Created by developer Jonathan Blow over a period of several years, Braid was a darling of the independent games circuit, and made a huge splash when it appeared in the Xbox Live Arcade download service last year. After several months, the game is now available for PC users, and if you haven’t played it yet, it’s worth the wait.

Essentially a puzzle/platformer with a “rewind” button (more on this later), Braid simply dumps you right into the game without a word, or title screen. Your character, Tim, dressed in a suit and tie, starts out walking across a burning castle as a silhouette, then gradually comes into the light. After crossing a bridge, he’s suddenly inside a serene house, with many doors beckoning you to enter their worlds.

The story of the game is simple at first, told through a series of books that precede each level. We’re told that Tim has to rescue a Princess because “Tim made a mistake.” As you progress through each world, more and more of the story is revealed. Other than completing levels, the main goal of Braid is to collect jigsaw pieces which, when assembled, help to reveal more about not just what you’re doing in the game, but why. Everything is revealed once you collect every last puzzle piece. Believe me when I say that the twist in "The Sixth Sense" has nothing on Braid.  

Controlling Tim is a breeze. The arrow keys control his movement, the space bar jumps, and there are occasional uses of the mouse for some jigsaw puzzles. The control is simple as can be.

Where Braid really shines is Tim’s ability to manipulate time. If you run into an enemy, Tim will fall to the bottom of the screen. Once he gets there, though, everything freezes, and the word “Shift” appears in a box. Pressing the shift key, things start to move backwards, move by move up to the point where Tim entered the level. The enemies, objects and obstacles Tim dealt with will also be reset.

Well, almost.

Some of the objects and enemies are unaffected by the rewind button. In fact, many of the puzzles are time-based, where Tim may have to re-use a key over and over by using it, rewind time while holding the key, then travelling through a door that was unaffected by the time shift to use the key a second time.

Complicating things further are each of the game’s worlds, each of which has a particular quirk. For example, one world seems completely still, but the moment Tim takes a step to the right, time moves forward. Turn around and walk left, though, and everything starts to go backwards, without the rewind button. Another level’s quirk is that a copy of Tim is created every time he rewinds, but the clone repeats your previous actions – say hitting a switch – while you do something else.

Everything about Braid screams quality. The beautiful watercolor graphics, the stunning soundtrack, the mind-twisting story… all of it has so much thought and beauty to it that it puts games made by huge developers to shame. It’s clear that, like World of Goo, Braid was made with a lot of blood, sweat and tears.

If casual gamers have anything to be concerned about, it’s that some of the puzzles can be very unorthodox. What is wonderful about Braid, though, is that once you “get” each world’s quirk, the solutions for the puzzle will suddenly seem natural. Sometimes you really just have to think outside the box. Also, there are no real “tutorials” but that is a big part of the game: self-discovery. No, if Braid is to have a really big flaw, it’s that there is nothing to do after you finish the game. A speed-run mode is unlocked upon completion, but otherwise, no real incentive is given except to re-experience the game.  

However, like a good book, Braid is something to be experienced over and over again. While the puzzles in Braid are real brain-teasers, do not let that get in the way of at least downloading the demo to see for yourself. This game is important for every every genre of game, from the story of its one-man development to the axioms we take for granted in gaming being turned on their ear. Braid is a masterpiece in every sense of the word, and is guaranteed to be seen on “Top 10 PC game” lists this year.

If you liked this game, try World of Goo and Aquaria.