One of the most clever and enjoyable games ever made.
On the surface Braid contains several archetypal elements that serve as a parallel to all platform games in general. You run from left to right, hop on top of enemies and of course traverse across gaps by tapping the time-honored jump button. However, this is only what you see if you choose not to dive deeper into the world of Braid. Underneath this conventional skin is a game that continues to enforce the theory that games can be art. From the beautiful water-color-inspired visuals to the deceptive complexity of the puzzles, Braid challenges you to actually engulf yourself into its world as opposed to forcing you. Anyone with patience and an appreciation for games that dare to take a step in a new direction will instantly fall in love with one of the best experiences currently available on Xbox Live Arcade.
The premise behind Braid is simple, which is truly what makes it all the more endearing. From the outset you are thrown into the role of Tim who, upon reading a few selections of text from prominently placed books strewn out before each level, you learn has made a horrible mistake and lost his love (a.k.a. The Princess). One of the most interesting things about Braid is that it never forces you to do anything you don’t want to do. For instance you can simply run through every level, skipping every story sequence and complete it within thirty minutes. Sure afterwards you will feel highly unsatisfied, but that would entirely be your fault. This is one of the underlying realities of the game that make it so engaging.
The general mechanics are simple. You move with the left analog stick, jump with the A button and rewind time with the X button. Tim cannot die in the game, so you have no worries there, if an enemy gets the drop on you simply hold down the X button and take a mulligan. Along your journey are puzzle pieces that can be collected and serve as the main goal of the game. At the beginning they seem easy and will quickly deceive you into thinking this is just another platform collect-a-thon, but once you begin to realize the concept and how it works, it will draw you in and not let go until you have collected every puzzle piece scattered throughout the game.
Each level also introduces a new method to solving the game’s puzzles. In the beginning you are armed with simply a rewind mechanic. Each subsequent level contains its own unique twist on that premise. For example one series of levels gives you the ability to use a clone that will mimic your last few seconds of movement. Another level moves forward when you move right and flows backward when you move left. Each one of these new ideas requires you to re-think how to solve each puzzle and adds a nice mix of brain-teasing. Braid is the kind of game that is best played with multiple minds in the room as you will be amazed what you didn’t think of that someone else might. As I mentioned earlier you could simply blast through each level without collecting the puzzle pieces, but that truly defeats the entire purpose behind playing the game.
The puzzles are not the only unique and inspiring part of Braid though. The presentation is absolutely phenomenal, but so subtle that many may not appreciate what it does. From the minute you begin the game and realize there is no standard menu system is where the immersion begins. Sure it is a small detail, but starting the game off running through the shadows into a house that plays host to your levels is genius. The game itself also has a few tricks up its sleeve that I will not spoil. Let’s just say you begin the game in World 2 for a reason and once you reach the finale you will be amazed at how it plays out. There is also a layer of discovery throughout the game including piecing together the story through the books and even some hidden innuendos. From top to bottom Braid is filled to the brim with passion and attention to detail.
The visuals are also unique and very aesthetically pleasing. The simple water-colored look is off-putting at first, but once you get accustomed to it, it really does draw you into the world. The levels themselves are nothing short of brilliant in design, giving players hints about how to solve puzzles by keeping obvious solutions just out of reach. Everything is fine-tuned to perfection and until you solve all of the puzzles in the game you fail to realize just how much time was invested in balancing. The music is a nice mix of soft melodic tones and entrancing orchestral mixes. The sound effects are minimal and overall the game certainly feels like an independent effort, but it never becomes intrusive to the experience, and that is the most important aspect.
Braid is the kind of game that will likely change the face of downloadable entertainment. For starters the above-average price tag was the first thing to draw attention to the game. For some reason unbeknownst to be fifteen dollars is all of a sudden an unreasonable amount to be forced to pay for a downloadable title. Personally I think the game is a steal for the price and I have certainly paid more for games that were not half as innovative or polished. The game is also not of the conventional mold usually found on this type of service which will likely deter some users from ever giving it a chance. The only thing I can offer here is to give this amazing game a chance. This is the type of experience veteran gamers have been clamoring for. If you are a fan of games such as ICO, Portal or just enjoy a game that forces you to think outside of convention than Braid is a steal at fifteen bucks. It is easily one of the best XBLA titles currently available and is destined to become one of the greatest games of this generation.