative tools in video games. This is why form fits function is such a big deal.

In the same way that movies/tv shows use dialog as a crutch to explain themselves instead of using visual story telling, using text in a video game is even worse.

For a video game...

1) Interactive/mechanical/in game story telling is the most effective
2) Visual Story telling.
3) Then explanatory audio
4) Finally explanatory text.

Using text without visuals of any kind is the worse way to go as it ignores the two things that video games do best... interactivity and visuals.

I don't think exploring the story in Braid at one's own pace isn't a big deal. These little vignettes are too short to worry about getting into a rhythm/pace.

If the voice overs get rewound with time, it wouldn't be any harder to follow. Everyone should be quite familiar with the idea of rewinding and replaying audio/video by now. I'm sure the kind of gamers playing Braid can handle it.

And if the voice didn't rewind, it would create a frame that exists outside the interactive game world, which is what the text is in the first place. So that wouldn't be such a bad thing.

I can understand your concern with tinkering with the soundscape in Braid, but having the voice play when entering the level was just one idea.

An interesting compromise would be when standing next to a book in the cloud world the text would be projected in addition to a voice over. Better yet, the books could be placed in the levels so the player can read/listen/and deactivate the story at their own volition while using the normal game mechanics.

True, the text is a change in tempo. After all, you go from playing a well made puzzle game to reading "pretentious," poetry like stories on a TV screen which isn't a game at all. Also, just because it's a misuse of the medium doesn't mean it can't be enjoyed or used by a gamer in a positive way.

But if it's a misuse of the medium, and if it detracts from the core of the work that agrees with the core of the medium, then it should be fixed or else the work will suffer in some way. This is a lesson I had to learn the hard way from my fiction writing professor. I had sections within my short story that worked against the whole. These superfluous sections fit with the events in the story and did add to the work in multiple conceptual ways, but they also detracted from the whole by watering down the core theme, and adding to the length of the story, and kind of distracting the reader.

Crafting an excellent story or a game is more than putting in all the ideas and elements you want in the final product. It's about understanding the medium, and making those difficult choices.

It's a complicated issue. As an English/Gaming man, part of me encourages experimentation attempting to fuse the two mediums. But even as I think back on the text sections in Braid now, the way they were presented, I can't help but think I would have enjoyed the game better without them.

Thanks for the comment and making me re-think this issue. I get the feeling this won't be the end of it.

September 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKirbyKid

@ kirbykid

I think my issue with rewinding a voice recording would be mentally tracking the recording and the gameplay at the same time. Everyone understands rewinding, but trying to keep track of where you are in the voice over at the same time as trying to solve a puzzle would have taxed my attention a bit. Braid is really a simplistic game, there are few times when you really have to keep track of many actions at once, and keeping track of narration that I would hear parts of multiple times seems a but hard.

I like the idea of the books being read as you stand next to them. I'm not convinced it's needed, but if it were to happen, I could have dealt with this, whereas I feel most of the other options would have actually detracted overall.

The text is indeed a little pretentious, but I think that's a reaction to how games are normally viewed, and I still found it much more palatable then some of the babble about souls, life and love that fills JRPGs. Braid is a game that screams "I'm important, read into me," which might be what's needed to get people to look at mechanics as a way of communicating meaning.

As far as text being the least desirable way to expand a game, I think I disagree. When used properly, it works. When it's the long scrolling 'story' (using the loosest meaning of the word) in Soul Calibur IV, it doesn't. Braid, at least for me, mostly worked. It was overdone, but it at least tried for deeper meaning. I would occasionally find myself actually being drawn in, only to snap out of it and realize it was walking a fine line with being horrible (at times it reminded me of the dregs of the creative writing course I took in college, I was at a science and engineering school, so the bad writing tended to be wretched).

Text is probably not the best way to leverage visual bandwidth, but it is perhaps more precise. The process of reading tends to involve internalizing the words and interpreting them, whereas most other visual communication is primarily observed. If Blow had used static art, in the same vein as the reassembled puzzles, in place of the text it might have been less jarring a transition, but it might also have been more vague (for me the art only really made sense in the context of the text).

I agree that a great game requires editing of ideas, I'm just not completely sold that the text was something that needed to be edited from Braid, especially because of it's optional nature.

And now for something a little tangential: I'd challenge your assertion of visuals being on the same level as interaction the elements of a game. I have a strong background as a pen-and-paper gamer, and there are published games doing much the same things the Braid and other well-crafted games do. My life With Master is perhaps the poster child for these games, using mechanics to explore an abusive relationship within the fiction of a Dr. Frankenstein/Igor scenario. carry (lack of capitalization intentional) is a game about war, not a game of war, and it does an amazing job of using rules to communicate the feelings of grunts in Vietnam. The Shab-al-Hiri Roach is a darkly humorous game about ambition, with mechanics that confront players with sell-your-soul kind of choices. None of these games has any substantial visual component (all of the books include art, but it's unlikely the art would directly influence gameplay), yet they still work much like Super Mario, Braid, or even something more complex: they use well-crafted rules to at the very least create fun, and hopefully communicate or explore some theme.

Anyway, I've gone on far too long for a cingle comment on a (great) post. I have no idea if you've checked out Play This Thing (, but they look at games in a somewhat similar way, and they also post tabletop game reviews, which I think you might find interesting for an exploration of non-electronic games (and I'll throw in a shameless plug for the reviews I've written for them: , I've also been meaning to get around to exploring some game related stuff on my site,, but no clue when I'll get to that.

September 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSage

@ sage

Feel free to plug away. I'll get around to your links soon, and I'll be sure to check out your website.

True, many games like JRPGs are riddled with nonsense text/writing. "So the Cruscious Curse is the Cause for Collette's Condition?"~Loyd: Tales of Symphonia. (alliteration bonus x5)

If Braid had to step out boldly and scream to the masses to start thinking deeper, then I'm glad someone took that step.

True, at least the text in Braid is more meaningful/substantial than a given NPC's dialog box.

Your posts have me questioning if the core of my issue with the text in Braid stems from the quality/style of writing instead of its placement in the game. One thing that I've been avoiding is breaking down and critiquing the text in Braid from an English major's point of view.

The fact that the text is optional in Braid and how many have used that as a sort of excuse bothers me. When I analyze games, I always start form what the players MUST do to win and then branch out from there. But in the case of text/cut scenes, even when they're not optional and can't be skipped, the player still doesn't have to read/pay attention to them. It's not like they're going to be quizzed on the information, right?

So, if the text (messages/concepts it carries)was important enough for Blow to include it in the game the way he did, then I would think that it would be important enough not to be skipped. Giving the players the option to skip it, in many ways, means you're giving them the power to miss out on something unique and interesting. For this reason, I've been considering an alternate method of delivery.

I feel that visuals and interactivity are on the same level only for video games. Things are different when considering non-visual games like Pen-and-paper games or sports (physical games). Each medium has their own rules as I'm sure you know. It seems like "video game" and "game" are somewhat interchangeable in your mind. Be careful. lol.

Thanks for all of your contributions.

September 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKirbyKid

Good point about game and videogame being interchangeable to me, because I really tend to think of them in the same way. Videogame, boardgame, sport, rpg, whatever, I tend to think of them all in the broader frame of 'games.' They all use somewhat arbitrary rules to create an enjoyable experience (or communicate a theme, hopefully both). I see the major difference in a videogame being that the rules execute themselves.

Actually, this has got me thinking about broader classifications of games. I can see two continuum to place games on: Self-interpreting <-> Player-interpreted and Fiction <-> Fictionless. Sports are generally Player-interpreted (nothing stops a rugby player from passing forwards, physically speaking) and Fictionless. Boardgames tend to be mostly player-interpreted (but sometimes the physical construction of pieces adds some constraints) and fiction-light. RPGs (videogame or not) are fiction-heavy .

Sorry, again I'm posting completely new ideas in a comment, this should go somewhere else. I just wanted to point out that while I was confounding 'videogame' and 'game,' I think there may be less of a difference then you think.

As far as visuals in a videogame (to be clear), I'm still not sure if I agree. Consider the classic electronic game Simon. You repeat the flashing colors, memorizing longer and longer sequences. The visuals here are largely arbitrary, and indeed there have been many version with many different visuals used. I'd still categorize it as a videogame (there is a electronic automata interpreting the rules), but the visuals have next to nothing to do with the game. It's laregly a pointless distinction, but I'd list visuals as a separate point from interaction, and at a lower importance. With force-feedback (haptics) there may soon be videogames that do not require visuals at all, they could be entirely tactile.

September 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSage

One more issue I forgot to mention, with the optional nature of the text: I think in the static forms of a book, movie, painting, or whatever, your argument stands. There should be no part of well-made art that can be dropped form the whole without consequences (this is making me rethink my opinion of Watchmen, I had always maintained it read nearly as well without the story-with-a-story interludes). In a videogame (or game in general) I'm not so sure. Games are different in that the medium is fundamentally more interactive, which allows for the possibility of the user not exploring certain areas.

This could be a big issue for games (particularly videogames) moving ahead: should a good videogame be one that you absolutely have to consume all of? And if a good game is one that you need to experience all of, how do we define all? Seeing all of the map? Moving your character to every possible position? Seeing every possible interaction of the mechanics? (As a software tester, I can tell you that most of these criteria would rule out anybody ever finishing more then maybe a couple of short games in their lives.)

I'm guessing that you know there are hidden stars in Braid as well. The player is given no real indication where they are, or what levels to even look on, making them to me seem to be very tacked on. I guess I feel about the stars the same way you feel about the text: since I don't feel the need to explore the, and am somewhat annoyed by their existence, they probably shouldn't be in the game.

All that and I'm still not sure how I feel about the 'optional' argument. Obviously, it's been a slow day at work.

September 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSage

"it was just a puzzle game that has ignited the untrained and ill-equipped artsy/pretentious video game writers to make claims that the game is some bold new step in game design doing things that other games haven't quite done before.I smoothly transitioned the conversation about the art of design and mechanics and how all games can be read making them seem to be about almost anything. Using Tetris, Super Mario Brothers, and Wii Sports (games my father has experience with) I debunked the notion."

This. Just this. These articles practically bring me back through time when Braid was still new.

January 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJohnathan

@ Johnathan

Since this article, I have changed some of my views and ideas. The core of it is still good though, I think.

What views/ideas did you change? I can predict that you probably changed your view on his use of text because that was one point that even I felt hard to agree with.

January 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJohnathan

@ Johnathan

Yes, I'm not so against abstractions and cross medium elements like text anymore. Still, as I said, on my SD TV the text in Braid was particularly difficult to read. There was too much on the screen. The colors/background was too busy. The text was too small. I had to stand up, walk closer to the tv, and squint some to read it. And there was a lot of text too. There are better ways of displaying text on a TV that would have made my reading experience better. Maybe if the text was also provided online somewhere.

Braid does have some unique themes about "life" but more so about loss, time, and reflection. They're unique compared to most video games, but not compared to most time traveling video games. Time travel seems to inherently bring such themes out.

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