reviews\ Aug 19, 2008 at 8:00 pm

Braid - 360 - Review

Downloadable content is effectively changing the gaming industry. Because developers can now upload their games directly to an online store like Xbox Live Marketplace or PSN, small, obscure games can bypass the bargain bins at Gamestop and actually get some attention. Braid is one of the first games to make me yell “Thank God for downloadable games!!”

If it wasn’t for XBL, this avante garde, literary mind-trip of a game would never have been made.

At its core, Braid is a simple, 2-D platformer. You play as Tim who is off in search of his Princess. To find her you must find puzzle pieces located in each of the main worlds. After collecting the pieces, you can put together portraits that not only reveal abstract images of Tim’s life, but unlock the final level. But within five minutes of playing, you’ll realize that Braid is far more complex than it looks. Understanding time is essential to playing Braid. By hitting X, you can reverse time at will, whenever you want. It takes some getting used to. Especially when you die and realize, “Oh, I’ll just reverse time.” As you progress, however, new time mechanics become introduced. In one world, time moves forward as you walk to the right, and backwards as you move left – my brain still hurts from solving those puzzles.


But Braid doesn’t just stop at trying to be a smart puzzler. . . It’s also a love story! Oh yes, the main character Tim had his heart broken by a Princess and he is off on a journey to find her. The story is told through tiny vignettes in the overworld. Of course, you can just skip them all-together if you want (but you don’t want that, do you?) and only play the game. Oh, but you’ll miss out on so much! Word to the wise: if you start Braid, finish it. The ending is absolutely remarkable and unlike anything ever portrayed in a video game. The story actually pays homage to old school games like Super Mario Bros and takes the endearing search for the Princess and turns it into a poetic riff on the classic tale.  

And that’s really the importance of Braid - it’s unlike anything else. The visual style is not only breathtaking, but artistic. The worlds are painted with Monet brushstrokes and constantly “flow” with streams of light, snow, and leafs. And the characters themselves have an eerie, realistic quality to them that is simultaneously intriguing and repulsive. Throughout, there are great references to old school games, like Mario Bros. and the original Jumpman in Donkey Kong.

In Braid, the unique twist on gameplay is completely integrated into the story and themes. The ability to reverse time whenever you want makes sense for the character Tim, who, as the story tells us, used his control over time to cover up mistakes he made in a relationship. As the game progresses, and the puzzles require different uses of the time reversal mechanic, the story continues to validate the gameplay and make it necessary. Something video games rarely do.


All of these clever references and visuals, however, sit backseat to what is the most remarkable element of Braid. That is, the experience. After beating Braid yesterday, the story and meaning behind the game is only just now making sense. Not only is the game’s story a deep meditation on love and relationships, but the experience is also the feeling you will get while playing it. For me, that came from the incredible music and abstract visual presentation. The sadness of the music becomes reflected in the pastel worlds. But I will warn players that Braid can be very difficult. The key to getting past a level when you’re frustrated is to just take a break and let it sink in. But if you want the full meaning of Braid – and trust me, the final level is a gaming masterpiece – you must finish the game; whether that means looking up help on an internet FAQ or consulting NASA scientists, you must finish it.

While I would like to have seen more art assets used, and in particular, more worlds that showed off the wildly creative ideas of developer Jonathan Blow, I think Braid is as close to a masterpiece that games can achieve. While this might sound like extreme hyperbole (or gamer’s puppy love), I would argue differently. But I also don’t think Braid is going to be for everyone. The price tag of $15 might detract some (though it’s well worth it) and the cerebral storyline might be seen as pretentious. But for those who do choose to experience it, Braid is one game you’ll never forget.

Gameplay: 9.5
While the simple 2-D platforming might seem outdated at first, you’ll quickly realize that this game is not what it seems.

Graphics: 8.5
The visual style is phenomenal – from the abstract portraits to the watercolor backgrounds. But some art assets are repeated and the backgrounds don’t always look drastically different from world to world.

Sound: 9.5
From soft strings to lively Celtic tunes, the music in Braid is beautiful yet tinged with sadness.

Concept: 10
Braid is the first game I’ve played that taught me a little something about relationships. Take that Gears of War.

Difficulty: Medium/Hard
The difficulty can become very hard, but stick with it – it feels so good when you finally figure out a puzzle.

Overall: 9.5
Because the game mechanics are so thoughtfully integrated into the story, Braid’s meaning can only be understood by playing it. And while it might be visually unassuming, Braid offers players an experience (and a message about life) that few games have ever dared to offer.



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