Braid has been out on the PC for about a month now. (You can download a demo or buy the full version on Steam.) A lot of praise has been lavished on Braid since it was developed; I just got the chance to play it recently for the first time, and I must say it is great! It’s kind of like Mario Bros. with better graphics and music, but really it’s more of a puzzle game than a platformer. The all-important twist in Braid is that you can reverse time by holding down the Shift key. Such a simple sounding ability has vast gameplay ramifications! The solutions to many of the puzzles in the game, such as collecting some seemingly impossible-to-get puzzle piece, rely on you using some lateral thinking skills along with the time reversal ability. Sometimes I actually caught myself grinning and laughing out loud (for real) with gamer’s delight – the puzzles are simply that unique. Trust me, go download it and give it a try.
I think there are many things to learn about good game design from Braid. First of all, small, indie games can be great successes. Braid was created by (I believe) just two people. The watercolor-style, 2D graphics and orchestral sounding music are awesome, and they didn’t require a team of tens or hundreds of people to create as in some big name developer games. Not every game needs 3D models and photorealistic graphics.
Second is a comment on the gameplay. Braid takes an established, familiar genre (the platformer) and adds a simple twist (time reversal), which makes all the difference. There are no complex controls, but the gameplay is complex, and interesting, and fun! This underscores the need to have a solid gameplay foundation. On the Braid blog, you can read through the development history over the past few years. Many ideas were prototyped and thrown out before the final gameplay iteration was more or less created. Only then did work commence on making the game pretty and giving it polish. Gameplay first, then graphics/sound/whatever!