Worth the money? Definitely.
It’s come to my attention that you can’t persuade one to buy something these days just by saying it’s bloody good. Gamers don’t like to waste their money and will be overly cautious when looking into new purchases to avoid getting something they’ll regret later. Braid is one title which I’ve witnessed more than a few people fuss over with its 1200 Microsoft Point price tag, and with the number of mediocre games on the Xbox’s Live Arcade I can’t really blame them. However, I think I can stand up for Braid and say that the once-only fee you’ll pay for this unique experience is well worth it, and I can happily say that I did not once look back on how much I spent on the game after I had played through it.
Braid’s main character is Tim, a young man pursuing a princess who has been taken away by a terrible monster, all because Tim made a mistake. The details of this mistake are kept ambiguous to the player throughout the course of the game, but it soon becomes apparent that this princess is always ‘in another castle’. Yes, there are some other subtle Mario references within the game too but if one thing is for sure, Braid is not your typical platformer title. You’ll still run, climb and jump, perhaps avoid some enemies and bounce off their heads too, but at its core Braid is a puzzle game.
Your basic task is to traverse each of Braid’s five worlds and collect all of the puzzle pieces within each in order to make it to the end. Each new world in Braid introduces a new game mechanic, all of which revolve around the manipulation of time. In one world you’ll learn Tim’s basic ability to rewind time to enable him to erase mistakes, which is quite cool because you’ll soon realise that it is impossible to die in Braid since you can simply go back to where you were and try a challenge from a different approach. That isn’t to say Braid is a pushover in terms of difficulty, as its levels and puzzles within rarely focus on your skills as a gamer, rather, your ability to think in the right way.
Other mechanics introduced to you along the course of the game include green, glowing objects which aren’t affected by the regular flow of time (for example: after running forward to pick up a green key and rewinding, you’ll still be holding the key), a world where your character’s movement left and right controls the flow of time backwards and forwards respectively, as well as a world with a doppelganger which will perform your future actions for you in an alternate dimension after you rewind time. The way these mechanics are implemented is fantastic, as they aren’t simply the sorts of power ups you’ll find in a regular platformer– they change the way you view a world’s puzzles completely, to the point where a level constructed in almost the exact same way in two or more of the different worlds will force players to think in entirely different ways to solve each respective puzzle.
As you progress through each of the worlds, you’ll be forced to relearn the rules of play before tacking the challenges on show, which may start out easy to get players introduced to the game, but get much trickier as the game goes on. It wasn’t uncommon for me to get stuck on a puzzle for twenty to thirty minutes, and while the temptations of using guides and outside help can get high, there’s a huge feeling of pride which comes with solving a particularly difficult challenge yourself.
The art direction of Braid is stunning, and each world has been textured beautifully with some very charming enemy and character sprites to fit. The soundtrack has been chosen from the works of a few professional musicians and includes a few Celtic tunes which have a lot more feeling than a lot of the music from games today and actually fit in nicely with the art of the levels themselves to create a really endearing experience.
I think one of the more obvious downsides of Braid is that it’s a little bit on the short side. You can run straight through each of the worlds, skipping most of the puzzles in next to no time if you wish, and even then collecting all sixty of the puzzle pieces finishing the game is likely to only take somewhere around six hours, which again brings up the question for some people about whether or not Braid is really worth the full 1200 points. I think that you have to look at Braid a little like you would Portal or another short-but-sweet title. Yes, it’s short, but the way Braid has taken the concept of time manipulation and expanded it like no game before it is truly remarkable. Just when you think you’ve seen everything, the game throws in a completely new mechanic that changes the way you view everything again. It doesn’t shamefully pad itself out either – it knows when to switch things up and makes sure the player isn’t doing the same thing long enough for it to get stale.
Where Braid isn’t like Portal and some of the other short-but-sweet titles is in the replay value. Once you’ve done the puzzles for the first time in the game, they don’t really have that same appeal that they did when you first learned of their solutions. The game offers a speed runs mode for those who have already beaten the game, but since the game is primarily centred on the solving of puzzles rather than the platforming aspect, this probably isn’t as strong as it would be in a regular platformer like Mario.
These two problems are just off-strokes in the big picture though, and personally Braid’s picture is nothing short of a masterpiece. Never before have I seen such creative use of time travel in a game and very rarely has my mind been pushed to the limits that it has with Braid. The real charm here isn’t in a game that you can pick up and play through again right after you’ve finished – it’s in this brand new experience not quite like anything you’ve played before. Really, all I need to say is that I. Love. Braid. I love the art, I love the music. I love the gameplay and the puzzles, the intriguing story. It’s just an altogether lovable game, and I strongly recommend all 360 owners to give it a shot.