This week’s power-up comes from a very unlikely protagonist. He’s as subtly gifted as he is short. The abilities he possesses aid him in warping the very fabric of reality to his beckon call. No pesky keys or trick ladders will stop him from piecing together the puzzle of his life and finding his princess. Caught in a world of obscurity and loneliness, the only constant he has is the power to defy consistence.
Billowing clouds drift across the blue, watercolor sky as Tim dashes across the lush green field. In the distance a cannon fires, so he quickens his pace. The silence is broken only by the fabric of his business suit rustling as he runs. The horizon suddenly yields to a perilous pit. Knowing spherical, iron doom is sailing through the air behind him, his decision is instant. Without breaking speed, Tim leaps into the air, extending his arms towards the opposing cliff. His arms do not make purchase, and he quickly plummets towards bottom of the crevasse. As he falls to his inevitable demise, the pursuing cannon ball harmlessly passes above.
Fiery, spiked death envelopes Tim, and his world is dark for one long second. Floating above time, he visualizes the actions that lead to this end. Quietly asking forgiveness for his errors, Tim is lifted from his harsh descent in the reverse. As mistakes are rewound, Tim and the cannon ball retrace their recent paths to a point of less chaos. The cannon ball slowly returns to its steel womb, and Tim’s feet once again settle onto the plush grass of the field. He hesitates before correcting the flow of time, taking a moment to brace himself for his next attempt of dozens.
Jonathon Blow’s mysterious masterpiece, Braid, is a game not easily dismissed. The warm visuals and soothing music are enough to entice anyone to pick up the controller (or keyboard). Upon introducing itself to you, Braid suggests that it is merely an artsy platformer. Just as false familiarity begins to make you feel comfortable, the game throws you for a loop upon the first “death.” In Braid, nothing is permanent.
Everyone remembers their first encounter with death in Braid, and how uniquely empowering it was to effectively “un-do” the mistake. I believe Soulja Boy said it best. “I just went back in time. Throughout the whole game you just be goin’ back in time. Like, you about to die, you be like, ‘ooohhh!’ Shit I’m goin’ to die. …I psyched your ass out, bitch!” These profound words closely reflect the feelings I had when first experimenting with the time manipulation power.
For many years our worth in platforming and gaming in general was numerically assessed via the “lives” system. To see Braid successfully shatter the concept of “game over,” and still manage to be an unbelievably fun platform/ puzzle game is nothing short of incredible. With the strict boundaries of “lives” eliminated, we are free to attempt unconventional solutions to the game’s puzzling situations. The powerful feeling of immortality is more significant in the humble Braid than it is with “god mode” activated in the blood smeared Doom.
Tim’s powers are not limited to simply altering the flow of time. He also possesses a ring imbued with the power to slow time, allowing him to localize the “slo mo.” This power aids Tim in slowing speeding bullets or tricky platforms, and conveniently fits into his coat pocket. Such power has not been seen in one little ring since Bilbo Baggins curiously toyed with one very important piece of jewelry.
Another power Tim acquired in his journey was that of summoning a doppelganger. Whenever he would do a particular set of actions, and then stop, Tim’s shadow would appear to repeat that same task to the point. Effectively controlling two protagonists greatly increased possibilities for puzzle solving. Even keys would leave shadow versions of themselves that could only be handled by Tim’s doppelganger, aiding our hero in unlocking doors along the way.
Braid offers us an ironic look at the design of traditional platform games. On one hand it throws very challenging puzzles and obstacles at us, but on the other hand it allows us an infallible cushion to closely examine every niche of the game. Fortunately for us, the power of time feels right at home in the palms of our hands.