Why we play games.
I tried to think of various ways to begin my critique of the Xbox Live Arcade game Braid. I thought about describing how it is so rare and refreshing to have a game that feels so simple but is so very deep. I even thought about describing the nature in which the downloadable game genre has opened the door to developers to take risks and engage the gamer, but to pick one over the other was unfair.
To be honest, outside of the fact that this game got a lot of slack for being a more-expensive than most downloadable titles, very little information was known about this simple sounding game. In reality, there is so much more to Braid that actually not knowing too much about it ends up being the reason why it is such a fantastic title.
Braid is a platform game, but unlike the 2D platform games that so many of us grew up with, it takes things a little differently. You begin the game as Tim, a guy who 'made a mistake' and is now searching for a Princess. Yes, it sounds a lot like Super Mario, and it doesn't hide the homage including ending every world with a dinosaur telling you in some form that 'the princess is in another castle'. Unlike in Mario where your goal was to go from Point A to Point B to reach the main boss, Braid actually has you rushing through points trying to pick up pieces to a puzzle for each world that will help you solve the reason for the princess' sudden disappearance.
Throughout each world, there are puzzle pieces lying around and you must collect them to progress to unlock the true ending of the game. Each world is different and you must use different tactics to gather these pieces. In the past, most platform games would penalize you with death if you made a mistake (fell in the pit) or died (touched an enemy); but in Braid, if you make a mistake, all you have to do is hit the X button and rewind the game to fix your mistake. You will use the X button a lot to complete the game. At points where you need to make use of an enemy for a jump boost, if you miss it, simply rewind and try again.
As mentioned already, the 5 main worlds in the game are all extremely different and unbelievable. In one world you will need to use your shadow to help you reach the puzzle pieces and in another the world plays like its own rewind feature. If you move right, all the characters and objects move one way; move left and they 'rewind' back to their original spot. This is another reason why the game is so incredible, since there is so much originality in the level designs that it doesn't feel like a silly gimmick.
The graphics use a very fair-tale color and look to it. Tim is dressed in with a tie and sports coat, and while he is not extremely detailed, he and the enemies in the game look good for this type of game. You won't show off the game's graphics, but it is won't hurt your eyes looking at it for a prolonged period of time.
This is a game that needs to be played with the sound on and should not be played at a low setting. The sound is something I really enjoyed as the score works on every level often you may be tempted to just let the music play for prolonged periods of times. The music also is affected when you use your rewind and it works well at all times.
You can theoretically run through Worlds 2 through 6 in less than an hour and collect some easy 50 achievement points, but you're not learning anything about Tim and the reason he's searching for this princess. In order to get the complete story and of course to see the ending you will need to collect all 60 puzzle pieces. That should take you about 3-5 hours, but be prepared for some frustrating moments that may cause you to want to pull out your hair. Understand that this is not frustration because of bad controls, as the controls are fairly tight and responsive, but because you'll be angry at yourself for not being able to figure out the simple manoeuvres to get some of the puzzle pieces. While it may seem like some are impossible, the answer is always right there and can be solved if you take your time and analyze your environments carefully
This is an absolutely incredible game and has continued the trend of fantastic and original titles of 2008. Going into too much detail about the games underlying plot or explaining the puzzles it will give away too much. The less you know and the more you discover on your own, the better the game will feel to you.
Yes there are two 'faults' to the game but in reality only one is a true deterrent to the game. The cost of the game is a bit high, but once you've actually gone through it, you will feel that your money was well spent. At 15-17 dollars (depending on where you buy this game (I live in Canada and the cost of Live Points is still not 1:1 with the US) it is still cheaper than most portable titles, and you're getting a lot more content for the cost.
The only real problem is that once you've completed the game and saw the game's epilogue, there is no real reason to play it a second time. The only reason would be to try to get the last achievement (where you collect all the puzzle pieces in less than an hour).
If you can only buy one XBLA game this year, than I can easily say that Braid should be your choice. It is hands down one of the most original and engrossing games around. Developers should take note of this game and realize that it is still very much possible to take a simple game in nature and create something magnificent. I cannot wait to see what the Developer of Braid does next.