November 20, 2012 by gunheekid
Braid is a 2D platform, puzzle game developed by independent developer Jonathan Blow. Although this game was only created by one developer, it became to be one of the most critically acclaimed 2D platforming games ever made. The gameplay very much mimics Super Mario Bros, in which you are a small two-dimensional character exploring a horizontally scrolling game world and jumping on top of enemies to kill them. Braid uses this concept and builds off of it by adding a completely new element of controlling time. Sort of like Prince of Persia where you can turn back time, Braid also uses this concept, except instead of limiting the number of times you can turn back time, Braid actually allows you to turn back time as many and as often as you want. This new element adds so much extra depth to the puzzles of the game; but other than time control, it also uses different elements such as phantoms where an image of yourself after you turned back time repeats your past actions. Braid, although it is an amazing puzzle game, fails to have a strong narrative focus because it’s gameplay is disconnected from its narrative.
Braid, as you can see from all the concepts described above, is a very kinesthetically oriented game driven by the game mechanics. Much of the progressive of the game depends on the gameplay, and very little on the narrative or story. There is an actual story to this game, where there is a written narrative given at the beginning of each area, where you can either choose to take your time and read the narrative (which is a love story) or you could choose to skip it entirely. I think that virtually all puzzle games are gameplay based and are more focused on kinesthetics than the narrative or story. A few examples of this are Myst, or The 7th Guest. Since puzzle games in general require so much of the player’s effort in solving the puzzle, there is usually no strong emphasis on the narrative. There are a few games that have puzzles in them and are narrative based (example: Uncharted 2, Bioshock, or even Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time); but most of these ‘puzzle’ games that are narrative focused are usually categorized under a bigger genre such as action, adventure, shooter, etc. In these game, there are alot of other gameplay elements that allow for the progression of a strong narrative. Just puzzle games alone though, like Myst, Limbo, or Braid have no strong emphasis on narrative.
Games that do try to incorporate a narrative into a very pure puzzle based gameplay usually don’t turn out as well. For example The 7th Guest tried to incorporate a mystery story into a game filled with various puzzles, but the end result was very messy and unorganized. While playing The 7th Guest in class, most of our classmates were very confused about how the narrative related at all to the gameplay. The gameplay would sometimes have nothing to do with the narrative; for example, the goal of one of the puzzles was to try and rearrange a chessboard, but after you rearranged the chessboard in the correct way, you get a cutscene that has nothing to do with chess. The gameplay and the narrative were so disconnected in this game, it failed to harmonize.
But back to Braid. The time travel aspect of the gameplay, jumping on animals to kill them, and finding keys to open doors seem to be very disconnected with the actual narrative of the game. The gameplay of solving puzzles is very disconnected with the love story narrative. One could say that the entire gameplay could all be metaphorical, and that in some way reversing time and jumping on enemies could represent struggles in a relationship. But that is highly unlikely. The gameplay and puzzle aspect of the game are not strongly connected to the narrative.