System: Xbox Live :: Rating: Everyone 10+ :: Players: 1
Genre: Puzzle / Platformer :: Released: 06 August 2008
By Aaron Robinson
28 August 2008 — If you've been paying close attention to the video game industry recently, you might have heard about Braid. Developer Jonathan Blow has been working on the project independently for close to three years, but could a seemingly simple puzzle / platformer programmed by one man really live up to the hype?
The first thing I noticed when playing through Braid was its beauty. David Hellman's wonderful drawings truly benefit from being played on an HDTV. Every world is like a living painting, with Hellman's sharp foregrounds placed over lighter watercolored backgrounds. It's nice to see a modern game that isn't afraid to use vibrant colors, even in the darker levels. They pop off the screen, giving each world and character a unique look. Blow has a good understanding of what works with the themes and artwork of each world, so when you add in the music, which was licensed rather than created specifically for Braid, you have a fresh take on an old gaming concept.
The story is incorporated into Braid in a rather ingenious way: starting out, you aren't given any cut-scenes or even a proper title screen. Instead you begin with the dark outline of your avatar, Tim, standing on top of a bridge with the Braid logo burning in the background. From there, you control Tim as he moves towards his house. Inside are doorways leading to different worlds, each with a row of books explaining the meaning behind the world. It's an interesting concept, however, it does little to emotionally attach you to Tim. Rather than trying to display a linear narrative, the books give a set of analytical musings about what Tim is going through. In a way it works, and actually complements the gameplay, but it won't be the plot that drives you forward. The fact that it's an atypical way of delivering a story is part of the game's charm, but it also makes it a little less engaging.
The basic gameplay is simple enough. At its core it's a tribute to Super Mario Bros., with Tim jumping onto Goomba-like enemies to reach hidden puzzle pieces. But the emphasis is much more on the puzzles than on the platforming. If it looks like something requires pinpoint accuracy or perfect timing to reach, chances are you aren't considering how the world can be manipulated to your needs — frankly, you're over-thinking it.
The big thing that connects the story and gameplay mechanics is the theme of time. Every world deals with time in a different way, and each explores a different moment in Tim's life. The one constant ability at your disposal is the power to rewind time at will. Whenever you miss a jump or are knocked out by an enemy, you can rewind the game to retry your last action(s). It's always nice to know that whenever you make a mistake, you won't have to restart from a checkpoint. The fact that you can retry as often as you'd like might leave the impression that the game is easy, but that's not the case. I can almost guarantee there will be the occasional puzzle piece that leaves you completely stumped. Braid requires you to think outside the box in order to fully complete every level, and that's not an easy thing to do. To the game's credit, it's never cheap, and almost all of the puzzles are somehow related to the abilities you've gained for that world. It's also nice that you can just bypass any puzzle pieces and continue to the end of the level if you're unsure. Just be aware that the final level of Braid cannot be reached until every puzzle piece has been collected.
There aren't many games out there that offer this kind of experience. It's a very pretty, clever little game that challenges the player at every step. If the thought of solving progressively harder puzzles for several hours gives you a headache, then I'd recommend steering clear. But if you're the kind of gamer that thought Portal wasn't hard enough, Braid is for you. The strongest praise I can give it is this: outside of the lack of replay value, I can't really think of any flaws. It's just a great experience.
Final Grade: 9.5/10