Braid is a puzzle game.
The game’s central mechanic is the ability to reverse time, at any point, as far back as you would like (functionally). Any mistakes, from carelessly running into an enemy to falling onto spikes, can be quickly undone, allowing endless refinement of individual actions.
Additionally, each world in Braid has its own time-based quirk. My personal favorite is the world where moving forward causes time in the entire level to move forward, while backtracking sends everything backwards chronologically. However, the different twists on time manipulation are confined to just a single world each, which limits some nice possibilities for lateral thinking.
This lost opportunity is indicative of what is most disappointing about Braid: its linearity.
Instead of attacking them from different angles, conquering puzzles in Braid is almost always simply a process of guessing exactly what the creator, Jonathan Blow, wants you to do in any given moment. The challenges presented to the player are often very clever, but there is almost always one answer and one answer only. For a game with such fun tools, there’s very little tinkering to be done. Even the ability to refine your movements is mostly useless as virtuosity goes mostly unrewarded.
Braid’s narrative, about regret, acceptance, and maybe (spoilers!) alcoholism, is aided by David Hellman’s art and resonates with its mechanics, creating a game that is about reminiscence rather than literal time travel. To Blow’s credit, the story takes some unpacking and is ripe for interpretation. Unfortunately, it’s communicated primarily through text blocks that can sometimes be uncomfortably maudlin.
Braid is lop-sided. Heavy on the atmosphere and allusions, its gameplay turns out to be surprisingly shallow. While full of sparks of innovation, it only fulfills its narrative potential, leaving the game design anemic and under thought.