'Braid' plays with traditional formats

A puzzle-solving game, "Braid" changes all the rules.

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Why should you play "Braid"? That's a question the game's own developers may have trouble answering. An even tougher question may be, "What is 'Braid'?" Just like any game ever made, "Braid" is a piece of interactive entertainment meant for its audience to sit down with for a handful of hours to enjoy. But it's the "entertainment" and "enjoy" parts of that definition that "Braid" likes to toy with.

Not to say that players won't enjoy or be entertained by the game. On the contrary, by the last of the five or six hours you'll spend trying to solve "Braid," you'll probably feel a sense of immense accomplishment and triumph. But playing the game isn't overly difficult or challenging either; it's only as difficult as your mind will allow it to be.

Now onto the specifics. At the most basic level, "Braid" is a puzzle game. Number None Inc. has crafted around 60 puzzles, the end-reward for each being a collectible puzzle piece, to be solved in very specific ways. On the other hand, the way all objects interact with one another and the structure of progress falls under the 2D platformer category. Any similarities and references to "Super Mario Bros." are anything but a coincidence.

Whereas the goal of most 2D platformers is to reach the opposite end of the stage by avoiding enemies and completing tricky jumps, reaching the end of a stage in "Braid" yields no rewards. In fact, there's almost nothing stopping players from simply holding down right on the d-pad to progress through all of the worlds. The final stage remains locked until all of the puzzle pieces have been collected.

Games have included the ability to rewind time before, but only as a "do-over button" should the player make a mistake. Certainly, rewinding time in "Braid" performs a similar role of alleviating player frustrations, but this ability is also the key to solving all of the puzzles put in your path. There's no limit on your rewind power, either. Players can undo several minutes of playing just by holding down the left trigger for a handful of seconds.

If that doesn't sound complicated enough, the game layers new and perplexing time-bending rules to each world the player travels to. Suddenly, certain objects will be immune to the effects of your rewind ability, time will shift depending on the direction the player moves, or the world around you will simply be moving backwards in time. Players will frequently need to retrain their brains to work differently throughout the adventure.

"Braid," because of all of these rules, can be extremely frustrating. The solution could be right in front of your face (and usually is), but there will be times when the goal is seemingly impossible to reach. That said, the reward for finally figuring out a tough puzzle you've been stuck on for an hour will be all that much sweeter.

Once it's over, though, it's really over. There are hidden secrets to find and some achievement points for completing the entire game in a certain length of time, but "Braid" is meant to be played once and only once.

Don't play "Braid" because of the unique painterly visual style, or because of the deep story that treats its audience as adults, or because of the soothing music, or the clever time mechanics. Although it has all of those, the satisfaction from experiencing "Braid" comes from the simple human emotion of feeling generally awesome about yourself for performing things that, just 10 minutes ago, you thought impossible.

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