Indie games are making a big splash these days with games like Audiosurf coming out of Steam, and Everyday Shooter coming out of PSN. But Braid is a game coming out of Xbox Live Arcade and promises not only to push the boundaries of what a smaller game does, it also seems to put pressure on what games can do as a whole.
It's difficult to describe what the game exactly is, and many respects it's certainly an eccentric but very unique and very special game. To start off you play as a man with a suit named Tim, who tells a story that presents itself through these lines of books whenever you enter in a world, which you can skip by running through all the books, but you'd be doing the game and yourself a disservice. The actual story itself is about Tim's relationship with the princess and references a mistake he had made with her, and how he desires to finally meet her. The whole story seems like the typical Prince saves Princess fairy tale, but how it is told from the more unusual perspective of the protagonist in this case, and how the writing is done; it really conveys a sense of emotion to the character, and more of a connection with the character. The writing may be difficult to read for some, but for the sophisticated reader there are a lot of symbolism and connotations to be found, as well as references, and how the story unfolds to it's climactic and moving ending, even if it requires you to ask another what it all means, there is a sense of enlightenment to be found when you fully understand it.
All this would be meaningless if not Braid had a game to go with it, thankfully Braid has one of the most creative and innovative gameplay to platformer since any of the Mario games. Calling it a platformer seems to be the wrong idea though, regardless if it is an homage to Mario Brothers with all of it's references and even level design, Braid plays more like a puzzle game than anything in that, it tests your brain just as much, if not more than your skills in jumping and timing. Part of what makes this so is Braid's main gameplay mechanic is time travel. Now time travel has been used in many games such as the successful Prince of Persia series, and the not so successful Blinks: The Time Sweeper series. However both of those games mainly use time travel as a way to fix your mistakes, even in Blinks where time travel to solve puzzles was very limited. In Braid you collect puzzle pieces and you can use time travel to fix your mistakes an infinite amount of times however long you want all the way to the beginning of the level, but where Braid brings it's brilliance is in how it uses the mechanic in context to the level. For instance there are occasions where you encounter a door, key, enemy that is coated in green, and those do not rewind when you rewind time, so how this factors in is in multiple different ways. For instance there is a key that is coated in green, however it is in the bottom of a pit, so if you go and pick it up there is no way to get out, but since the key does not rewind when you rewind time, when you grab the key and then rewind, you will be carrying the key as you see yourself getting out. There are many different puzzles such as this and you will also be dealing with a shadow of yourself, and a ring that slows down time in a radius around it. This may all seem very overwhelming but Braid also trains you into learning these things without actually telling you, similar to a Half Life 2: Episode 2 style. There are about 6 or 7 worlds, and each of those worlds has a central gameplay theme around it, such as the ring, or your doppelganger, and inside each of those worlds is about another 6-7 levels, and the first level is usually very basic and you will probably solve in literally 2-3 minutes, and the purpose of that is to teach you the basic function and how the mechanic works, after the second or third level the challenge of the level ramps up considerably, and throws a new wrench into the system for you to figure out how to apply the mechanic given into this level. The beauty of the levels is that you don't need to pick up every single puzzle piece to move on the levels, you can simply walk to the other end if your ever stuck, but in order to reach the last level you must collect all the puzzle pieces and solve the puzzle using the puzzle pieces. This type of level ramp up allows casual fans who never really played a mind bending type of game before, to start off and learn the ropes of how to manipulate the world. Some of these levels can be extremely challenging though, and make you ask yourself “what am I doing wrong!” And I won't blame you if you want to look at a guide just to get past the level but if you do solve it, you will feel as if you accomplished something through your own brain and it makes it feel extremely satisfying, and considering the short length and the lack of replay value in the game, it's highly ill advised to use a guide unless you are truly stuck or truly frustrated.
Braid's audio and visual qualities while you can't say are professional, are highly unique and gives the game a very distinct and grounded feel. To start off with the visual qualities of the game, some people like to say that some games feel like interactive movies, well… Braid feels more like an interactive painting because of it's visual qualities. The game has a distinct water colour pastel background as well as a dream-like quality architecture to go along with it. The two blend themselves very well, and to also include the audio which is comprised of classical music tracks using instruments such as the piano, cello, and violin that also come in a Variety of musical moods and paces such as a more carefree folk song, to a more mellow slower vibe. That may seem as if it will contradict the flow going from level to level, but how the games environments change along with the music, it keeps the game from ever feeling disjointed or fragmented. The payoff of successfully being able to change environments and tone from world to world is that the game prevents itself from ever feeling monotonous as it changes the environment from a carefree joyful grassland environment, to a more dreadful, dark mine environment.
You couldn't review Braid and ignore the price of it. It is 15$ making it one of the more expensive Xbox Live Arcade titles, and there is little to no replay value as the most you would go through the game is about two times, which the second run would be for the speed run achievement, and to top it all off it's about 5-6 hours long. But what I can say is that those 5-6 hours are nicely tied together, and the experience of Braid is one of a kind, and when you finish it and fully understand it, your mind will probably be more on how this game is a masterpiece than on the 15$ price tag. Anyone that's remotely interested in the more philosophical and artistic view of games should buy Braid, as they will not only enjoy the game but also enjoy this game’s more deeper qualities.