A haunting, memorable, interpretative piece of art.
I don’t know where to begin.
I guess I’ll start at the beginning. Or at least the beginning of my experience with Braid. I didn’t know anything about this title when I downloaded the demo off of live arcade. I never followed a single preview. I was completely in the dark all things Braid, but five minutes in to the demo I realized that this was something amazing.
At first I thought I understood Braid. A simple platformer with a fantastically implemented time mechanic. In Braid you play as Tim, your typical hero off in a foreign land trying to save the princess. This is not the first time a obvious Mario reference is used, enemies look and act as goomba’s, plants rise out of pipes trying to kill you, and to top it off a dinosaur greets you at the end of each world (complete with castle and flag) to tell you something…nay… At this point, an exact line of dialog that any gamer would be accustomed with:
“I’m sorry, but the Princess is in another castle.”
The only thing missing is the dinosaur changing into another creature.
By pressing “X” the player can rewind time, similar to the Prince of Persia Sands of Time trilogy. The focus of Braid is to collect puzzle pieces, which in turn are put together manually to create a piece of art. With all these basic game conventions: The running, the Mario references, the puzzle collection, Braid’s initial impression as a game is relatively safe. Lush painted backgrounds and a magnificent score bolster its appeal.
But Braid’s greatest success is none of that. Braid is not content in being what you expect it to be. Braid wants to be something more than a game. It, itself, wants to be a piece of art. And it succeeds on a level I couldn’t previously even fathomed. And were not just talking about the painted backgrounds here.
Before each world, cryptic messages are given to the player. They are clearly Tim’s memories, each written ambiguously, like mental vomit the incoherent messages transpire multiple parts of Tim’s life. His childhood, his dreams, and more importantly his hopes. The “Princess” becomes metaphorical in certain instances and become physical in others.
Each world has a rule of time associated to it. (Example: One world has time flowing forward as you walk forward, flow backwards when you go backwards.) Slowly each level begins to get challenging trying to traverse it. Then the levels themselves get shorter, but the process of getting the puzzle pieces become more difficult as you manage the environment, your control of time, and the worlds rule with time. And then you realize you haven’t been just playing a platformer: But a full-blown puzzle game. Or is it still a platformer? Braid doesn’t commit to one form of game design, your interpretation in that itself will vary. It becomes addictive; as each world is unlocked and unfolded before you, the initial world messages become more cryptic and more disjointed. By the time you reach the last level, any attempts as a player to construct a linear story is dissolved.
By the end of the final level, any attempt to not stop thinking what it all means will not be produced. Braid is completely interpretive. Braid’s theme’s of time, princess saving, and simply being a game, come together in a way creating a completely interpretive message that only you, yourself, can experience and appreciate. When all the puzzle pieces are put together and the final act is played: prepare for life lessons and messages abound.
Trying to bring the thought process back into the realms of strict software critiquing, there are only a few nitpicks that bothered me. Only two bosses exist in the game, more variety could have been thought up. Certain puzzles can be borderline insane in terms of initial difficulty, but that’s a bit unavoidable.
It is a short game, shorter than most $10 live arcade games. I guess I’m some bizarre minority in the gaming community where an extra five dollars means life or death. I find the whole disagreement about it’s specific price point bit absurd. I’ve played shorter games that have cost more and longer games that have cost lest. If anything, the real discussion should be Microsoft’s point system in which only certain percentages of points can be purchased at any time. There is still no purpose or benefit from a consumer standpoint with this system, and it’s understandably annoying that a gamer has to shell out initially more than the required purchase price. This is the argument that should be made, not the fact that the game is the equivalent of a “normal” live arcade game and a grande drink at StarBucks.
Achievement points: Braid consists of traditional 200 achievement points for a live arcade game. 185 points are awarded for completing each world and obtaining every puzzle piece, and assembling each puzzle. An extra 15 points are awarded for a traditional speed run of the entire game. From a gameplay standpoint the replay value is minimal. But multiple play throughs will probably result in multiple interpretations.
Conclusion: Braid is well worth the money. It will shock you, and more importantly stick with you long after completing it. For the first time I can look at a game wholly, without any reservations or doubts, and call it a piece of art.