Review by MTLH

Reviewed: 04/24/09

Wonderful and challenging but not entirely perfect.

I first learned of Braid’s existence in the preview section of my favourite British PC magazine and I immediately took a shine to it. That doesn’t happen to me often, especially not with independently developed titles. Such a remarkable concept and style and yet the work of essentially just one person? This was a game I had to play.

That was in 2007. For a game that was originally designed for the PC, Braid sure has taken it’s time getting there. The game even saw its first release on Xbox’s Live Arcade service of all places. That was in 2008 and after several postponements it finally arrived in April of 2009. Was it worth the wait? Yes, indeed it was. Read on for the reasons why.

Braid looks absolutely stunning. Backgrounds look hand painted, sometimes highly detailed and yet at other times rather impressionistic. It becomes even more beautiful when the time alteration mechanics are activated. Rewind and see the background become a shade darker and shrink a little into itself.

The design of the characters and objects are also well done although there isn’t that much in the way of variation. There is the main character, five types of enemy, two other characters and a few miscellaneous objects. They are nicely detailed and animated though and two of enemies have a very Mario-esque look. And as will be explained in the gameplay section, this slim selection of enemies is actually indicative of the type of game Braid is.

The soundtrack consists mainly of mild flute music. These serene tunes beautifully compliment the gameplay, recalling the proper emotions to accompany the action and plot. It is amazing how much the game accomplishes with such simplicity.

Sound effects on the other hand are rather of a more minimalist nature. The enemies make a few noises, there are a few other bleeps and tings but nothing more. It doesn’t detract from the game but it also doesn’t add anything. However, the effects that accompany the time manipulation are wonderful. The soundtrack slows down and reverses, creating a haunting mood.

The game’s main character is Tim. He is a relatively normal person who wears a suit and tie. He is on a quest to find someone he calls ‘the princess’. Or is it actually a concept, some sort of unattainable goal or perhaps a desirable ideal. Such is the ambiguous nature of Braid’s plot that everything is possible. The game doesn’t spell it’s plot out, instead opting to provide little hints as to what has happened to Tim that has made him search for this so called princess. At the end of the game all these little hints come together and it all clicks beautifully into place. Or does it really? Whatever it may be, Braid tells a rather compelling and melancholic story.

Braid can best be described as a puzzle game disguised as a platformer, build around the concept of time manipulation. The lead character’s primary ability is that he can rewind time. During the course of the game this ability expands in several ways. Some, like objects or enemies that are immune to the effects of the time alteration, appear during the entire game. Others are specific to just one level, like the ability to slow down time within a limited space.

It is nice to have all those mechanics but the most important thing is what the game does with them. Tim’s main objective is to collect jigsaw pieces. Initially, these are easy to obtain but before long Tim must use every ability at his disposal to get them. The puzzles are usually quite inventive yet fair and can be always be solved by using his assigned abilities. Some puzzles also require some precision platforming. It is nice to see how the game plays with these mechanics, throwing the player off balance in a good way. You initially think that a puzzle is impossible to complete, only to realize that time can be altered in more ways then you thought possible.

The reason I described Braid as a puzzle game above all else is that despite the game’s appearance, it’s focus lies predominantly on that kind of gameplay. Like I mentioned in the previous paragraph some puzzles indeed require some platforming skills but even in those situations they are decidedly secondary to the puzzles. The game may look like a platformer but it really isn’t. This is perhaps best illustrated by the enemies Tim encounters. There are only five types of adversaries, one of which is technically some sort of boss character. To further emphasise the above point, those enemies usually form part of a solution to a puzzle.

Braid can be controlled with either a gamepad or the keyboard. Both work fine although I preferred the gamepad. It feels more appropriate somehow. Even so, it is not required to enjoy the game with both ways proving both sharp and effective enough.

At times Braid can really come up with some true conundrums. However, while the game certainly is no walkover, it unfortunately is quite short. Braid may have six levels containing around five or six stages each, such a statement can be misleading. Those stages are on average only a few screens wide and not all of them feature a puzzle of sorts. Braid furthermore automatically saves you’re progress after each collected jigsaw piece. Despite the challenging puzzles, Braid will not last all that long.

There are also some stars to collect to unlock an alternative ending. Unfortunately, most of these are hidden in the most obscure places and getting them require some rather farfetched actions. The first one for example requires that you wait for about ninety minutes for a platform to cross a stage and after jumping on it you must wait a further thirty minutes to finally reach that coveted star that you probably never even knew was there in the first place. Unfortunately, in this manner these stars don’t really lengthen the game’s lifespan as was probably intended. Compare this to anyone of the Mario platformers for example, any of which actually provide clues as to whether there may be some secret lurking around somewhere. This encourages the player to actively search for them whereas Braid doesn’t offer any notice and incentive at all. Not a big flaw as such but it seems out of place in what is in general a highly polished game.

I started this section with Braid’s story and the question remains how much of the actual game is influenced by the plot. The plot is conveyed trough books at the start of each level and the concepts and ideals mentioned in these texts are intertwined in the gameplay itself. The gameplay symbolizes these to a point. The first books for example state that the world would perhaps be better off if people could learn from their mistakes yet at the same also undo them. The rewind mechanic symbolizes this. The player makes a mistake, sees where he went wrong, rewinds and tries to avoid making the same mistake. Luckily, Braid can also be enjoyed when ignoring this connection just for what it is, an excellent puzzle game. Even so, the plot does add an extra layer to the experience for those who don’t wish to ignore it.

Braid looks and sounds wonderful. Observing the production values of the presentation, it is hard to believe the game was developed by such a very small, independent team.

Braid’s plot can be a significant aspect of the experience. It invites the player to contemplate about such things as relationships, atonement and regret. It is also nice that the plot is fairly ambiguous, letting the player decide what exactly happened to Tim. If this sounds rather heavy handed, it must be noted that the plot can be also be ignored so that Braid can be simply enjoyed for what it is: a simply outstanding game. Playing the game only in that manner would be a shame though.

Regarding the gameplay, Braid makes the most of it’s time manipulation mechanics. Combined with the platforming aspects of the game, this results in some fiendish puzzles. It may be a challenging game but that challenge always seems fair. Braid never cheats and every puzzle can be solved with the abilities bestowed upon Tim. It is just a matter of figuring out how to use them and that at times requires the player to discard his notions of what is possible or not.

The only real flaws are the short length and the stars. Considering the quality of the experience Braid provides it doesn’t really seem to matter that much that it doesn’t last that long. And in all honesty, collecting the stars isn’t all that necessary. It is just a shame that this wasn’t as well implemented as all the other gameplay mechanics. If Braid was to be completely perfect, it would perhaps have been better to have omitted them entirely.

OVERALL: a worthy 9.0.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Product Release: Braid (US, 04/10/09)

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