Braid Review for Xbox 360 (X360)

Braid Review for Xbox 360 (X360)

All We Have is Time

It’s a rare occasion when you’re thinking about a game when you’re not playing it. Braid – an independent title developed by Jonathan Blow – is that kind of game. When you have the controller in your hands and are immersed in its world, it feels like nothing else. When you’re away from the confines of your couch and the glare of your television, you’re still thinking about it – whether it be from a purely aesthetic standpoint or you’re musing over the meaning of its narrative.

Braid screenshot

Perhaps, its Braid’s deceptive allure that makes it so appealing. On the surface, it looks like a traditional 2D platformer, weaving an almost cliché story: You play as Tim, who is looking for his princess and in his search he travels across six magical worlds defeating enemies and solving puzzles; nothing new, right? Well, like most things in Braid, there’s more than meets the eye. In place of a hub world, Braid uses a house with six rooms (that designate worlds). Each of these rooms has a door that leads to its levels and a painting composed of puzzle pieces. Once you open the door to a particular world you’re transported to a cloud area with a set of books and doors. Here you can read excerpts from the books and gain clues into Tim’s persona. While this narrative device is appreciated in form, it comes off as a little pretentious in substance; most of the book entries read like pages from an overly dramatic artist’s diary. After the books, are a set of doors which lead to levels within a particular world.

Upon entering World 2 (World 1 is actually last), Braid seems like a platformer. In homage to Super Mario Bros. you’ll jump on enemies’ heads, avoid plants that sprout out of pipes, and try to make it to the end of the level. However, that’s only half the game. To properly complete the game and access the final world, you need to get all 60 puzzles pieces (there are 10 per world). Once you get all the puzzle pieces for a world, you go back to the house painting and fit the pieces in place, unlocking the next world.

Braid screenshot

To help you collect puzzle pieces Braid has a button dedicated to time. When you hold down the button you can rewind the level and if you hit the left bumper you can change the rate of the rewind (from 2x all the way to 8x). Not only does this allow you to eschew death – if you fall in a spiky pit simply rewind – but you can reach puzzle pieces you otherwise could not. In Braid, each level is really a puzzle (similar to how levels in Portal are platforming puzzles) and it takes a mastery of the time mechanic to reach the well-placed puzzle pieces.

Each world has its own way of dealing with time, making them all temporally unique. In World 3, you’re introduced to the importance of the green glow. Items that are green are immune to the effects of your rewind. For example, you can drop in a deadly pit to grab a green key. Normally you would die and when you rewind time the key wouldn’t be in your hands. But since the key is green, when you rewind to the top of the pit, it’s suddenly in your hands and you can proceed onward.

Braid screenshot

Just as soon as you get used to rewinding and dealing with green items, the game throws another curve ball in the form of World 4. In this world, every time you move right on the screen, time plays out as it should (moving forward), but when you go to the left everything rewinds. There’s a puzzle involving a series of platforms (very similar to Donkey Kong) where you have to reach the top. However, every time you move left a certain enemy blocks the way. By timing it right you can bounce from one enemy to another, climbing to the top.

World 5 uses the rewind mechanic to create a clone that can interact with purple objects. For example, you might see a set of doors, but only have one key. You can rewind time so the clone opens the first door using a shadow of the key and then you open the second door. World 6 gives you a magical ring that you can use to slow down time within a set area, so you can avoid cannon fire and pull off timed, multi-enemy jumps.

As you’re collecting puzzle pieces and getting from point A to B, you’ll notice another homage to Super Mario Bros. Every world ends with a raised flag and a castle. A brown Barney dinosaur look-alike comes out and tells you that your princess is in another castle. At first this results in a chuckle, but as the story moves along and you start to question Tim’s quest, so does the dinosaur, at one point asking, “Are you sure she exists?” The story goes from light-hearted fantasy to internal character struggle. Is the princess real or is this fantasy world a way for Tim to sort out his real life problems? That’s where Braid nails the narrative. Its constantly pulling the strings between fantasy and reality and leaving it up to you – the gamer – to sort out the meaning.

Braid screenshot

It’s hard to ignore Braid’s presentation. This is one gorgeous game. Not only does the world truly feel fantastic (for example, there are cannons that fire whimsical clouds), its assembly is meticulous. Most 2D platformers suffer from a Lego problem: You can tell where pieces were joined together in a level editor and instead of it feeling like you’re traversing a world, it feels like you’re moving over a series of objects. Braid avoids this altogether. Each level feels like one concrete painting that you’re moving across. Joining the extraordinary visual style is the game’s soundtrack. Between the droning cello work, folksy rhythms , and delicate layering of harp chords, every song feels like it belongs, perfectly complementing the look of the game.

Even though Braid bridges the games-are-art gap, striking a nice balance between play, story, and presentation, there are some criticisms. One is the difficulty. Many puzzles will have you scratching your head and will end after several frustrated attempts. However, this criticism could be turned around by noting that when you do discover the solution it makes the victory all the sweeter. What can be leveled against the puzzles is their lack of solution leniency. Every puzzle has one, and only one solution. It would have been nice to give gamers more than one way of solving a puzzle. Also, the platforming controls sometimes feel a little off. You’ll miss many jumps by just a hair and while you can rewind to fix things, it feels like that wouldn’t be necessary if the control was a little more responsive.

A point of contention about Braid’s release on Xbox LIVE Arcade is the price. Sitting at 1,200 Microsoft Points, it’s one of the most expensive offerings. You might join the higher-than-normal price point complaint with a criticism of the game’s replay value (once you beat the game, the only other offering is a speed run mode), but that’s missing the point: Rarely do games – even in the $60 range – offer such a rich experience.

Braid is stellar and a true accomplishment. It not only represents the potential for more creative and innovative titles to reach the masses via downloadable service, but it stands as a game you won’t forget.

Stylish and in a world of its own. It truly does feel like you’re moving across a painter’s canvas. 4.3 Control
The time-based mechanics work well, but the platforming feels a little off in some areas. It results in a lot of frustrating retries of puzzles. 4.9 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
From the haunting cello to beautiful harp work, Braid has a stellar soundtrack. 4.6 Play Value
Between the puzzles and its unique presentation, this is a game that you won’t forget easily. There isn’t much reason to go back once you’ve beaten it, but the overall experience is so fantastic that it doesn’t feel overpriced. 4.7 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.

Game Features:

  • Forgiving yet challenging gameplay: Braid is a 2-D platform game where you can never die and never lose. Despite this, Braid is challenging – but the challenge is about solving puzzles, rather than forcing you to replay tricky jumps.
  • Rich puzzle environment: Travel through a series of worlds searching for puzzle pieces, then solving puzzles by manipulating time: Rewinding, creating parallel universes, setting up pockets of dilated time. The gameplay feels fresh and new; the puzzles are meant to inspire new ways of thinking.
  • Aesthetic design: A painterly art style and lush, organic soundtrack complement the unique gameplay.
  • Nonlinear story: A nonlinear fiction links the various worlds and provides real-world metaphors for your time manipulations; in turn, your time manipulations are projections of the real-world themes into playful “what-if” universes where consequences can be explored.
  • Nonlinear gameplay: The game doesn’t force you to solve puzzles in order to proceed. If you can’t figure something out, just play onward and return to that puzzle later.

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