Braid is a... drama? No, a platformer? Kind of, puzzle game? Hmm, with a twist? That's probably the closest I'm going to get to classifying this game. The truth is it's all of these things and something I'm not quite sure about. Critics... as in internet users because all they do is criticise things, have lauded and lambasted this game in equal measure. Our beloved Penny Arcade dedicated a comic
to the silliness of their reasoning. "$15 for an XBLA game?! That's ridiculous! That's Shameful with a capital S, or should I say $ because that's what it boils down to! Well I'm not paying, I'm not lining their greed soaked pockets!" That's a sample of my touched up rendition of 'cheap ass critic #1'. Yes, it's an XBLA game and as such it is rather short, five or so hours to get through, a couple more to finish the difficult puzzles and, if you're a sadist, at least two more hours (and that's if you're REALLY good) to get the hidden stuff. The thing is though, quality drips from this game. Short, amazing games litter the vista of gaming history: we have Metal Gear Solid, a game that could last nine hours on the first sitting but provided a phenomenal experience to all who touched it; Mass Effect is hardly the largest game if you skip the side missions with the core story weighing in at around 10 hours; even Bioshock, a fantastic game in its own right, was a tad on the short side. There is one thing bringing these games together: the developers saw what they had, saw how far it would stretch, and, just as importantly, didn't take it too far. A short game with enjoyable pieces packed into it is far preferable to a long game with a few great bits and several tedious bits. To expand the game beyond its remit is to dilute the quality and who wants to do that? Nobody but old EA, that's who. So, now I've defended the game from the likes of cheap ass #1 I'll begin reviewing it.
Braid is a 2D side scrolling platform game, sort of. That description is certainly accurate but we'll need to throw in various types of time manipulation and mind bending puzzles using the aforementioned time manipulation. Some of these puzzles are easy and a solution occurs as soon as you look at the problem. Some appear to be nigh on impossible at first until you figure out the simple solution and realise how stupid you are. The few I mentioned before-the ones that will add a couple more hours on to your game time-are not just difficult to figure out but they are difficult to execute, involving well timed jumps and precise time manipulations. They'll make you wonder if the solution you thought you had clicked on to is actually the solution after the 10th time it didn't work. Want a Mario-esque stamp on monsters' heads experience? You will have to stamp on the heads of monsters but it won't be like Mario so this game isn't for you. If you like thinking so hard your ears bleed continue reading.
The plot is great. It could be about a guy and a princess (there's a parody slipped in there too). There's also a deeper layer to it which I haven't quite figured out is deliberate or not. There's also scope for wild speculations but I shan't go into any of that here. That's for you to find out for yourself.
Visual style. That's a phrase I wouldn't expect to use when reviewing a game from Xbox Live Arcade but it's completely apt here. Braid is beautiful. Don't expect flashy graphics, explosions, three dimensional objects or photo realistic faces. Instead you should swing by the screenshots
section and check out the watercolour style backgrounds and then go to the videos
and watch as Tim's hair bounces as he runs. It doesn't sound like much but it looks terrific and makes for an endearing world. Can't be arsed to do that? Thought so. Well the game does look like a watercolour painting with the exception of Tim (you), the monsters and the occasional flower. These foreground objects resemble crisp cartoons while the rest of the screen is like a moving painting. These visuals become more dull during rewind and more vibrant during fast forward. Both time distortions cause the background to subtley distort as if viewed through a lens and the faster you reverse or fast forward the more blurry the screen becomes.
The sound is also incredible. Remember I said there is time manipulation? Well the sound effects and music reflect what time is doing. A hold of the X button causes time to begin reversing, tapping LB causes the speed of reverse to increase and tapping RB makes it either decrease or begin fast forwarding to the point where you held down X. When reversing time the sound effects and music also go in reverse, their speed depends on how fast you're reversing time. The forward playing sounds speed up when you fast forward. Cool.
Reversing and fast forwarding time is the essence of Braid. Need to get a key the other side of the room? Maybe if you rewind time something else can get it for you? Maybe you can use one key for two locks? Needless to say you need to get used to the rules in each world. The first... or should I say second (?) world is a straight up, no nonsense (kind of) deal to ease you into the concept whereas the next world shows you shimmery green items that aren't affected by time or your playing around with it. Next you change time just by walking. The rules get a bit less obvious from here so I'll leave you to discover but you see that the concept behind each world varies enormously and so your approach to solving the puzzles must too.
So let's sum up. Braid is an excellent game, it looks great, it sounds great, it plays great. It uses time in an innovative way in each and every world. The puzzles are well balanced giving people of all skill levels a decent challenge and making them kick themselves when they finally figure out the solution because it was so damn obvious. If you don't want to pay $15 or about £10 then that's fine, but you'll be missing out on a quality experience. The only real drawbacks are the cost and length. I would have loved for there to be another two or three worlds to explore but something tells me doing that would have meant repeating puzzles and themes. The existing six worlds are separate and distinct from each other and that's the way it should be. So if you're looking for a challenging puzzler that forces you to think 4th dimensionally
Braid is right up your alley, if you're after something more simple perhaps you'd prefer Geometry Wars