Chronology is a game that very nearly didn't exist at all, and wouldn't that be a shame. The game was Greenlit on Steam last year only for the original development company, Progressive Media, to fold beneath it. Fortunately, former team members wanted to see the game come out, and formed Osao Games to complete work.

A lot of times it can be worrisome when a game changes hands like this, but the final product is a thoroughly charming experience that should be a staple of everyone's Steam library.

The gameplay centres around a two-character mechanic: a little old inventor, and his trusty companion, the snail. Neither character is given a name beyond that, but neither do they really need them. The inventor is able to travel back and forth between two time periods: 'Before' and 'After' the cataclysm which starts the game. The snail is able to stop time, but her hard shell also serves as a positionable platform for the inventor to stand upon. While in some cases, that merely gives an option to ease up a tricky platforming section, in other cases it's critical to solving puzzles.

This means, to address the elephant in the room, that Chronology really doesn't play like Braid at all. The intended effect, per the developers, is something like a cross between Day of the Tentacle and Lost Vikings. It's not a bad comparison, really-- you'll find yourself constantly adjusting the environment in one time to affect the other (taking boxes from After into Before, growing plants in Before to solve puzzles in After, and so on), and you'll need to use both Inventor and Snail's abilities to their fullest to figure out some of the harder tricks.

What's most impressive here is just how thoroughly the game hybridizes puzzle and platforming. You're never making a series of annoying jumps just to get to the next puzzle-- the question of how to set up those jumps is the puzzle. Chronology never pulls a new gimmick out of nowhere only to drop it after a single puzzle: it teaches you how to solve the doozies by teaching the components singly and then expecting you to put the pieces together.

And believe me, there are some hard puzzles in there. They make logical sense when you figure them out-- more than once, I found myself saying aloud, "Oh, that's clever!" -- but there were a few where I must have spent ten or fifteen minutes trying different things before the obvious-in-retrospect solution came to mind.

It's not a fast-paced game: you can always take a leisurely look at the puzzles to see what you have to do, and there are only a couple where twitch movement is even at all necessary. Good timing is often important (learn to switch times mid-jump) but the game is overall pretty forgiving. You have unlimited lives and you always respawn at a convenient spot when you inevitably fall to your death (or fall into toxic waste, or die to a sawblade, or drown...). The closest thing to a fly in the ointment in that respect is the fact that the game only saves at chapter breaks. Chapters are short enough that I can't complain, but I don't recommend quitting out mid-level after just finishing a tricky puzzle.

The game is fully voice-acted, which was a pleasant surprise. Of particular note is Nicki Rapp voicing the snail: recently she's been in Broken Age as Dead Eye Courtney, and Walking Dead as Lilly (and let's never forget Psychonauts, of course). The inventor is played by Brett Dunnelly, who gives him a pleasantly crotchety character. The background music is thoroughly pleasant, providing an excellent enhancement to the game, easily manipulating tension. It's well worth picking up right on its own.

The graphics-- well, they hardly need mention, but that's not because of anything bad to them! The cartoony art is downright gorgeous both still and in motion, and the attention to detail is wonderful. I'll gladly hand in a few points of gamer cred to admit that when I saw that when the snail backs up, the little red lights on her shell flash, I squealed like a little girl. Osao definitely went the whole nine yards here, even in places where they could have cut corners. Before and After are never identical-- After's ruined world skews broken supports, twists platforms, grows every tree. The game is outright beautiful.

The story is, for its part, a bit unremarkable. I don't honestly mind that-- it goes well with the cartoonish art style, and it's quite well-told. I can't call it light-hearted, given that it starts with an apocalypse, but it's consistently upbeat. The story respects itself well enough to be played straight-- it's never smug or condescending. No, instead it's a perfectly servicable children's story, and there's a lot of charm to it.

The game itself is a bit on the short side, but it knows to get out while the going's good. While I think another level or two wouldn't have hurt the game, it never wears out its welcome.