Braid

Jonathan Blow's Braid starts with a simple premise: What if you could take back your biggest mistakes and try again? As a platformer, it's an obvious homage to Super Mario Bros., right down to the princess—the girl you lost and have to win back. In the first level, there's just one trick: You're given a "rewind" button, and every time you meet your death or miss a tricky jump, you can go back in time and try again.

But fixing your mistakes isn't so simple. You'll encounter other ways to manipulate time, from a level where you can slow the action with the help of a divorcé's wedding ring to a map where a ghostly version of yourself retraces every step you tried to undo. A story that seemed sentimental at first steadily gets more complex, reaching back to childhood memories and failed relationships.

The puzzles Blow builds around the time mechanics are so inventive and satisfying that they feel more like a point-and-click adventure than a platformer. But that story about the princess provides the biggest bang, especially in its conclusion. By the time you reach the final castle, the fragments of text that introduce the levels—inspired by Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities—put the whole experience in sharp relief. Your journey isn't about the girl, it's about your understanding—and misunderstanding—of yourself. This isn't a game about time, it's about memories, and how they can be repeated and eventually rewritten. And understanding this isn't meant to make you feel like a hero, so much as a liar.

Beyond the game: The cartoonish sprites and expressionistic backgrounds are the work of David Hellman, who illustrated the stunning webcomic A Lesson Is Learned But the Damage Is Irreversible.

Worth playing for: If the whole thing sounds too highbrow, just enjoy the brilliant puzzles—and don't forget to try the speed runs.

Frustration sets in when: Although it's a platformer, the pace is more thoughtful than action-packed. If you're trying to solve a problem through fancy footwork, you're probably doing it wrong.

Final judgment: More fun than watching Italo Calvino and Shigeru Miyamoto doing the crossword together.

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