You are your own Castle.
I want to rewind time.
I want to be able to go back to this morning, to forget everything that happened in the past 12 hours.
I want to play Braid again, to have those same revelations, those same discoveries all over again.
I want to find the solutions to those devious puzzles, to see the bizarre creatures, to delve into every unique mechanic the game has to offer. Just once more, from the top.
But I can't.
The least I can do, however, is to help you see those revelations for yourself.
Braid is unlike anything else on the XBLA to date. Quite literally, if fact: in a sea of downloadable omni-directional shooters, dressed-up arcade ports and terrible flash break-dancing games, Braid is a platformer in the classic sense. While many developers can flex some 3-D muscle using the powerful 360 architecture, Indie game supporter Jonathan Blow's game is filled with lush 2-D backdrops and old-school scrolling effects. And while most XBLA games completely ignore any kind of narrative development, Braid is filled with dark, melancholic, oftentimes hallucinatory text descriptions that feature better writing than many full-fledged 360 games. Braid stands above it all, a shining beacon of smart game design, outstanding audiovisual presentation, and powerful, confident story line.
Braid have players step into the unusually well dressed shoes of Tim, a young man with a swath of Red Hair and a mission: to find his princess. Tim's true long has been out of his life for some time, because, as is revealed in the first of many of the shockingly well written expositions that take place before each world, "Tim Made a mistake." You'll help Tim right that mistake over the course of the games 6 ingeniously designed worlds.
The core mechanics of the gameplay don't initially seem to be so complicated: Braid is a platformer of the oldest schools, with nothing but a jump button to help him clear obstacles. Rather than featuring a double jump or a particularly high jump(as you might find in other classic platformers) Tim can gain extra height by bouncing on top of enemies. The more enemies you can land upon at a time, the higher you can fly. The platforming mechanics are sound, though, make no mistake: you have a solid amount of "air control" that will let players fine tune their specific jumps to land them just right.
However, the real meat of the gameplay is Tim's time control mechanic. By pressing the X button at any time, Tim and the world will slowly move backwards in time, rewinding though all the action that has taken place on the level. Though obviously inspired by the Rewind Time mechanics of the “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time Trilogy”, Braid makes a few changes to the ability. Most notably, there is no "limit" as to how far you can rewind time: you will literally be able to set up a jump or a puzzle to play out exactly the way you want it to play out. (As Jeff wisely pointed out, the game draws a ton of inspiration from the tool-assisted speed runs" featured all over YouTube, where players will try and complete difficult levels in the fastest amount of time by playing the game and "rewinding" the game if a mistake is made, to ensure the perfect run).
Another change made from The Sands of Time Trilogy: no lives system! If you are killed by falling into a pit or hitting an enemy, you are automatically prompted to rewind time, where you can once again attempt to tackle the obstacle. This change brings the game back to the roots of the platformer, when games were about nailing tough jumps and not hitting enemies.
But the biggest change from The Sands of Time-and the one gameplay idea that elevates Braid from the realm of the great to the castle of the amazing- is the game's alteration and expansion of the Time control mechanic. Unlike most platformers, Braid doesn't gain any new powers or abilities over the course of the game. Instead, each world offers a subtle change to the way the Time Control mechanic plays out. For instance, in World -2 of the game, everything in the world is affected by Tim's time reversal. However, at the start of World-3 the player is introduced (ingeniously, without every actually "telling the player" how the mechanic plays out) to glowing green objects in the world that aren't affected by time. On World -2, a regular locked door in a level can be unlocked with a key, and reversing time will allow Tim to regain the key, but will once again shut the door. However, a green door on World 33 can be opened with a key, and the Reversal of Time will allow Tim to regain the key without closing the door. And that's just a taste of the multitude of MIND BLOWING revelations that you'll be left to discover over the course of the game.
And, ultimately, that sense of discovery is one of the principle joys of Braid. For all talk of platforming, Braid is, mostly a brilliant, devious puzzle game that will have you looking around your environment, exploring for solutions, and testing ideas using the Time mechanic and its various expanded uses. Few games have ever managed to capture that organic sense of discovery better than Braid: when you solve one of the game's brilliant puzzles, especially in a unique, obtuse, or completely crazy way(and the game is chock-a-block with unique, obtuse, completely crazy puzzles) you'll feel like a total genius, having found a truly brilliant solution to a tough puzzle.
Part of the fun in solving the puzzles is exploring an environment to look for ways to move ahead, and the reason this solution searching shines on the 360 is due to Braid's technical presentation. The game's fantastical, brilliantly realized environments are loaded with subtle details that add even more personality to a game bursting from the seams with character. A wide palate is used over the course of the game, proving every Diablo III hater wrong: colors are better! The game shines on a high-definition television, and is one of the most beautiful games on the 360, regardless of its 2-D design. From its haunting opening title screen to the final, devious world, Braid is a game that dishes out visual delights for days.
Braid also features a wonderful instrumental score. With lovely violins and moody cellos, Braid's music will constantly delight your ears. The game also modifies the score nicely depending on what Tim is doing to the flow of time at that moment.
The nice thing about reviewing Braid is that it only has one sticking point (which means I have more time to say nice stuff!) That sticking point: the Price. At 1200 Microsoft Points (or 15 bucks, 5 higher than most original content on XBLA), there might be users who are unsure about putting down the cash, afraid they may not get their money's worth. The game's not especially long either: collecting all the game's puzzle pieces and beating the worlds will take most players about 4-6 hours of play(depending on how much time is spent dealing with a particular puzzle.
The one part about Braid that I haven’t expressly mentioned is how the game pays homage to the platforming greats that came before it. From Tim's main objective (to rescue a princess) to the game's enemy design (effectively, the game is full of Goombas and Piranha Plants), there's no denying that the game features plenty of references to the Super Mario Bros. franchise. The truly astonishing thing about Braid, however, is how it manages to stand aside-and in many cases, blow away- the ideas that made the older source material such a hit. This is no mere parody, nor is the game an attempt to cash in on Nostalgia. Rather, Braid is a magnificent achievement, a game that ingeniously blends classic mechanics with new ones, that trusts players rather than pander to them. By the game's fantastic conclusion, you won't see Braid as a love letter to a classic game series. Rather, you'll see Braid for what it really is: one of the finest 2-D platformers ever created, and one of the flat-out best games on the 360.