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Best of the Decade: Braid


Platform: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Mac OS X, Linux, Windows

Release Date: August 6, 2008 (360 version)

Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios (360); Number None, Inc. (Other versions)

Developer: Number None, Inc.

It’s not often that a puzzle game can snare me. I like a good mental challenge, but I don’t have the patience for the genre most of the time. I’m already susceptible to switching away from a game I’m stuck on and an entire genre built around stopping you in your tracks periodically and forcing you to solve tough puzzles usually doesn’t work for me. I’ll try a new game, get hooked until I’m stumped, put it down, and never play it again.

Thus, sadly, I’ve come to largely avoid puzzle games. Portal and Limbo are two exceptions, but both are far more than traditional genre entries.

Braid is more traditional a puzzle game than either of those two, but it’s still something special. 

You play as a well-dressed chap named Tim. It just so happens that you have the ability to manipulate time and it’s from these manipulations that the puzzles spring forth. Screwing with time is not a unique concept in gaming, but the way Braid handles it is. First of all, there’s no penalty for death. Braid is a puzzle game at heart, not a platformer, so you’re free to undo any mistake. More importantly, every world handles time in a completely different fashion. By the time you get to the end of the game, your brain will have been put through the wringer by the unusual mechanics you’ll be forced to deal with. 

True to form for the genre, I inevitably got stuck in Braid and put the game down for a long time before finishing it. I’ll likely never pick it back up again either. But there’s a reason it’s still on this list. When I did complete it, I thanked the gaming gods that I had. Braid is a unique, magical little game and the payoff for finishing is immense. Overcoming its brain teasers is truly tough, but when you manage it you get a huge sense of satisfaction.

Solving these puzzles takes you through numerous fantastic worlds brought to life by gorgeous, vivid artwork and beautiful music. Between levels you’ll also get the opportunity to partake of Braid’s surreal story, which is told via text. It’s more than a little vague and open to wide interpretation, but for a game that straddles the line between art and entertainment as this one does, that’s not necessarily bad. Text is a rather flat medium to convey a story in a video game, but it’s written well and gets so intriguingly bizarre by the end that you can’t help but be fascinated. 

I would be remiss if I didn’t praise the ending itself. Clearly it would be criminal of me to spoil it for anyone that hasn’t experienced it, but suffice it to say it’s a magical mix of story and gameplay that turns the game’s tale on its head and makes you totally rethink all the events you’ve experienced so far. The ending alone was nearly enough to secure this game a spot on the list.

Braid made me feel like a genius when I finally overcame its puzzles. It hooked me with an unusual story that had one of the most memorable payoffs I’ve experienced in a game, even if it didn’t spell out every detail. It featured visuals and music as praiseworthy as its story and gameplay. This is a puzzle game that broke the mold and easily deserves a spot on my Best of the Decade.

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