Braid Reader Review
Second on my examination table this afternoon is Braid, a side scrolling time-manipulation puzzle game from the mind of Jonathan Blow (get all your laughs out now, I'm gonna be using his name alot in this one........done? good!) a video games columnist who created Braid as a personal critique to the comtemporary trends in video games today. I personally view Blow as one of the homegrown heros of Indie gaming, he funded Braid with his own money and got his webcomic artist friend, David Hellman to help him create the visually stunning scenes that he made Hellman recreate several times to fully encapsuleate Blow's vision.
Braid is one of those games that reviews hate, not because it's a bad game, far from it, but becasue we find that there is so much about that game that we love we end up writing 1500 words about it then find we have only just described the title screen, that being said, I will endevour to bring you as much information about Braid as I can in the following 8500 words!...
You begin the game as a small 2D dude called Tim, controling Tim you go into what you assume to be Tims apartment, in here you have five rooms, each one representing a different world in the Braid universe. The main objective in Braid seems straightforward enough "Tim needs to rescue the Princess" and on initial inspection of the game and storyline, you would be forgiven for thinking that this was a jazzed up version of Super Mario but Braids genius comes from it's multifaceted stroyline, you see, before each world in Braid, you find several storybooks that, when read, explain a little bit about the background of Tim and "the Princess" but I will touch more on that later...
In the mean time I think I should stop getting all gushy about the Braid story and actually do some reviewing! The graphics in Braid are stunning, not in a "Crysis on a supercomputer" stunning but more like you are playing an interactive work of art, the way the scene you are currently stood in seems to breath with life is quite breathtaking. Of course, after a few minutes of gaming, it is very easy to forget that there are many nice visual effects in Braid, such as when reversing time the colour depleats, leaving the scene grainy and monocrome or when the scene becomes imbued with so much colour that they seem to bleed together as time speeds up.
The time-manipulation aspect of the game is fairly straight forward (or at least it starts that way in the begining) firstly, you have the power to either slow down time and therefore revers it or to quickly speed time back up to the present which neeeds to be utilised in some of the ealier puzzles. However, as the game progresses and you move through the different worlds of Braid, your inherent ability to muck about with the timeline seems to shift, the third world, for example, sees time shift in regard to Tims horizontal position in the game world, if he moves forward (to the right of the screen) time (and all enemies, convayer belts, items etc) moves forward and subsequently if he moves left, everything moves backwards. There are some absolutely mind bending puzzles in some of the later levels that would be on some sort of international triety preventing cruilty against gamers if it werent for the inclusion of the time-manipulation machanic. How Blow thought these up is really quite beyond me but my gaming hat has to go off to him for some of them, although, on the flip side of that somewhat brow-nosed comment, there are more than one of the puzzles that do not seem to want to be solved and after solving them you get this sensation of "was that what was supposed to happen or was that an accident?" and frankly sometimes the games puzzles feel broken...pretty, but broken!
On a side thought, I don't usually have much tolerance for puzzle games that present me with puzzles or levels that I am destined to fail at and have to restart at least 30 to 40 times (the Fickle Companion level springs INSTANTLY to mind) and personally I would like to both pat Blow on the back and also punch him in the stomach as hard as I could but at no point during this session of "try-fail-restart" mantra did I lose my temper, I was constantly struck with the "okay, I can do it this time" mentality, there was not one rage-quit during my adventures with Braid and there was an abundance of opportunities to do so, especially on some of the final levels but after thinking about it I have figured it out, the music!
Now, I realise that this is going to make my sound like Jerry Fletcher from Conspiracy Theory here but bear with me, I think that the music from Braid has been engineered to have the opposite effect of Rage-Quit, like some sort of audio-only subliminal message that was designed to calm irate gamers...whatever it is, it seems to work so I say we let it slide, eh?
Now with the gameply, graphics and even the music covered, time to get all gooey about Braids storyline again! I think what impresses me most about Braid is even with the simple gameplay and linear storyline you are still left with moments of surprise as Tim's life is explained through the storybooks. Blow has delt us a beautifully rendered deck of cards, but has kept the final ace up his sleve until the last moment, culminating the adventure of Braid into a truly jaw-dropping end scene stiring within us emotions of excitement, sorrow and confusion, turning everything you have seen and read in the game on it's head leaving many people (myself included) searching forums and newsgroups trying to discover the one true interpretation of the games ending along with the passages in the storybooks.
In conclusion, Braid is one of the shining moments in XBox Live Arcade history and personally one of those games you need to play as I believe you owe it to youself to enjoy video games from a slightly different perspective, granted, the replay value isn't great but it's one of those games you will certainly never forget.