Summer of Arcade on XBLA (Xbox Live Arcade) is always a neat event every year. Over the course of 4-5 weeks, Microsoft releases some of their top tier games. It usually turns out that 1 or 2 games are a dud, but there is always at least one gem among them. Limbo for example, was part of Summer of Arcade, as was Braid.
Braid was truly a labor of love, created solely by Jonathan Blow. To clarify, he didn’t do the music, or create the art. The music was licensed while the art came from David Hellman. Otherwise, everything was created by Blow. He started working on the game in 2005, funding the production personally. His idea was simple in design, but complex in execution. He wanted to deconstruct many still current game archetypes and the narrative devices they use. Specifically Mario games.
Players control Tim, on his quest to rescue his princess who has been kidnapped by a horrible and evil monster. The game is a 2D side scrolling platformer, similar to Mario games, with one exception; players could rewind time, infinitely, with no consequences. If you die by hitting a monster, or falling down a pit, the game will freeze until you rewind. Make a mistake solving a puzzle? Easily undone.
The time control mechanic wasn’t a simple rewind. Each level played with the idea, changing how the flow or control of it worked. The first stage was just the rewind. The next level incorporated objects the were unaffected by rewinding. Things like switches, enemies, etc. The following stage I thought had the most interesting execution of time control. As players walked forward, time would move forward. Walking backwards wound reverse it. Staying still or jumping would do nothing. I loved wrapping my head around the puzzles on this stage.
The next level had players able to produce shadow copies of themselves. For example, if a two switches needed to be thrown simultaneously, players could hit one, rewind time, then their shadow would activate the same switch again while players manipulated the other. The finally stage gave players the ability to produce localized temporal pockets, or time bubbles. Time moved slower for objects closer to the bubbles.
Each level was buffered with cloud like areas where books laid on pedestals. Players were able to stop and read the books, uncovering more of the story. I really didn’t like these areas. I found the text to be too wordy and pontificating. I read all the passages but couldn’t bring myself to follow them or understand what Blow was trying to get at. Thankfully, the last stage pulled back the curtain.
SPOILERS (INCLUDING VIDEO) – But this game is 5 years old. Still, really worth playing to experience. Tim is finally able to rescue his Princess. The screen is split, the Princess is on top, running from a knight, working with Tim to help him through traps on the bottom while a wall of fire chases you both. Upon reaching the end, she enters a locked castle and lays back in bed. The screen flashes. As it turns out, time was moving in reverse. She was running from you, trying to stop you and get to the knight rescuing her. You were the monster that kidnapped her. The finally stage can be seen in the video below (sorry it’s in Spanish, only one I can find without people talking over it). This really turned the enter ‘rescue the princess’ idea on it’s head. END SPOILERS.
I really enjoyed playing Braid. It told a wonderful story and really made me think about how stories are told in games, and why we don’t question things more, especially in life in general. Braid is on XBLA, PSN, and Steam. You can find a copy of it easily. This game lets you draw whatever conclusions you want from it, emphasizing that it’s not the destination, but the journey that matters. Stories like that have always stuck with me.
What did you think of Braid? Did the ending catch you off guard? Comment below!
I didn’t get the ending on my first play through.