Tim is off on a search to rescue the Princess. She has been snatched by a horrible and evil monster.
This happened because Tim made a mistake.
Take Super Mario Bros., add a few unlimited time powers, put it in front of an animated impressionistic canvas, throw in some seriously mind bending puzzles and add a truckload of symbolism, and you have Braid by Jonathan Blow. You control Tim as he searches for a Damsel in Distress, while stomping various odd creatures to progress through levels and collect puzzle pieces. Tim can rewind, create Doppelgängers, slow time, and manipulate special objects and enemies that are either exempt or particularly vulnerable to his control of time, depending on the theme of the level.Warning: The following tropes contain multiple spoilers that will essentially ruin the game for you. Do not read them if you intend to experience the game the way it was meant to be experienced.
This game provides examples of:
100% Completion: More like 110% completion — the secret stars are so secret, there aren't any achievements for them!
Abnormal Ammo: Some cannons shoot out clouds. Others shoot manheadsmooks.
In the epilogue, there are several books, some green and some red, and several locations where you can hear a woman's voice. Make sure a RED book on a given screen is open, then go to the place on the screen where you hear the woman's voice.
The text changes to the same stories, but in the perspective of unspecified females. A man rescuing a woman in Manhattan? The woman is being abducted. The atomic bomb being invented? A woman is expressing disappointment in humanity. A child jilted for not being able to go into a candy store? His mother is waiting until he's older.
Not to mention that you start World 1 at 1-4, and PLAY BACKWARDS to 1-1!
Anachronism Stew: Tim's home within the roughly-Victorian city contains modern items like a desktop computer and a stereo system, and the worlds he explores have a mixture of random architecture and technology ranging ancient Rome to the 20th century, with a big focus on castles.
An Aesop: There are pages and pages that could be written on this. The most popular one seems to be "you can't undo the past".
Antepiece: The puzzles can be very complex and rather unwelcoming. But there is at least one part that tries to make a certain puzzle clearer, or more accessible, by having a simplified version of the puzzle just before it (that's what an antepiece is). Specifically, this is a puzzle about complex interactions between keys and doors, some of which are affected by your power, some of which aren't. There are two puzzle pieces: getting the first one can be done without thought or understanding, there are only two doors and one key. But there is a three-door-two-key puzzle that follows, which requires reflecting on the simpler situation. A picture can be seen here
Author Filibuster: Jonathan Blow has made it very clear that he equates most modern video-game stories to that of generic action movies, and that he wants to make a difference.
Oh, you mean in the same room? Ah — you see, when you rewind time, you retraced your steps to before you picked up that key or puzzle piece, so you also un-picked it up. We apologize for the inconvenience.
Damage Discrimination: Mostly avoids the "no infighting" rule — environmental hazards do not discriminate between Tim and his enemies which is a bad thing in situations where you are using enemies as, say, springboards to puzzle pieces, and enemies can Goomba Stomp each other. They don't go out of their way to fight each other, though.
Dark Reprise: For the soundtrack, "Tell It By Heart" (Track 8) for "Long Past Gone" (Track 5). Where "Long Past Gone" ends on a relatively bright note, "Tell It By Heart" trails off on the repeated notes of plucked strings. Inverted in the Jami Sieber album from which the songs originate, Second Sight, where "Long Past Gone" (Track 9) serves as the reprise of "Tell It By Heart" (Track 2).
Death Is the Only Option: Dying is required to get some of the puzzle pieces. You can rewind time to undo your death, so no big deal.
Only a genius or a cheaternote with good reflexes can complete the game on the first try with only the minimum required deaths (onenote if your reflexes are phenomenal), much less completing the secret ending.
Deconstruction Game: The whole point of the game was to deconstruct traditional platform game elements using the game's main theme in gameplay form; specifically, by making the player view things such as Goomba Stomp and Save the Princess in conjunction with the time mechanics, deconstructing linearity in 2D platformers.
Game Over: Averted, as there is no way to get a Game Over. Dying does nothing except freeze time in the game, waiting for you to rewind.
Gameplay and Story Segregation: Back-and-forth example: If you believe some of the theories out there, a large portion of the gameplay and story is tightly interwoven. If you believe other theories out there, then chances are they will tell you that 90% of the text before each world does not relate to the plot, nor the actual puzzles. Quite a paradox, eh?
Goomba Stomp: The only method of attack. Well, that and the occasional chandelier. There are also a few puzzles that involve letting a not-Goomba stomp you. That popping sound you hear is your freaking mind being blown.
Goomba Springboard: Crucial for completing some of the puzzles. You gain additional height by stomping multiple goombas, as well.
Inverted for one of the hardest puzzles, by keeping that one not-goomba bouncing.
The Law of Conservation of Detail: If you can interact with it, it's probably vital to figuring out a puzzle. In fact, the designer and art director specifically stated that they structured the graphics in such a way that only the important stuff stands out.
Confusingly averted in the last screen of the Epilogue. That cloud literally does nothing, yet it's so prominent (the cloud's non-function was confirmed by Word of God two years after the game's release.) Nevertheless, the cloud probably spawned the most Epileptic Trees, as it's the only thing in the game that serves no purpose that's brought to your attention. It doesn't help that for completionists, the cloud and its puffs will probably make them think of the cloud in the second level of the game that DOES move, much as it seems otherwise, and DOES lead to somewhere very useful, albeit at a very slow pace.
It does kind of have a purpose; Jonathan Blow explained that it was there so the player could look out over the last stage and see their achievements throughout the game.
Leap of Faith: Present in World 2-4, the stage is even called Leap Of Faith. Of course, since Tim is in control of his own destiny, there's no fear in jumping down what looks like a bottomless pit. (Mind the spikes, though.)
Lost Forever: Don't touch the World 3 puzzle until you find the star related to it.
There's now a TAS which completely tears the game apart. Fun features:
"Movement by Degrees" without the key. (By the way, the piece is behind a locked door. The floor is not impenetrable, though.)
The best "Impassable Foliage" you'll ever see (starts at 15:49 in the video).
Getting a non-green key, dropping it, reverses time to before he got it THEN forwarding time while on a green pad to after he dropped it so it's in an easily accessible area. Also, you can't see him reverse time for reusable keys at all.
Kills the princess without getting all of the secret stars.
The Ending Changes Everything: For both endings. In the first, Tim is a stalker chasing the Princess. The secret ending implies that Extra-Spoilery Spoilers for Secret Ending! the game is an allegory for nuclear weapons development: the Princess is the split atom, and Tim is a scientist.
Wham Level: World 1-1. Tim isn't actually a Knight in Shining Armor, he's a crazy stalker who the princess is trying to run away from, and the "horrible monster" is a real Knight In Shining Armor that is rescuing her from Tim. Yes, it's a Mind Screw.
When All Else Fails, Go Right: Played with, straight at the beginning, subverted and zigzagged later. Interestingly, the ending cutscene that plays out in the correct chronological order has Tim and the princess moving to the left.