Are you tired of all the derivative games out there right now? Sick of World War II shooters that are all the same? Then keep on reading, because Braid might just be the breath of fresh air you didn’t know you were looking for.
At its heart, Braid is a puzzle-platform game that shares a few fundamentals to the Mario games of old. In fact, the inspiration there is deliberately alluded to – you’ll find all sorts of nods to the old platform games. But this game is also completely different to any other platform game you’ve played.
You take on the role of Tim, a suited young gentleman who’s ostensibly out to rescue his Princess. But the story told between levels takes things in a completely different direction, far from the realm of typical video game storylines. You’ll encounter a series of philosophical ruminations that shed light on Tim’s relationship to the Princess and how they were before she was lost to him. It’s actually a surprisingly poignant tale that adds an extra layer onto Braid’s already impressive set of features.
The key gameplay element that sets it apart is its manipulation of time. If you start by thinking of Prince of Persia’s time features, you’re on the right track. At its most basic level, Braid lets you rewind your progress as much as you want – so if you fall down a cliff, say, you can hold X to get back up to the top of the cliff. This technique obviously makes it easy to blast through levels – but then, that’s not exactly the point of the game.
Every level has at least one puzzle piece that must be collected to form a picture, and it’s here that Braid gets both fiendish and hugely rewarding. Puzzles must be solved to get most of the pieces, and they can get pretty damn hard. Time manipulation must be used to your advantage to get to most pieces, and you’ll really do your head in trying to figure out how to get to all the pieces. But it’s really satisfying when you do solve a puzzle – just don’t be a wuss and look up the answers online.
To add to your mental headaches, every world (the game is divided into five or so of them) introduces new time-related gameplay elements. One world contains glowing green versions of objects that aren’t affected by your time reversal technique – so if you grab a green key and then reverse time to get back up a cliff, the key will actually stay with you. And that’s really just scratching the surface – in another world, time only moves forward when you move to the right, and it reverses when you move to the left. That one did my head in for a while…
The time elements are also cleverly (and subtly) worked back into the story, with themes of trying again and erasing mistakes making up a fragmented picture of your relationship with the Princess. This, combined with the gameplay itself, makes for a compelling experience.
But that’s really not all. The graphics are an amazing painterly mixture of abstract and cartoonish styles – it actually looks like a living painting you’re waltzing through. The music is of an equally high quality, switching between string compositions and folk music.
The game is short, and it is expensive compared to other Live Arcade titles. But it’s well worth it – the experience is one you won’t forget (or duplicate) any time soon. And as an added bonus, the ending doesn’t suck! That right there gets my seal of approval.
Braid isn’t for everyone. If you were never in to platform games, or don’t feel like exercising your brain and actually thinking, then you might want to stick to your first person shooters. But for anyone who thinks they’ll appreciate something different, go get the demo right now and see if it tickles your fancy. For me at least, Braid represents a lot of what I like to see in video games, but rarely do.