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This week it was announced that indie-hit Braid is coming to PC, meaning you no longer need an X-Box 360 to play the game (though you are still screwed if you only have a PS3). For those unfamiliar with the game, it is a puzzle platformer centered around time manipulation featuring a beautiful hand-drawn graphics and charming music. I also have very mixed feelings about the game, but not for the elements previously mentioned. In fact, if that were all there was to the game, then I could pretend it was exclusively designed for me because I love old-school platformers that make you think. However, there was one element that managed to sour the experience for me: the story.

Now let me preface this by saying that while I do not think story is an essential element to a good game, I do think that a good story can make a good game an excellent one. For example, I'm sure I would have enjoyed Cave Story even if the story was painfully predicable and the NPCs were as personable as multicolored bricks, but I absolutely loved the game because the story made me care about what happened to NPCs to the point I actually got mad when they died, and overjoyed when I found out I could save them. There are only a few select games that evoke that sort of reaction from me, but I'm almost certain that Braid is the first game where the story ruined the experience for me. To be fair, it wasn't so much the story in general as the ending in specific that pissed me off. For literally the entirety of the game up until that point, I was entranced by the story.

You see, on the surface the game appears to simply be an artsy Super Mario pastiche, what with end goal of rescuing of the Princess and the familiar looking enemies and set pieces. But then there are also little bits of text before every level further elaborating upon Tim's (the player character) quest for the Princess. Oh, and of course, there are the puzzle pieces that you need to collect and assemble in order to actually progress through the game.

Since I heard the game's story was open to interpretation, I (if you forgive the pun) puzzled over these elements to try and create a cohesive narrative. All my theories and expectations were blown away though by the last level, where you finally find the Princess, only to find she actually ran away from Tim. I was simultaneously stunned, shocked and amazed that the developers (or really just one guy named, I kid you not, Johnathan Blow) had the stones to pull that kind of twist ending. Had the game ended right there I would has been completely satisfied with it, but much like Steven Spielberg with the movie A.I, Johnathan Blow didn't know when to quit while he was ahead.

The problem is that after you finish that stunning final level where you discover that everything you thought you knew about the game was wrong, you then go to an epilogue where you find out that everything you now currently think you know about the game is also wrong. To make a long story short, the epilogue basically say tells you that game really isn't about rescuing or not rescuing a Princess. The game is actually a metaphor--and I say this with all seriousness-- for the creation of the atomic bomb.

Now let me note that I have no problem with the game really being a metaphor for anything, much less the atomic bomb, but I expect it to at least make sense in context. I mean I can buy the argument that the levels themselves are a metaphor for the development of the bomb. After all, any sort of developmental progress is fraught with metaphorical doors to unlock, enemies to jump on and bosses to drop chandeliers on, but everything else is a bit harder to work in.

The text bits can be interpreted as is, so as long you assume all references to the Princess are actually references to the bomb, ignore the ones when the search can only be taken literally and accept the fact none of them have any concrete connections to the story. But then you get to the puzzles and the whole argument falls apart.

Simply put, I can't think of any strong case to tie the images in the puzzles to the main story. I could argue that they are snapshots not necessarily related to the main story, but that's basically the same argument I used for the text, and it's just as weak here as it was there.

The main point I am trying to make is while I can extrapolate a thousand different reasons when the metaphor for the bomb makes sense, I don't think that I should have to. Leaving the game open to interpretation is one thing, but it shouldn't be done at the expense of robbing any sense of closure from the game. It's like reading a murder mystery and getting to the end and finding out that not only was the person you suspected a red herring, but the actual killer is someone previously unmentioned and his real objective was actually stealing an object completely unrelated to the story. Maybe if you go back it will all make sense, but do you really want to?

Despite all of this criticism, I do recommend you play the game, because it had great puzzles and production values. Hell, I will probably end up buying it solely to support the creation of 2-D games in an almost exclusively 3-D landscape. Just don't think too had about the story, because you'll only hurt yourself.

Oh, I forgot there is one thing in the game that directly ties the idea of the creation of the atomic bomb to the gameplay. If you collect eight hidden stars in the game, you can get a secret ending when Tim can get to the Princess, who explodes in mushroom cloud. Somehow, this doesn't actually solve any of my concerns.

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